Just How Harmful Is Social Media? Our Experts Weigh-In

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A recent Wall Street Journal investigation found that Facebook was aware of the mental health risks associated with using its Instagram app, but covered up the findings. An internal study of the social media giant found that Instagram made the image problem worse for one in three teenage girls, all of whom used the app associated with the experience of anxiety and depression. This is not the first evidence of bad social media. Security groups have identified Facebook and Instagram as a means of bullying, and reports have linked TikTok to dangerous and anti-social behavior, including several recent school violations.

As social media expands around the world – Facebook has 2.85 billion users – so there are ways in which the platform affects the interests of individuals and groups. Social media has been criticized for being addictive by design and for its role in spreading misinformation on critical issues ranging from vaccine safety to the general election, and the rise of the right margin. Social media companies and many users support the platform as a way to promote creativity and community building. And some studies have pushed back against the idea that social media increases the risk of depression in young people.

So How Good or Bad is Social Media?

Two experts from the Mailman University School of Public Health and Columbia Psychiatry share their views on an important aspect of social media’s impact: its impact on the health of youth and adults. Deborah Glasofer, Associate Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, conducts research on the development of psychotherapy for adults with eating disorders and teaches cognitive behavioral therapy.

He is the author of the book Eating Disorders: What Everyone Needs to Know. Claude Mellins, professor of clinical psychology in the department of psychiatry and public health sciences, college and graduate student health, among other topics, and program director of CopeColumbia, a peer support program for Columbia faculty and staff of his mental health. related to the COVID-19 disease. He directs the SHIFT research study to reduce violence among undergraduate students. Both use social media.

What Do We Know About People’s Objectives Using Social Media?

Mellins: Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms are important sources of communication and relationship building for many young people. Although it has significant benefits, social media can also provide a platform for fear and exclusion, wrong expectations about the body and the source of popularity, the normalization of dangerous behavior and can harm mental health. Girls and young people who identify as bisexual can easily be targeted. Adolescent brains are still developing and, as individuals, adolescents are developing their own identities. What they see on social media can misrepresent what is expected and can damage identity development and self-image. Adolescence is a time to take risks, which is both a strength and a weakness. Social media can make the risk worse, as we have seen in the news.

Glasofer: For people who are at risk of developing an eating disorder, social media can be especially helpful, because it allows people to compare their appearance with that of friends, celebrities , or even old photos of themselves. Research tells us that the degree of human involvement in photo-related activities, such as posting and sharing photos on Facebook or Instagram, is associated with less physical acceptance and more contempt for nature. For teenage girls, the more time they spend on social media, the more they perceive the idea that being thin is good, the more motivated they are to try to be thinner, and/or it is to examine their body a lot.

In addition, if a person has an eating disorder, he may be interested in looking for useless information, which is easy to find on social media.

Are There Any Benefits in Social Media?

Mellins: For young people, social media provides an opportunity to help them discover who they are. For shy or curious young people, this can be a way to meet others with similar interests. During the pandemic, social media allowed people to connect in ways that would not have been possible in person. Social and interpersonal support are important influences on coping and resilience. Friends that we can’t see in person are on the internet and provide us with important connections.

On the other hand, fewer opportunities for social interaction with friends and family means less global acceptance of some of the negative effects of social media.

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