Social Media Harms
Highlighting Studies that Big Tech Doesn’t Want You to See
In the history of technology, social media platforms have been around for a relatively short time. Per Sinan Aral in his book, “The Hype Machine i”, digital social networks have been around since at least 2002 with the founding of Friendster. In the intervening 20 years, social media platforms and the underlying technology and network strategies that these platforms use have changed radically –just look at the differences between MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, WeChat and TikTok. This technology is evolving rapidly, with little time to study its effects — unless those effects are profit margins.
More people are using social media platforms since the start of the COVID19 epidemic. Per Digital World Information, social media accounts increased by 8 percent after the beginning of COVID19 lockdowns, for a total of 3.8 B users worldwide by April 2020 ii
Big Tech is taking advantage of confusion and conflicting results in the academic community
The academic community has been confounded by the many studies that have been performed in academic and business organizations over the last two decades regarding the effects that this new technology has on people’s emotions, information consumed and actions taken as a result of those messages. Many academics simply throw up their hands and state that past studies report both positive and negative effects of social media use, disregarding the technology behind these systems, and advocate for more studies.iii
Some researchers have documented negative impacts of social media use
Other researchers have been more concerned regarding the negative effects of social media use. Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, states in her 2017 book “iGen- Why Today’s Super-connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood”iv :
“The results could not be clearer: teens who spend more time on screen activities (Internet, Social networking websites, Texting, Computer games, TV) are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time on nonscreen activities (Sports/exercise, Religious services, Print media, In-person social interaction) are more likely to be happy. There’s not a single exception: all screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness (pp.77–78).”
Adults Experience Negative Effects from Social Media Use
Dr. Twenge’s findings have been validated in adults also. Dr. Brian Primack, M.D., PhD and co-authors of “Temporal Associations Between Social Media Use and Depression” in the February 2021 edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicinei concluded:
“Among 990 participants who were not depressed at baseline, 95 (9.6%) developed depression by follow-up.
Conclusions: In a national sample of young adults, baseline social media use was independently associated with the development of depression by follow-up, but baseline depression was not associated with an increase in social media use at follow-up. This pattern suggests temporal associations between social media use and depression, an important criterion for causality.”
Dr. Primack, et al concluded that social media users who were not depressed at the beginning of the study developed depression after approximately six months of social media use.
People who self reported that they had depression at the beginning of the study did not increase their use of social media platforms during the study period, indicating that depression itself did not cause increased social media use. The authors concluded that the increase in depression in the non-depressed group was caused by their social media use.
Social Media Harms was developed to provide a listing of peer-reviewed studies, well-researched books and articles from authoritative sources that document the negative effects of social media use. It is meant to be a tool to be used by people who are concerned about social media’s negative effects on people’s emotions, actions and lives. We do not solicit donations, however, we are asking for additions to our lists of peer reviewed studies and authoritative books and articles.
Social media platforms, through a combination of technology and regulatory changes, can be improved to reduce, or perhaps to totally negate, the harms caused now. What is critical is that the public has an awareness of these problems. Citizens can use their time and attention to contact their elected officials and social media platforms themselves to ensure that these harms are mitigated.
i Aral, S. The Hype Machine (2020) Currency, Penguin Random House LLC , pp.17
ii Analysis Reveals a Surge in Digital Activity and Social Media Growth Amid Coronavirus Epidemic, Digital Information World, accessed Feb 13, 2021 https://www.digitalinformationworld.com/2020/04/analysis-reveals-a-surge-in-digital-activity-and-social-media-growth-amid-coronavirus-pandemic.html
iii Kross E., Verduyn P., et al,Social Media and Well-Being: Pitfalls, Progress, and Next Steps (2021), Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Volume 25, Issue 1, 2021, Pages 55–66, ISSN 1364–6613, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2020.10.005.
iv. Twenge, J.M. iGen Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — And Completely Unprepared for Adulthood (2017), Atria, Simon & Schuster, Inc.
v Primack et al., “Temporal Associations Between Social Media Use and Depression.” (2021), American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 60, ISSUE 2, P179–188, February 01, 2021,DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2020.09.014, https://www.ajpmonline.org/action/showPdf?pii=S0749-3797%2820%2930447-5