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It has come to my attention that nowadays social media is playing a significant role in our identities. In my podcast I discuss brainwashing through technology, and allude to an experiment that Facebook ran on some users in January 2012. The purpose of the experiment was to study the contagion of emotions, and it turns out, unsurprisingly, that when people’s Facebook feeds were filtered to reflect a lot of negativity, they also posted negative things. The same happened with positivity. I found this study interesting and decided to elaborate on this theme in this blog post.
Social media is a great way to express ourselves and spread our ideas, but it can also get dangerous. Take Essena O’Neill’s case. Essena O’Neill is an ex-Instagram star. It’s no secret that people nowadays are making money off their social media accounts, and O’Neill was one of them. She had an Instagram with over 612,000 followers, and she made around $2,000 AUD (about $1,900 CAD) per post. She made headlines when on October 27th 2015, she deleted several photos and revealed to the public that social media had consumed her life. She had been miserable, and relied on Instagram for validation of her self-worth. She left some pictures up and edited the captions to reflect the true nature behind them. “If you find yourself looking at ‘Instagram girls’ and wishing your life was theirs,” she says in one post, “Realise you only see what they want.”
What she said couldn’t be truer. We tend to forget that everybody on social media is showcasing the best side of themselves, and hiding all the rest. In a master’s thesis titled *Measuring Up: Social Comparisons on Facebook and Contributions to Self-Esteem and Mental Health*, Angie Zuo examines people’s tendencies to compare themselves to others, particularly on Facebook, and how it shapes their outlooks. Referring to a study, Zuo says, “Their findings indicated that individuals who had been using Facebook for a longer period of time perceived that others were happier and that life was not fair. Participants who spent more time on Facebook weekly reported that they felt others were happier and had better lives” (9). This is believable considering the fact that like O’Neill, most people are not documenting their true lives.
But along with this negative evidence, some studies support the contrary. An article from the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology points out that,
“Researchers also argue that Internet use has positive impacts on psychological well-being… [an experiment] found decreases in perceived loneliness and depression as well as increases in perceived social support and self-esteem following engagement in online chat sessions… [other research] found that the more people used social network sites, the greater the frequency of interaction with friends, which had positive benefits on respondents' self-esteem and ultimately their reported satisfaction with life” (Steinfield, Ellison, and Lampe 436).
With all this contradictory research, it’s easy to get mixed messages about how social media is impacting young people today. Since the Internet age is still so young, there hasn’t yet been much opportunity for conclusive research, especially on the long term effects. So what are we supposed to make of all this?
I think it comes down to maintaining a healthy balance. Over the years social media has helped me and hurt me, but as I grow older, I also grow more aware of how I should be using it, and for what purpose. Now instead of looking at what everyone is doing with their lives, I redirect myself to pages featuring things that inspire and interest me. I encourage everyone to do the same. Instead of worrying about looking perfect and gaining followers, it’s better to use social media to stay connected with friends and utilise our voices for what matters.
Ellison, Nicole B., Lampe, Cliff, and Steinfield, Charles. “Social Capital, Self-Esteem, and Use of Online Social Network Sites: A Longitudinal Analysis.” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. (2008): 436. Web.
Goel, Vindu. “Facebook Tinkers With Users’ Emotions in News Feed Experiment, Stirring Outcry.” New* York Times* 29 June 2014. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.
Hunt, Elle. “Essena O'Neill Quits Instagram Claiming Social Media 'Is Not Real Life.'” The Guardian 3 Nov. 2015. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.
Zuo, Angie. “Measuring Up: Social Comparisons on Facebook and Contributions to Self-Esteem and Mental Health.” MS thesis, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, 2014. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.