Our world has transformed into an online society over the past several years in relation to the expansion of the internet’s abilities and increasing technological advancements. Smartphones, iPods, and other digital devices that can access the internet surround and control almost every aspect of human involvement in our world. One of the most significant features of the internet includes social networking sites, or SNS, which are apps and websites where people can create personal profiles. These profiles allow an individual to post, share, and send messages; most SNS also allow their users to control, in a sense, the people who they can interact with by creating ‘friend lists’ or ‘followers’. Since the invention of SNS, people have grown to depend on technology to live their regular, everyday lives, and it seems almost impossible to guard ourselves from the influence of the internet. It is apparent that SNS have consumed most of society’s communication methods and, contrary to what their titles proclaim, social networking sites have made the human race more anti-social than social by increasing the mental issues of their users.
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Facebook is currently one of the most popular SNS around the globe. According to Caryl Burwell, et al. the United States has 191.32 million Facebook users; India, who has the highest number of users, contains 195.18 million. Together they make less than half of the total number of Facebook users world-wide, which is 929.97 million (Burwell et al. 151). Facebook also has approzimately 1,600 million daily users (152). Consequently, Facebook has gained popularity in the realm of research providing a plethora of studies on the relationship between Facebook and the mental wellness of its users. These studies have focused on the effects of teenagers and young adults between the ages of twelve and twenty-five. Within these studies participants have shown development of anxious, depressive, anti-social, obsessive, and narcissistic characteristics. Many of these negative mental side effects are dependent upon three main factors of SNS. One, how and what SNS are being used for, the amount of time a SNS is utilized over periods of time and in one sitting, as well as the previous mental problems of SNS users. These factors determine if consumers can develop side effects from utilizing SNS, like Facebook, and if this is a severe enough issue for the public to be concerned about.
Facebook is a source of communication and entertainment, as well as a platform for businesses. As far as communication goes, people with a Facebook account may post statuses for all their ‘friends’ to see, send messages to individuals or groups, and invite people to events they are hosting or attending; they can also view, share, and like posts and messages from other Facebook users whom they have ‘friended’ themselves. Although this advanced communication medium may seem like a positive experience and efficient resource for social interaction, one study by Olivia Calancie, et al. described how anxious young adults and teenagers acted to posting photos, ideas, and celebratory events online. The study group expressed a need for approval from their ‘friends’ and yet they were afraid to post anything online; they feared the possible comments their ‘friends’ would make about them. On the contrary, the study group also felt a strong need to post these things to feel appreciated. They related feelings of joy with the number of ‘likes’ they received on a post, and when people didn’t like their post, they felt a decreased sense of individual worth (Calancie, et al. 5-7). For Facebook users, the feeling of excitement or joy that one feels after receiving a ‘like’ is temporary. This means that ‘likes’ won’t satisfy a deep need for positive reinforcement. It is reasonable to believe that gaining multiple ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ can provide a greater amount of temporary positive feeling, but this only makes one think that their craving is being subdued when in reality it is only being hidden for a short period of time. This results in the Facebook users constantly checking to see how many ‘likes’ they received on a newly posted photo or status update. This compulsive need to check their notification feed can be seen as an addictive behavior.
Not only do lack of ‘likes’ result in decreased sense of self-worth, looking at the Facebook version of others’ lives can also intensify feelings of meaninglessness and incompetence. Facebook users tend to post the best parts of their lives online to make it seem like their life is absolutely perfect. Many teens and young adults compare themselves to those on social media and feel like an inadequate human being even when the portrayed lives of others is inaccurate. Participants in the same study by Calancie, et al. expressed that
the situations that provoked such comparisons included viewing how attractive their peers looked in photos, seeing that peers were participating in many social activities, noticing that someone has a significantly larger number of friends than they do, or that someone receives more ‘likes’ than they do. (Calancie, et al. 7)
Although Facebook can be a useful communication tool, its users set an unrealistic precedent for posts and messages in our society. Instead of posting and sharing the real aspects of their lives, people use Facebook to highlight the best, most unrealistic parts. This makes other users feel depressed and anxious because their life may not be as perfect as others’ lives appear to be. Other users may feel like life is unfair to them.
