Please Step Away from the Facebook
The relatively quick rise of social media over the last 20 years and its continued popularity well after the dotcom “boom-and-bust” at the turn of the millennium, has left many questions as to the psycho-social ramifications of its use, misuse, and abuse. To answer some of these questions, researchers have been delving into the hearts and minds of young Internet users since at least 1998.ᶦ Every year since, new research has come out warning the world that excessive time spent on social media apps and websites is actively causing harm to this most-impressionable population.
I was lucky enough to come-of-age in Upstate New York in the late 80’s and the 90’s; a time of landlines, and later, dial-up Internet service. Cellphones existed, as did pagers, but coverage outside of major metropolitan areas was unheard of. If two people wanted to chat with each other, we picked up the phone and made a call. If we wanted to share a funny picture, we had to photocopy it, or cut it out of a magazine or newspaper and physically hand it to the other person. Concerns about impacting a teenager’s body image, or sense of self-worth, were relegated to what sorts of ads and articles appeared in the pages of Teen Beatᶦᶦ or Tiger Beatᶦᶦᶦ magazines.
Even after the Internet picked up, around the time I was graduating from high school, early websites consisted of bulletin board-style forums and buggy real-time chat platforms. Non-browser-based applications for chatting were also becoming incredibly popular; AOL Instant Messenger, ICQ, and Yahoo Messenger most notable among them. As time and technology progressed, Internet users asked websites and providers for more autonomy in the presentation of their digital personas; we wanted to customize our online profiles. We wanted to share more of ourselves with our burgeoning cyber-communities.
In the early 2000’s we bought scanners, digital cameras and webcams to let our friends and family on the Internet share in the joy of our special events through user-created digital content. By 2003, the idea of sharing our lives with friends and family through the Internet reached its, at that time, maximum expression through the explosively popular website MySpace.ᶦᵛ We no longer had to build personal webpages by hand, or merely chat or email with our contacts. We now had a place to express ourselves with text, graphics, sounds, and video; a place where we could post our content for later consumption.
For the next five years, the social side of the Internet would be dominated by MySpace. From 2004 to 2006, Facebook existed only as a sort of MySpace for college students.ᵛ After registration was opened to anyone aged 13 or older with an email address, it was only two short years before Facebook overtook MySpace in terms of popularity. It was there in 2008, arguably, that social media as we know and love it today was born. It was around that same time that some of the first real in-depth research into the side-effects of social media started to emerge. Some research focused on misuse-cases, such as misrepresentation and creating fake profiles.ᵛᶦ Other research focused on abuse-cases, like spending more time online than engaging in real-life social interactions.vii The problem with scientific research was, and to a certain extent still is, it’s rarely seen by anyone who isn’t a doctor or scientist, let alone understood in all its gory statistical detail.
The power and reach of the Internet has only increased, and with it the power and reach of social media sites such as Facebook. To further exacerbate our psychosocial issues, the lines have long since blurred between websites and mobile applications allowing us to bring Facebook with us everywhere we go, to share and consume content at the flick of a finger. To that end, Instagram and Snapchat have also become a focus for researchers, due also to their fairly recent, yet explosive, popularity. The latest of this research has been focused on both the negative health effects of social media, and the health benefits of taking a step back from these major social media platforms. In 2011, for instance, Kalpidou, Costin and Morris drew definite correlations between higher Facebook usage and low self-esteem. viii In 2013, Tiggemann and Slater noted similarly that “higher usage of Instagram is correlated with body image issues.”ᶦˣ
Now, a research team from the University of Pennsylvania has just chimed in on this very subject with a new study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. Hunt, Marx, Lipson and Young conducted a study of 143 undergraduate students from their university over three weeks, randomly assigning the participants either ten minutes per platform per day or allowing them to use the services as they normally would. The not-so-surprising results of the study showed “significant decreases in anxiety… suggesting a benefit of increased self-monitoring.” The discussion of their study goes on to suggest that “limiting social media use to approximately 30 minutes per day may lead to significant improvement in well-being.”ˣ
Though a direct causality between social media abuse wasn’t possible in these myriad studies, the principal result of research is almost always more research. Personally, I look forward to more studies on the effects of social media withdrawal, social media anxiety, and some fresh perspectives on how to detox from the whole situation. As with many vices in our short human history, we dove head-on into this Internet-thing without stopping to ask what we now see as very important questions about its possible side effects. Ask yourself the following… If the Internet were an FDA-approved medication; what do you think its warning label would say, and how often would its users need treatment for dependency, or overdose?
i CyberPsychology & Behavior. https://www.liebertpub.com/toc/cpb/1/1
vi Harman, J., Hansen, C., Cochran, M., & Lindsey, C. (2005). Liar, Liar: Internet Faking but Not Frequency of Use Affects Social Skills, Self-Esteem, Social Anxiety, and Aggression. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 8.1. 28 Feb 2005. http://doi.org/10.1089/cpb.2005.8.1
vii Caplan, Scott. (2007). Relations Among Loneliness, Social Anxiety, and Problematic Internet Use. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 10.2. 2 May 2007. http://doi.org/10.1089/cpb.2006.9963
viii Kalpidou, M., Costin, D., & Morris, J. (2011). The relationship between Facebook and the well-being of undergraduate college students. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14, 183–189. https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2010.0061
ix Tiggemann, M., & Slater, A. (2013). NetGirls: The Internet, Facebook, and body image concern in adolescent girls. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 46, 630–633. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.22141
x Hunt, M., Marx, R., Lipson, C. & Young, J. (2018). NO MORE FOMO- LIMITING SOCIAL MEDIA DECREASES LONELINESS AND DEPRESSION. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 37.10, 751-768. https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/pdf/10.1521/jscp.2018.37.10.751