Is Social Media Bad for You?
I could write a book about all the negatives of social media. Your data is not secure, and anything you post (even if set to private) is saved and can be shared by the company. Social media use has been linked to increased depression. We know this, and yet we still use it.
Why? Because it’s convenient. And, increasingly, we have to use it because everyone else does.
If I log off from Facebook for too long, I lose “the scoop” on what’s going on with my family and friends. When they run into me, they don’t bother to say what they posted — it’s already on social media, so I must have seen it, right? I miss invitations to parties, and Facebook messages notifying me of important news. Some people know my phone number, yet will message me over a social media site, not text me — even if I haven’t been on social media in awhile.
So, like most people, I have to eventually go back to see what I missed.
It’s hard to capture everyone’s experience with social media, because it’s customizable. If you log onto most web sites, everyone will see the same thing. Not so with social media: you’ll see a feed curated to your unique interests, based on what you’ve clicked on in the past. What I see is not what you might see.
Everyone or every page you follow changes what appears on your screen. This can lead to information bubbles, where we never see information that conflicts with our beliefs.
If you log onto most web sites, everyone will see the same thing. Not so with social media.
And who you follow can have an impact on your well-being. If you see a lot of posts about people’s parties and accomplishments, and feel left out, that can be bad for you. If you join a support group that helps you improve yourself, that can be good for you.
In 2012, data researchers used Facebook to conduct an experiment. They adjusted the news feed of almost 700,000 users, trying to see if the information users saw could change their mood. It did.
Users who saw more negative words were more likely to post something indicating they were unhappy. Users who saw positive words? An analysis revealed they were more likely to post something indicating they were happy.
There was initially an outrage when people found their mood could’ve been tinkered with against their will. People threatened to delete their accounts. But the complaints died down. What Facebook did was legal, right? Permission to conduct such experiments is embedded in their lengthy terms and conditions agreement — at least, I presume. Like most people, I haven’t read through all of it.
Companies try to manipulate our emotions all the time. A movie trailer shows us a sexy scene. Advertisements make us feel like we’re lacking something, so we buy a product. Talk shows thrive on making their viewers or listeners angry so they tune in, day after day.
But ads and TV shows don’t collect as much personal information as social media does. Nor do they usually have so much debate about them. “Criticisms of Facebook” has its own Wikipedia page. Normally when a company has that many complaints, they start to become unpopular. But Facebook (and Instagram, which it owns) doesn’t show any sign of slowing down.
Certain features of social media make it really addictive: new information can appear at any time, enticing us to keep checking it. We want to see if people liked what we posted, or if our friends posted anything new. And when people are addicted to something, it becomes extremely difficult to stop.
Normally when a company has that many complaints, they start to become unpopular.
I’ve tried to quit social media, but it’s tough. When I was trying to be a novelist, it was a given that I’d sign up for social media. Supposedly, you need a Twitter and Facebook presence, and maybe even Instagram, Tumblr, and Reddit accounts to round it out.
But as a content writer, I don’t see too much need for it now. I love connecting to other writers, so my accounts have stayed active, even if I don’t post much.
Facebook seems to be the most strict about posting habits. If you don’t post to a professional page within a certain amount of time, your page will become inactive. Oh, and you need to pay to reach more of your followers. So I pretty much gave up on that.
I keep Instagram notifications on, in case a family member I know (who doesn’t have a phone, just a tablet) needs to reach me. If I get a notification and swipe it away, it comes right back. Hm.
It may seem strange now, but we didn’t always have social media. When I was a kid, getting local news meant talking to your neighbor as she hung up laundry on a clothesline, or through quick conversations by the mailbox. You’d get the local scoop at work or school, by opening a newspaper or listening to the radio or news.
If someone wasn’t in your close circle anymore — you lost touch, they left your job or school, or they moved — you might never hear from them again. Maybe a card once a year, but that was about it. Nowadays, we never quite cut those strings. We’re connected to everyone.
The other day, I ran into a former coworker, and she hugged me and asked how my new cat is doing. I was astounded that she knew about my cat, then remembered: social media.
We hadn’t seen each other in over a year, but she was still following the events of my life. We knew all about each other, but I felt like we’d been ships passing in the night.
Social media connects us to everyone, if only in small ways. This week, our neighborhood’s recycling day fell on a holiday. I put the bin out on a different day. My husband asked how I knew to put it out, pointing out that the neighbors hadn’t set out their bins.
I explained that the person who runs a city Facebook page had posted the temporary pick-up schedule, and I trusted he had the right information.
Sure enough, that morning, the recycling truck came around. When I was a kid, a phone message would have gone out, alerting everyone to the change in schedule, or maybe a notice would be posted in the newspaper.
Nowadays, you have to be on social media to stay in the loop. And if you don’t, you’re left behind.