Not all studies have agreed that Facebook is addictive. Instead, they claim that, “the empirical evidence provided so far is insufficient to support that their effects are harmful enough to merit the ‘addiction’ classification” (Carbonell and Panova 52). This is incoherent based on the extensive research provided and definition of addiction stated in the same study. Addiction can take many forms and may be expressed differently depending on who has the addiction. Like with Facebook, most of the posts give a sense of happiness or joy when someone receives attention from it, even if the content and context of the post is fake or altered in some way. Jeff Cain in, “It’s Time to Confront Student Mental Health Issues Associated with Smartphones and Social Media”, describes social media as a drug, in which companies and SNS have influenced “instantaneous ‘highs’ of texts, social media ‘likes,’ comments, etc.” and designed the apps and websites to be as addictive as possible (Cain 739). This means that anxiety and depression are constant in the minds of most SNS users because they are checking their newsfeed every few seconds and are constantly being exposed to the addictive properties of SNS.
The amount of time one spends on Facebook can vary greatly, however the user can still be addicted depending on the relationship between how long one can wait to use Facebook and how long one spends utilizing it. In a 2017 survey of 2,200 people, 20% of the participants under the age of twenty-five expressed that they can only go a couple of hours without logging into Facebook; another survey with 2,800 people this time, expressed that 21% of people under the age of twenty five said they check Facebook or update their status every time they wake up in the middle of the night, and 32% said they do the same thing the second they wake up in the morning (Burwell et al. 147, 150). Constantly updating statuses and checking newsfeeds results in viewers obsessing over how to create the perfect post anytime they want to share something online; they feel they need the approval of others as well as the need to express their feelings, even if they are unwanted or not needed.
Facebook also provides various sources of entertainment, such as shows, games, and pages for their users. Accessing these sources repeatedly and frequently can cause a Facebook user to develop behavioral addictions, which are defined as, “the failure to resist an impulse, drive or temptation to perform an act that is harmful to the person or to others’” (qtd. in Carbonell and Panova 48). This has been shown in previous studies and surveys mentioning status updates, but Facebook users can access other addicting things with the slightest touch of their fingertips. Any addiction you can think of you can probably access through Facebook in some way or another. A picture, word, or link could trigger someone to just start clicking, and with technology getting faster than ever, people can click on something and be redirected to another page within half a second without even blinking or thinking about it. There is just not enough time for them to resist the addictive feature in the first place. This harms the Facebook user in more ways than one. In interviews featuring university undergraduates, “[students] reported using Facebook for 38 h [sic] or more weekly for nonoccupational and not necessitated purposes” (Carbonell and Panova 50). These ‘nonoccupational and not necessitated purposes’ could be anything from an innocent, mind numbing farming game, to an extensive network of hacking and catfishing. Distractions like these are able to make one lose track of time, hence the reason why undergraduates have expressed excess use of SNS. A Facebook user could spend hours just scrolling through Facebook feeds or planting seeds in a virtual garden on their virtual farm, ignoring primary responsibilities. Which brings up the question: how much Facebook is too much?
The amount of time a person uses Facebook affects their social abilities in negative ways. Users can become anxious, depressed, and antisocial because they are focused on their social media image rather than their mental and physical health. Spending large amounts of time at once on SNS makes people not want to talk to others face-to-face. Users feel either like they are forced to keep up with their fake online life in person or they are afraid of what others will say about them in public, so they do not want to go out side and interact with people (Calancie et al. 2). This makes them avoid physical confrontation at all costs which can increase all sorts of mental issues including stress. Unfortunately for them, one of the best ‘cures’ for stress is physical, social interaction and endorsement from others (Calamcie et al. 2). Utilizing Facebook all the time instead of hanging out with friends in person can actually lead to development of Facebook Addiction Disorder, in which SNS are overused constantly (Burwell et al. 144). This will lead users to ignore important assignments for school or work, forget responsibilities, and destroy friendships because the only thing that matters to them is Facebook. Their priorities get mixed up and they start to drift away from the public eye. Viewing trends online and trying to keep up appearances can lead to lost of physical problems. Eating disorders can begin when someone compares themselves to the photoshopped images of others online. Back issues and chronic pain can also occur from sitting hunched over a screen for long periods of time.
Despite all of the negative side effects, SNS are still attractive to younger generations. The amount of freedom associated with SNS empowers people who feel restricted by society and other social ties such as family or friends. A person can be whoever they want to be with the profile they create online; they are who they let the public see them as. SNS are also free, easy to access and navigate, profiles are private from unwanted eyes for the most part, and SNS can be available anywhere there is an internet connection or Wi-Fi hotspot (Carbonell and Panova 49). Younger generations enjoy the social and entertainment aspects of the social networking world along with the false sense of reality connected to it. Facebook users feel like they are connecting with more of the world by having vast amounts of knowledge at their fingertips and the ability to communicate with people all around the globe. Although it may seem like they are connecting more with the world, really, they are losing rudimentary communication skills and basic verbal etiquette. Facebook users can post whatever they want in the comment section of other posts or I their statues without any immediate consequences. No matter how offensive or rude a comment might be it will not be taken down immediately. And once something is on the internet there is no possible way to make sure it is completely deleted. This results in the amplified extent of cyberbullying.
