IIT Hyderabad

When social media becomes anti-social

Social networks and microblogging apps help us connect with a wider world. But they are also trapping us in a vicious cycle of psychological disorders

“Social media is not a media. The key is to listen, engage, and build relationships.” Well, that’s what David Alston said.

Social media is a tool created to connect people over the globe, to facilitate easy access to people across countries. It hasn’t been long since we started to breathe social media. Young adults, in the age group of 18-29, are most likely to use social media, almost 90% of them do. But others are not left out. In a study report by Smith and Page (2015), social media usage among those above 65 years of age has increased three-fold since 2010 when only 10% of people used social media. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that social media is not a trend that only the youth follows; it’s a habit that prevails for the entire population.

Today, social media is not just any mode of connection. Rather, it has become our mode of survival. Try keeping us without being in touch with Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram; it feels like a fish out of water. There would be few phenomena in human history that compete with the dizzying growth social media has witnessed.

This phenomenon, of course, is not without its downside, as every parent of a teenager has found.

Social media has become our mode of survival. Try keeping us without being in touch with Facebook, Twitter or Instagram; it feels like a fish out of water.

Negative impact on mental health

There is an overload of information that can severely affect mental well-being causing mental fatigue and energy drainage. A relevant study was done by Dhir (2018), the findings of which suggested that using social media compulsively resulted in mental fatigue. That is not all. There are several troublesome patterns emerging from the world of social media.

Anxiety and Depression: Being drowned in the sea of emotions, anxiety and depressed states turn out to be most common. More the time spent on using social media, greater symptoms of dispositional anxiety which was pretty evident in a study by Vannucci (2017). The pattern of excessive social media usage and depression is significant in all age groups.

Fear of missing out: Mostly the fear of missing out is related to social media consumption. Beyens (2016) in a study revealed that stress relating to Facebook use increased fear of missing out (FOMO). Fear of missing out sets the life of people in autopilot mode.

Body image issues: In the study conducted by Fardouly (2016) revealed that body image concerns among young men and women are mostly associated with social media usage, particularly Facebook, it is also suggested that in a longitudinal study the relation between Facebook and body image issues may strengthen.

Loneliness in adolescents: Thousands of friends and followers and not having even a single real relation are trends of this generation. Lonely children and adolescents use online mode to communicate their personal and intimate feelings than those who are not lonely (Bonetti, 2010).

A representative survey of the U.S. on adolescents threw light on the relationship between screen time and suicidal ideation. It was found that children who spent more time off-screen were less likely to report mental health issues as compared to the children who spent more time on screen, including that on social media and smartphones (Twenge, 2017). The virtual world does not really suffice the need for real communications and connections.

Lowering of self-esteem: Constant comparison with a virtual display of others’ life leads to lower levels of self-esteem, making youngsters feel unworthy. A study by Jan (2017) proved that there is a strong correlation between social media and self-esteem. The relation between them came out to be a negative correlation. As social media usage increases, it causes self-esteem to decrease.

The perils of FOMO

Among all the troubles of social media, the one which has set a hashtag trend among the youth is Fear of Missing Out (#fomo), a term coined by Dr. Herman in 1996. It is like a bug in the cognitive processes of perception that everyone else is having a better and happier life because of all the photos and tweets on their social platforms and there is something fundamentally important that they are missing out, while others in their friend list are experiencing that.

Often, the young do not realise that others are merely bragging on these platforms. It’s a space where everything and anything can be bragged about. From the place where you ate to the parties, you went to. Most of the time, the happiness portrayed on social media platforms may also be exaggerated. A study concluded that problematic smartphone use was positively correlated with envy and this relation was mediated by FoMO (Wang, 2019).

The most affected section of society is adolescents. In a study by Fabris (2020), it was concluded that FoMO was associated with decreased levels of emotional well-being in adolescents. There was also a negative relationship found between neglect by online peers and higher sensitivity to stress which was a trigger for social media addiction. There is no gender difference as such in experiencing FoMO but the younger population surely has higher rates for the same (Rozgonjuk, 2021).

Constant buzzing of notifications from instagram, whatsapp, and snapchat keep distracting the majority from their work and hours are lost.

Then there’s phubbing

Phubbing is the term used when people ignore someone they are with and instead pay attention to their phones. Al-Saggaf (2020) did a study to find the relation between phubbing, fear of missing out, and boredom and found that FoMO was used as an excuse to phub so as to avoid the feeling of boredom. It’s like you surf because you feel FoMO and then you feel FoMO because of compulsive scrolling, leading to a vicious cycle.

It has been established that social media engagement on the one hand and anxiety and stress on the other are mediated by FOMO. Also, social anxiety and compulsive Facebook use were mediated by fear of missing out and rumination. There was a prominent relationship between social media use and depressive symptoms because of problematic use behaviors. In some cases, problematic smartphone usage leads to learned helplessness as well.

Lack of attention span at workplace

A study done in Germany by Rozgonjuk (2020) predicted a strong positive correlation between FoMO and social networks use disorder, as well as a negative impact on productivity at work and regular functioning of life. The constant buzzing of notifications from Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and the likes of it keeps distracting the majority from their work, and hours are lost. This whole dark circle leads to work stress when deadlines are not met.

Researches and studies have revealed that our personalities are severely distorted because we constantly try to be someone else and do something that is trendier. The effort to achieve this seems to make our whole identities flawed. Worse, it is not that people don’t realise what social media is doing to them. They do acknowledge the fact that it makes them more anxious and depressed because the major focus is on what we are missing out on. This disturbs our whole mental well-being.

Let social media be a source to connect with people and not make it a device to disconnect us from ourselves.

Four things to do:

There have been a few interventions and research findings that work on grounding the humans who might feel overwhelmed with social media usage.

  • In the digital world where everything happens over social networks, it won’t be practical to quit social media altogether, but you can surely go on regular digital detoxification to keep your mind sane and functional. Switch off your mobile phones over the weekends or simply uninstall some of those apps for two-three days, take time to get back to other things that you have wanted to do.
  • If quitting social media doesn’t sound like a plan, then limiting its use can really be helpful. Limiting social media usage to 30 minutes per day can lead to prominent changes in well-being (Hunt, 2018).
  • Keep track of your emotions in writing as you feel FoMO can be one of the resorts to hold on to your emotions and not get carried away with them.
  • Try to keep a gratitude journal. Rather than constantly feeling as if something or the other is missing out, live the moment and try to be thankful for what you have.
Aryavani Arya





By  Aryavani Arya, Researcher specialising in psychology

One response to “When social media becomes anti-social”

  1. HEATHER Butcher says:

    Modern approaches to our business organizations within a global market today, suggest that the best forums are through the means of social media. Accompanied by our latest online packages supporting our communications teams’ social media packages Facebook and Twitter are the giants in social media. The past pandemic has allowed us all to either be employed working from home either remotely or through adjusted means of communicating on Microsoft teams working from home including most marketing organizations having to market on social media protecting areas of data protection against crime prevention.

    We are all challenged by how we protect our presence on social media. This also includes working on digital forums educationally or in our professional sectors. How well we all safeguard ourselves and others when needed is a priority. The online bill in the safety of how we appreciate these platforms, oftentimes targeting others in hate speeches or underground crimes is also a priority.

    Crime Prevention in Drugs, human trafficking, or other crimes then means we are all responsible for safeguarding ourselves on these social media platforms. As we work in our organizations or socially with others respecting all groups is vital, minimizing the risk of valid social media platforms being shared in ways that are considered to be anti-social. Social Media Platforms are only anti-social if we allow them and do not safeguard ourselves from any or all groups, even at work with our work colleagues in any sector.

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