The concerning effects
of social media

di Priscilla Pajdo del April 1, 2021

TORONTO - Worldwide, social media users number about 3.8 billion, roughly 50% of the global population. Social media has infiltrated almost every aspect of modern life. It is a means by which people can stay in touch, interact and a way to create and/or exchange information and ideas in a virtual environment. It can be a beneficial tool, especially at a time when medical experts advise keeping physically distanced to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 (graph 1).

Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, these are just some of the most popular social networks worldwide. These platforms provide a means for more people to stay connected with family and friends, regardless of the distance between each other (graph 2).

Social media provides greater access to more information now than ever before. In the last year, recent events have made us more reliant on these virtual tools to study, work, play, worship and socialize. As useful as virtual platforms can be, they can have some negative consequences. According to a Statistics Canada report, Canadians’ assessment of social media in their lives (March 24, 2021), roughly one in five Canadians have become less physically active and report losing sleep on account of social media usage. The study used data from the 2018 Canadian Internet Use Survey, pre-Covid. The authors of the study examined reports of the negative effects the participants (aged 15-64) experienced as a result of using social media. The results varied among di­ erent age groups, but overall, 22% of respondents between the ages of 15-64, reported being less physically active than in the previous 12 months. Another 19% reported lost sleep and 18% reported difficulty with concentrating on tasks (graph 3).

Some other outcomes associated with social media usage included: feelings of anxiety and/or depression, frustration, anger and reports of being envious of the lives of others. Left unchecked, these have the potential to lead to greater implications for physical and mental well-being.

Across the age groups, a greater portion of younger individuals reported experiencing some of the negative impacts. For example, 40% of youth between the ages of 15-19 reported lost sleep as a result of their social media use. The next greatest issue among in this age category was trouble concentrating, 36.1%.

Individuals aged 20-24 also experienced difficulty with concentration and attributed it to their online usage. One-third of respondents (33.5%) reported difficulties staying focused on a task. The findings raise concern regarding the implications especially for those under the age of 24. Feelings of anxiety and depression were also higher among younger people, 22.8% for those aged 15-19 and 21.6% for those between the ages of 22-24.

The study further suggests that social networking activities that are geared toward family and friends had fewer reports of negative outcomes than those that were more publicly focused.

There is no doubt that social media has its perks and helps people stay connected and informed, especially through a pandemic. However, the negative impacts can lead to a host of other issues which may affect mental health and overall well-being.

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