Because of a lack in fundamental communication skills and verbal etiquette on line, many personal conflicts are posted without permission of both sides of the argument, and it is made public; in a study group, participants said they were, “losing friends and being treated differently by peers whom they felt unfairly judged them based on what they read on Facebook” (Calancie et al. 6). Many Facebook users take advantage of an audience to rant about personal information and attack the person they are arguing with in a passive aggressive way. This audience only receives on side of the story and are thrown into a conflict that has nothing to do with them. Instead of keeping an argument within the circle of people it started in, the argument is displayed to anyone and everyone the Facebook user has on their ‘friend’ list. This gives the bully more power to continue to criticize and turn everyone against one person, that person being the victim of unjust prejudice.
Using Facebook like this often can increase symptoms of narcissism or self-centeredness; this type of person relies on the praise of others to feel important. These traits can be developed through jealousy of others’ profiles, and to release their anger they post something on their own newsfeed to make themselves feel better. In relation to cyberbullying, a narcissist on Facebook will complain about others and make it seem like they are the victim in almost every situation. They require attention and need to receive praise, sympathy, and support from their ‘friends’ on Facebook to help them feel empowered. Many people use Facebook to unhealthily escape from their real-life problems (Burwell et al. 143). By creating fake profiles or making up stories about other people, users have power to create chaos without any consequences reflected upon themselves because no one can fully stop them from doing what they have always done. Even if an account is shut down, a teenager gets grounded from social media, or they are called out for the terrible things they have said, and are blocked, they can always create another account, use someone else’s computer or phone, and they can block people who offend them or simply make fun of them too. In the same case study by Calancie et al. it seems victims of cyberbullying have
been linked to negative mental health and physical health outcomes, such as depression, poor self-esteem, emotional distress, and in more extreme cases, episodes of self-harm and suicide attempts… Adolescents with anxiety disorders are particularly vulnerable to become victims of cyberbullying due to their heightened rejection sensitivity and self-consciousness. (Calancie et al. 11)
Not only does using Facebook result in self-centeredness and obsessive behaviors, it also enhances chances of cyberbullying, and in turn, depressive, anxious, and suicidal tendencies for the one being bullied.
People who have already been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and narcissism are affected greatly by the activities they engage in on Facebook. The symptoms and side effects of their mental issues are only heightened when using Facebook and participating in activities that would normally give people without mental disorders sever side effects. There are, “specific aspects of Facebook that can be sources of fear for anxious adolescents, or that can facilitate pre-existing maladaptive behaviors (e.g. excessively comparing oneself to others, rumination), which in turn may elevate their symptoms” (Calancie et al. 9). Other ‘maladaptive behaviors’ that are outcomes from anxiety include needing approval from others, loss of sense of self-worth, avoiding social events outside of the technological world of SNS, fearing judgment, and many more that have already been stated throughout this paper; common anxiety disorders often go untreated because people don’t know they have anxiety in the first place (Calancie et al. 9-11). Many people with these mental disorders don’t realize they have a disorder. Although you may not seem like you have an anxiety disorder that relates to Facebook it is still a concern to keep on your radar.
Many people have recognized how toxic SNS can be. It is common to see people ‘take breaks’ off of social media but they never stay away for too long. Sometimes, although the intensions were good, taking a break can actually lead to more stress and anxiety. One participant in a case study said
I’ve considered not having Facebook anymore but then that makes me feel worse than I do… even though I don’t really use it, I feel so much pressure to continue to have it. If I didn’t have it I just think about all the things that I wouldn’t see or know about… there’s so much pressure to have it and so I feel like once you get it, you’re basically stuck… I’ve deactivated my Facebook page before but it never lasts very long. (qtd. in Calancie 8).
There’s a sense of fear with the topic of potentially being excluded from the newest information possible on SNS. Many Facebook users have tried to stop using Facebook but have failed time and time again. They are addicted to being ‘in the know’ of all the news and gossip. Even if they, like this participant, don’t use Facebook very often, it can be hard to let go of.
SNS have benefits for long distant communication and ability to spread news fast, but that comes with a price. The negative side effects from Facebook on mental health is destructive and far more extensive than the small benefits from SNS. They are simply not worth the risks. Mainly anxiety, but also depression and narcissism, are fundamental outcomes of using Facebook frequently and for long periods of time on addictive activities. A result of some sort of mental disorder in frequent Facebook users is practically inevitable.
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