While social media is a huge part of our everyday lives with many tangible benefits — keeping us connected with friends around the globe, for one — research suggests that it can exacerbate mental health issues or self-image woes, and a social media break every now and again can be beneficial to your health in untold ways.
You may also be feeling the urge to put down your phone given the recent allegations that millions of Facebook users may have had their data used without their knowledge by Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm with links to Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. Security experts recommend that if you're concerned about your data, but don't feel like taking a full break, you can do a "spring clean" of the apps that have access to your social media data, including any games and brands you've played in the past, and make sure your privacy settings represent what you'd like to show to the world.
If your concerns are more on the health side of things, you should know that social media isn't the big bad problem that many commentators have made it out to be. Studies have shown that using it doesn't reduce the grades of school students, and scientists have repeatedly demonstrated that, contrary to fears, humans don't replace face-to-face contact with social media interaction; it augments our social lives, rather than replacing them. And when we post memories on social media, a study in 2016 found, it becomes easier to recall them later. However, there's a lot of evidence that it can affect our lives in pretty interesting and sometimes rather damaging ways. And more and more of us are becoming aware of them; a 2017 study found that almost 60 percent of young adults and teens take breaks from social media sometimes, and feel better for it. Here's what you should know about social media if you want to take a break for a bit.
1. It Changes How We View Our Own Happiness
Studies on the intricacies of social media have discovered something interesting about the ways in which we compare ourselves to others. And the results aren't necessarily promising. A 2017 paper on a problem called the "happiness paradox" — the idea that popularity and happiness on social media appear to be intertwined ways — found that many people, on observing more popular friends on social media, believe themselves to be less content by comparison. "I have fewer friends and Instagram followers," we think, "therefore I'm not as happy as they are." It's an illusion, but it's a powerful one.
This weirdness that social media wreaks on our self-image is supported by other studies, too. In 2018, scientists published research on workout posts on social media and how they made others feel. While some people saw them as motivating, others felt a bit depressed and less content with their own bodies by comparison. Taking a break can stop you from making comparisons like these and reassess your relationship to social media — and yourself.
2. It's A Showcase For Narcissists
In "well, duh" news, research published in 2017 affirms what years of other studies had stated: social media is a playground for people who have narcissistic tendencies, and those who tend to view other people as objects. A study from the University of Wurzburg found that social media tends to attract narcissists, who love to promote themselves and present a superior view of their own lives and achievements. Why? Because their friends become objects of their own, representing achievement and comparative success. These traits aren't negative in and of themselves, but it can be helpful to take a step back and measure what aspects of social media bring these out, so that you can more effectively control how it affects you.
3. It May Not Be Excellent For Mental Health
Social media has been known to be helpful for people experiencing mental health issues, as it provides communities of support and easy access to advice from others. However, some research does indicate that it can be linked to some mental health problems, though it's not entirely clear what the cause of the relationship is. An extensive 2016 study found, for instance, that young people who spend a lot of time on social media are more likely to experience symptoms of depression than those who don't have social media at at all. Some of this effect seems to be that social media can increase depressive tendencies through exposure to other peoples' perfection and the pressure to look good online. And researchers have also found that viewing social media posts about disasters and violence can make people traumatized, even if they're not directly experiencing the violence.
4. It Can Be A Toxic Place For Women
A 2017 study found that nearly 50 percent of women between the ages of 13 and 72 had experienced harassment of some kind while on social media, with 41 percent reporting threatening behavior and 15 percent reporting sexual harassment. In the age of #MeToo, that doesn't seem surprising. Women often cope with an astonishing amount of abuse or unsolicited contact on social media platforms, much of which we ignore or simply put aside — because it happens to all of us, right? If you can't turn open an app without getting DMs that you can't shake and keep needing to avoid trolls, now is a good time for a break.
A little bit of social media, provided you know what you're putting out into the world, doesn't hurt. But research does indicate that there are decided negatives to constantly checking your various feeds, so there are good reasons to go cold turkey for a while.