The Case Against Social Media

Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube have become cultural icons of the 21st century, defining a generation of young people and connecting billions of others through social networks. However, embedded within this technological advancement comes several negative effects. These websites and apps are built to keep users on the platform as long as possible by using an algorithm that is tailored to specific users. The algorithms are designed to show content that will keep the user’s attention, whether it is positive or negative. Social media has been linked to numerous mental and physical health concerns, particularly surrounding young people. Social media has also been manipulated by electoral candidates to spread disinformation and sow doubt in politics, which has caused a global rise in far-right populism. In short, social media is causing more problems than it is appearing to solve.

As I discussed in an article published in July 2022 titled “The Rise Of Christian Nationalism In The United States,” the world has seen a rise of far-right political leaders, and all of them have, to an extent, risen to prominence because of their social media tactics. These leaders have excelled at spreading misinformation on social media and have used their platforms to attack political opponents, immigrants, religious or racial minorities, or anyone who they consider to be in opposition to their political campaign. One of the most successful proponents of this strategy is the former President of the United States, Donald Trump, who used social media to attack immigrants, Muslims, and left-leaning voters to fuel his political base, calling anyone who was not supporting him ‘an enemy’ or ‘outsider.’ Trump played on the fears of white Americans, and used their anger at a world becoming more inclusive to win him the Presidency in 2016. Social media can have an even more intimate influence on its users that goes beyond politics, as it has a direct impact on their mental and physical health.

Social media allows people from around the world to be interconnected, but this increases the possibility of platforms for bullying, exclusion, and harassment. These issues are particularly prevalent among young individuals. The majority of the content that a user will see is based on which accounts they follow, and since most people tend to post content from the most pleasurable and happy moments of their lives, the user will see everyone they know having constant fun, while they are sitting and scrolling. This has caused many young people to compare themselves to their friends or even celebrities, which has a negative effect on self-image and confidence. According to Dr. Nusheen Ameenuddin, many individuals look at “celebrities and see their fabulous life and think, ‘My life isn’t as fabulous,’ or even with some friends, comparing who has the better outfit or house… This can actually be a trigger that can lead to decreased mood.” 

This problem was further accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic. Throughout this period, most people were forced to stay home, and many turned to social media and the Internet in order to feel connected. As people have spent more time online while consuming social media, many have noted a decrease in mood. 

Further, social media can take a toll on physical health, as many teenagers will try relentlessly to change their bodies to look better online. Teenage girls have been particularly affected by this, so much so that many of them can develop eating disorders or body dysmorphia. Social media has also influenced many young people to act more recklessly in attempts to recreate fantastical stunts they see on social media, which can result in dangerous or even fatal consequences.

Social media companies must work to ensure that their platforms become safer for their users. Now, the issue that arises is, because social media is so central to everyday life, particularly for the younger generations, it is impossible to eliminate without severe push-back. The decision on how to manage social media consumption ultimately comes down to individual choice. The first question everyone should ask themselves is: does social media make my life better, or if it was eliminated, would my life be even better? There are steps that can be taken to limit social media usage, such as turning off notifications, not sleeping next to your cellular phone, and taking your phone out of your morning routine. Social media can and should be used to keep friends and family connected and to share constructive and positive content, and everyone ought to work to make that happen. However, for many people, it might be better to limit how much time they spend on social media, as it can have extremely negative effects without thoughtful management.