Social media is an addiction. According to the Royal Society of Public Health social media is now more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol. Whilst it may seem like a small vice in comparison to the former vices, is social media causing us to lose touch with reality and our actual social lives?
In the same study by the Royal Society of Public Health, which looked into Social Media in 2016, it proved that 91% of 16-to-24 year olds use the internet for social networking. What the report doesn’t clarify is whether these same users were using social networking to be social or were simply using it as a way to express and compare themselves to each other.
Comparison syndrome is rife on social media. Instagram, one of the most popular social media platforms in the UK, proved to have the most negative impact on its user’s mental health. Whereas YouTube, the second most popular social media platform in the UK, is seen to have the most positive impact.
Both of these forms of social media are visual platforms but unlike YouTube which creates a dialogue between its creator and user, even if it is one-sided, via video streaming Instagram has predominantly been a 2D dialogue with little to no context. Only recently has Instagram offered an alternative to just photo sharing with Instagram stories. Prior to Instagram stories being unveiled in August 2017, it was purely, arguably, a vanity platform.
Without a dialogue between users, excluding the comments section, there is often little context to an image. So in some respects, whilst shared on a social media platform, the use of Instagram is actually anti-social.
There are two definitions of the word ‘social’ in the Oxford Dictionary:
- Relating to society or its organization
- Needing companionship and therefore best suited to living in communities
With regards to social media, specifically Instagram in this case, these two definitions cancel each other out.
Instagram allows its users to look into other’s lives and possibly relate to them and their personal brand. But they also counteract the need for companionship and living in communities as the act of using Instagram is predominantly a solo activity. You are an outsider looking in, or a person looking back at past memories on your own.
Ultimately you’re either comparing yourself to others, which potentially increases anxiety and other mental health issues which will limit your social abilities, or you are remembering your past but often without company. It is little wonder, therefore, that the Royal Society of Public Health deemed Instagram the most likely to create a negative impact on a users life and lifestyle.
But this is just one platform of social media which is, possibly, contributing to us becoming asocial.
In the UK alone over 83% of the adult population are on at least one social media platform as a regular user. That’s approximately 36million people in the UK.
Numerous reports by the Royal Society of Public Health, Statistica and Flint proving that social media is having a detrimental effect on users mental health, as there has been a 70% increase in cases of diagnosed anxiety and depression in young people in the last 25 years. Both of these conditions often lead to social alienation, loneliness and sometimes suicide. It is therefore plausible to suggest that social media is a contributor to these issues, and as such social media is leading to users becoming asocial.
But in the same studies, users have also reported that through social media they have more emotional support than through any other physical channels outside of the digital world.
If I were cognitive behaviourial therapist I might call this a vicious cycle. If social media is the root cause of any issues FOMO, or ‘fear or missing out’, leads users to use social media in order to experience a social life. But the more they use it the more likely it is that comparison syndrome will kick in and users will start to create fake and idealistic lives online for the sake of vanity. This can lead to mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, and users might cut themselves off completely due to discomfort or sadness, and become asocial. But then FOMO will kick in again and they’ll go back to using social media in order to feel supported and socialised as social media is where they feel they get the most support. But then the same cycle happens again.
After all, if social media is an addiction, to a daily user it will feel like the solution to their problems but it may well be the cause to them as well.