If you clicked on this article upon reading its title, we will assume that you, or someone you care about uses social media to some extent. Let’s start off by saying that when used effectively and sparingly, social media can be an excellent way of helping us stay connected with family and friends. It’s also a great way to reconnect with a long-lost friend, and generally, keep people who matter to us updated with our own lives. Yet, all these benefits appear to come with costs as well – psychological costs in particular. There is accumulating evidence that excessive social media use is associated with lowered levels of subjective well-being – how satisfied people report themselves to be with their lives. One study tracked a sample of users over two weeks and found that Facebook use negatively affects moment-to-moment satisfaction and general life satisfaction. In just two weeks, these researchers found that there was a significant decrease in life satisfaction levels in part because of Facebook usage . In another study, Facebook use was linked with lowered relationship satisfaction. In this study, the use of Facebook to pry into others’ personal relationships – what the researchers call ‘Facebook intrusion’ led to higher levels of jealousy and surveillance behaviours . Romantic relationships, it seems are complicated when couples use Facebook as a means to keep tabs on each other, ultimately impacting their offline relationships as well .
One review showed that American college students’ levels of empathy has been on the decline for the past three decades, with a prominent decline observed in college students sampled after the year 2000. The researchers who did this study – Sara Konrath, and her colleagues, found one dimension of empathy declined the most over this period of time: empathic concern. Empathic concern relates to one’s tendency and likelihood of experiencing other-oriented states, such as others’ suffering or misfortune. Konrath and her colleagues provide some suggestions for this decline in empathic concern, one of which being notable changes in media and technology – particularly social media. The authors explain that interactions via social media are not the same as interacting with others in person; the ability to connect meaningfully and personally with another can only be done in person, and not via a screen. Further, social media outlets such as Facebook appear to be a platform oriented towards self-expression, and, coupled with the rise of reality television, appears to encourage ‘unfettered narcissism’ in youths and adolescents .
The research we cited here, are of course, just a sample of a growing number of studies hinting that excessive use of social media may be diminishing, rather than enhancing the quality of our well-being. Indeed, some studies have shown that having Facebook friends enhances social capital, and that maintaining such connections might prove beneficial for users who have low self-esteem or low life satisfaction . Still, it’s hard to deny that social media’s benefits might be outweighed, or at least balanced out with the side effects resulting from excessive usage. We are not here to discourage you from using Facebook or social media, but perhaps, thinking about how you are using these platforms might help you to realize if it is affecting your emotional well-being in a positive or negative way. Here are some questions that might get thinking about your social media usage patterns:
● What are you using Facebook for? Really – be honest with yourself. If it is to keep tabs on your partner, you might want to reevaluate its use. And maybe spend a little bit more time together offline than you do online.
● Does browsing with contacts’ updates make you more, or less satisfied with your own? For instance, does seeing others’ accomplishments and achievements rouse more pleasant, or unpleasant emotions in you?
● Do you find yourself acting, or responding differently to online content? For instance do you find yourself saying (or in this case typing) things you wouldn’t otherwise say in person?