Every Lenten season everyone’s Twitter and Facebook feeds are filled with friends and relatives proclaiming their decision to give up social media for forty days. But are they really onto something the rest of us should jump on? For roughly three months I personally quit Twitter, not only did my phone battery thank me, but I also felt overall less stressed and agitated. This experience inspired my interest in the lesser-discussed drawbacks of our increasingly interconnected world.
Everyone is well aware of the great benefits social networking sites bring to modern life. From quicker and easier national and international news outlets, to simply sharing pictures with relatives and friends in other cities, social media enriches lives daily. But for some, it may also create more problems that many might not even be aware of.
A study conducted by University of Salford in the United Kingdom viewed the relationship between social media users. Around 50% of the participants said their use of social media sites made their lives worse. Two-thirds of participants reported difficulty relaxing and sleeping after using social networking sites. Another study, this one conducted at University of Gothenburg in Sweden, viewed the relationship between self-esteem and Facebook usage. They found a significant negative relationship between the amount of Facebook use and the levels of self-esteem. This study also found a main effect for gender, as female Facebook users were more likely to feel less happy and content. Around half of the participants in the University of Salford study admitted to having increased worry or feelings of being uncomfortable when they were unable to access or update their social media profiles. Psychotherapist Sherrie Campbell also states that social networks can also give one a false sense of belonging and connections within them are not often built on real-life.
Social media drawbacks are not just limited to one’s personal experience, however. The study from the University of Salford also found that around 25% of participants cited work or relationship difficulties as a result of online confrontations. 19% of respondents in one survey stated having decreased their offline (real life) contact with someone over something said through social media. Furthermore, 35% of respondents also admitted to un-friending or blocking someone over an argument on social media. One study found a link between the use of social networks and decreased marriage quality. Analyses also found that a 20% annual increase in new Facebook profiles was associated with 2.18-4.32% increase in divorce rates. Those who do not use social media outlets were over 11% happier with their marriage than heavy social media users. A survey from the University of Texas at Austin found that 32% of married heavy social media users have seriously thought about leaving their spouses versus only 16% of married people who do not use social networks.
The effects on self-esteem are not entirely bad, though. While people’s self-esteem did suffer when they compared their accomplishments to those of their online friends, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia Business School found that positive comments on social media networks do boost self-esteem.
So are social networks more bad than good? Of course not. However, it’s important to be aware that there are drawbacks to them. Obsessing over online drama or the number of likes on a picture, while ignoring personal relationships in the real world, will never end well. Moderation is a thing American’s have difficulty with and social media use is not immune to this. It’s important to recognize if social media sites are making a negative impact on your life, too. Feeling more anxious about updating a status instead of enjoying spending time with friends, loving the attention you receive from strangers, judging your life and worth on what others post, or enjoying the misfortunes others have may all be signs that your social media use is unhealthy. Enjoy your Twitter and your Facebook, but never forget to keep enjoying life.