Social media makes us happy and fun.
Social media makes us sad and depressed.
Social media drives us crazy.
Depending on what study you read, or which news outlet reports on the study, you might be scratching your head wondering about the real impact social media has on your emotional state.
The truth is, no one really knows, and the lasting impact of our 10+ years of social media use won’t be realized for another decade or so. For those of you old enough to remember, the 1940s and early 1950s were fraught with “social scientific” predictions of the downfall of society, thanks to television.
We’re still here, and television only has enhanced our understanding of the world. Some argue television made us better connected to world.
Our understanding of the world may be enhanced with social media. For many users, we now have more opportunities to connect and learn about the world.
I’m constantly reminded of the power of social media to shrink my personal world. On Facebook and other platforms, I often find new and old friends. It’s exciting to rekindle friendships with people I haven’t seen since elementary school.
Of course, it’s also a little disconcerting reconnecting with an old buddy, as the face of the friend you remember has aged over the last 40 years. It’s also disconcerting because you quickly remember your face is a bit older, too.
Some researchers have suggested these kinds of interactions make us happy by triggering the release of dopamine, the “pleasure” chemical in our brain.
Last year, Margaret Duffy, a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri, and Edson Tandoc, a professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, found that the impact social media has on people all depends on how people use it.
“Facebook can be a fun and healthy activity if users take advantage of the site to stay connected with family and old friends,” Duffy said.
Still, Duffy noted that if you’re using Facebook to see how well someone is doing or to check in an old flame, that use can also trigger feelings of depression.
Other studies support this claim.
For example, a study released last week by Privilege Home Insurance revealed that 6.9 million adults felt some depression when using social media. More than half said they felt some pressure to use social media to share interesting content about their lives and to interact with others.
About 10 percent reported feeling depressed if they posted something that didn’t get a reply, and 8 percent of people studied said they’d delete something that didn’t get any likes or comments.
It’s hard to justify some great level of concern for these numbers. We’re talking about small percentages.
Still, these findings should cause us all to consider the effects social media has on our emotional well-being. It might cause us to consider other channels for connecting and communicating with family and friends.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.