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Social Media's Impact

Image is courtesy of https://www.thesocialdilemma.com/

Do you ever feel that social media has consumed a large part of your daily life? It’s so easy to scroll endlessly through various platforms when we’re trying to kill some time or when we’re procrastinating. Now more than ever we use our phones and other devices for most of the day, whether that may be for work, school or entertainment purposes, social media can be connected from anywhere. Especially during the pandemic when social media was one of the only ways to socialize with others and stay updated without seeing anyone face to face. It seems impossible to delete our social media accounts possibly because of the networking, messages, content and opportunities that we can find on these platforms. On top of that, the fear of missing out is real when almost everyone uses Instagram to connect with one another and post about their life. But it’s important to remember that, “Social media isn’t just a tool waiting to be used. It has its own goals, and it has its own means of pursuing them.” This quote is from the Social Dilemma, a 2020 documentary on the rise of social media and the damage it has caused; it reminds us that social media is a business and values objectives different from ours. For example, platforms can use specific tactics to increase the time users spend on their app or target ads for users to see.

What makes social media addicting?

There are 2 distinct parts when it comes to technology addiction, the user interface and the user experience. The user interface entails how companies have been able to create an addictive product, from physical technology to experiences like social media and video games. All of these products designed in their own way are intended to be socially and physically addicting, whether it may be designed with personalized algorithms, rewards, or to try to take away the fear of missing out. Technology addiction has impacts and changes to society, and not always for the best.

Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Youtube, Twitter, and Reddit are some of the most well-known platforms for networking and social connections. As of 2018, 3.1 billion people are social media users with 94% of them considering themselves active users of social media, with that number only growing from 2 years ago especially in the pandemic where people desire social connections. They purposely create algorithms that make you have a psychological want to use their platforms. As the Conversation’s article on digital addiction has said, “technology is designed to utilize the basic human need to feel a sense of belonging and connection with others. So a fear of missing out, commonly known as FOMO, is the heart of many features of social media design.” Their results have been quite successful, with 210 million people in 2018 suffering from internet and social media addiction, using their platforms religiously.

Many former employees at tech companies have revealed the algorithm created, Chamath Palihapitiya, former Vice President of User Growth at Facebook responding to a question about exploiting consumer behaviour said, “the short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.” These designed algorithms make social media, physically and psychologically addicting, constantly pulling users in. Social media, like exercise and drugs, can cause a release of dopamine (a hormone and neurotransmitter, also known as the feel-good hormone is our brain’s reward system which makes us feel happy). Social media is designed so when you receive a notification whether that may be alike, follow, mention, direct message your brain is wired to get a release of dopamine making you happy. This is a feedback loop that makes you want to continue to experience dopamine (like drugs which also help the brain release dopamine). This instant gratification is addictive because it is an immediate response; it is normal to not want to feel left out and this human curiosity can drive the use of social media, to constantly consume media to stay “relevant”.

How does social media impact us?

Social media has both positive and negative impacts on us and the world around us depending on how we choose to use it.

Some negative impacts of social media are:

  • Social media companies can manipulate users by using algorithms that encourage addiction to their platforms. This can result in the feeling of loss of time and distract us from what we need to do.

  • Negatively impact mental health: a 2018 British study tied social media use to decreased, disrupted, and delayed sleep, which is associated with depression, memory loss, and poor academic performance.

  • Platforms can harvest personal data to target users with ads.

  • Spread fake news as anyone can post on social media platforms with an account.

  • Cyberbullying, about 10 percent of teens report being bullied on social media and many other users are subjected to offensive comments.

Some positive impacts of social media are:

  • By networking, you’re able to find opportunities like volunteering on social media posted by non-profit organizations. You are also able to find some learning resources from various educational accounts like Race to a Cure.

  • Communication, social platforms make it easy to socialize with your friends and family across the world and share photos or snippets of your life.

  • Raise awareness, in the past year social media has been able to make a positive impact by raising awareness on various social justice issues like the Black Lives Matter movement, Fridays for Future and also encouraging the youth to vote/voice their opinion more during elections.

Although avoiding the algorithms of social platforms may seem impossible, try to be more aware of how much time you are spending on social media the next time you are mindlessly scrolling. If you want to watch the Social Dilemma, it can be found on Netflix and Youtube: https://youtu.be/7mqR_e2seeM.

Article Author: Michelle Lam

Article Editors: Stephanie Sahadeo, Sherilyn Wen