Social media is bad for you. Social media is ruining humanity. Social media is divisive. I’m sure we’ve heard people say this or at least seen headlines about it. Facebook, one of the rulers of social media itself, has also recently admitted that social media poses mental health risks for many of its users. While social media has its downsides, such as easily allowing hate groups to form and flourish like on Steam, this generalization is just way too dangerous – especially for people with mental illnesses.
My problem with the whole “social media is evil” and “you’re not being productive by being on social media” belief is that it doesn’t take into account how people actually use it. It just talks about social media as a vicious and impersonal being that’s out to degrade humanity, one screen-to-screen conversation at a time. But as surprising as this might be for some people, not everyone’s lives are being ruined by social media. Even more shocking, not everyone whose lives aren’t being ruined by social media is the so-called popular girl or guy from high school you didn’t like.
Actively posting on social media, rather than mindlessly scrolling through it, can actually be beneficial for many people with mental illness. It provides a platform for people to voice their problems or concerns to a group they can trust and this group, in turn, can provide support. Per marketing researchers, this type of exchange, continued over and over, can help the person posting about their problems bounce back quicker from negative experiences than people who don’t.
But what about the idea that depression and anxiety are worsened by social media use? Again, this depends on how it’s used. It’s not that social media itself that worsens depression, but it’s the negative interactions that inflict the harm. If someone is constantly being bullied and harassed on social media and they have to see their attackers on a regular basis, either online, in person or both, that’s going to have a dangerous impact on their mental health. On the flip side, if someone has positive experiences, that’ll improve it.
Here’s an example: I’m willing to admit I have a Facebook and a Twitter problem in that I use these sites more often that I should. These platforms, by themselves, aren’t the primary reasons my mental health has worsened. But I do feel more comfortable using Twitter than Facebook. The reason for this is simple: I have had more positive experiences on Twitter. Even if I were to have a negative experience, I’m part of a community where people are open to finding out why I was upset and we find out the solution together. I can also block or mute (depending on who it is) people who make me uncomfortable.
Yes, I’m aware you can block and mute people on Facebook too, but Facebook culture and Twitter culture are quite different. On Facebook, many people expect you to maintain a certain level of interaction just because they took the time to accept your friend request. They might not react to your posts or have conversations with you, but God forbid if you unfriend or block them. Also, God forbid if you disagree with their views on their status because they’re always right and you have no right to disagree with them. Then having to see them on a regular basis doesn’t help.
For the sake of my mental health, that’s why I post and interact more with people on Twitter. I’ve also noticed that if I spend more time on Twitter than Facebook in a given day, I tend to be in better mental shape than vice-versa. It makes sense: I post more original content on Twitter, I interact with more people and I have more positive experiences overall.
If you think social media is ruining humanity, you might just want to check how you’re using it.
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