Is social media bad for you?

Since social media is comparatively unaccustomed to us, conclusive findings are limited. The research that does exist mainly relies on self-reporting, which might often be flawed, and therefore the majority of studies concentrate on Facebook. That said, this can be a fast-growing area of research, and clues are getting down to emerge. BBC Future reviewed the findings of a number of the science so far:

In 2015, researchers at the Pew center based in Washington DC sought to search out if social media induces more stress than it relieves.

In 2014, researchers in Austria found that participants reported lower moods after using Facebook for 20 minutes compared to people who just browsed the net. The study suggested that folks felt that way because they saw it as a waste of their time. An honest or bad mood can also spread between people on social media, in line with researchers from the University of California, who assessed the emotional content of over a billion status updates from over 100 million Facebook users between 2009 and 2012.

Researchers have checked out general anxiety provoked by social media, characterized by feelings of restlessness and worry, and trouble sleeping and concentrating. A study published in the journal Computers and Human Behaviour found that folks who report using seven or more social media platforms were quite 3 times as likely as people using 0-2 platforms to possess high levels of general anxiety symptoms. That said, it’s unclear if and the way social media causes anxiety. Researchers from Babes-Bolyai University in Romania reviewed existing research on the connection between social anxiety and social networking in 2016 and said the results were mixed. They concluded that more research has to be done.

While some studies have found a link between depression and social media use, there’s emerging research into how social media can actually be a force permanently.
Two studies involving over 700 students found that depressive symptoms, like low mood and feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, were linked to the standard of online interactions. Researchers found higher levels of depressive symptoms among those that reported having more negative interactions.

Humans are accustomed spend their evenings darkly, but now we’re surrounded by artificial lighting all day and night. Research has found that this could inhibit the body’s production of the hormone melatonin, which facilitates sleep – and blue light, which is emitted by smartphone and laptop screens, is alleged to be the worst culprit. In other words, if you lie on the pillow in the dead of night checking Facebook and Twitter, you’re headed for restless slumber.

They found a link with sleep disturbances – and concluded blue light had an element to play. How often they logged on, instead of time spent on social media sites, was the next predictor of disturbed sleep, suggesting “an obsessive ‘checking’”, the researchers said. The researchers say this might be caused by physiological arousal before sleep, and therefore the bright lights of our devices can delay circadian rhythms. But they couldn’t clarify whether social media causes disturbed sleep, or if people who have disturbed sleep spend longer on social media.

Despite the argument from some researchers that tweeting is also harder to resist than cigarettes and alcohol, social media addiction isn’t included in the latest diagnostic manual for psychological state disorders. That said, social media is changing faster than scientists can continue with, so various groups are attempting to check compulsive behaviors associated with its use – for instance, scientists from European countries have invented their own scale to spot possible addiction.

And if social media addiction does exist, it’d be a kind of internet addiction – which could be a classified disorder. In 2011, Daria Kuss and Mark Griffiths from Nottingham Trent University in the UK have analyzed 43 previous studies on the matter, and conclude that social media addiction could be a mental state problem that “may” require professional treatment. They found that excessive usage was linked to relationship problems, worse academic achievement, and participation in offline communities, and located that those that might be more liable to a social media addiction include those addicted to alcohol, the highly extroverted, and people who use social media to catch up on fewer ties in the real world.

Women’s magazines and their use of underweight and Photoshopped models are long maligned for stirring self-esteem issues among young women. But now, social media, with its filters and lighting and clever angles, is taking on as a primary concern among some campaigning groups and charities. Social media sites make quite half of the users feel inadequate, consistent with a survey of 1,500 people by disability charity Scope, and half of 18- to 34-year-olds say it makes them feel unattractive.