Is social media bad for your health?

No one twenty years ago could have predicted the rise and popularity of social media platforms. Everybody from your friends, colleagues and neighbours to your mum, dad and even number 27’s dog now has an online presence. It’s a great way to keep up to date with those you care about, particularly those who you don’t see often. But is social media really social? Should we be scrapping our Facebook accounts to help improve our mental wellbeing?

Social media first began in 1967. ‘Really?’ I hear you say. It’s true, the definition of social media is any interactive computer-mediated technologies that allows the development and sharing of information via networks.

ARPANET was the first true social media; an exchange network for businesses to communicate and share ideas. Since then, the development of the personal computer has driven the expansion of electronic bulletin board systems (BBS); now known as online forums. BBSs eventually migrated online with the invention of the internet and soon numbered the tens of thousands by the mid 1990s. The earliest social media site was Geocities, starting in 1994. However, the true first social networking platform, which modern society would be able to associate with due to inclusion of profiles and friend lists was Six Degrees.

Today, Facebook is the most popular social media network, with over 2.2 million users. Nobody will deny that Facebook, with roots back to 2004, has revolutionised the way we communicate and engage with others. Yet, there is growing criticism of Facebook for multiple reasons including the the recent phenomenon of fake news. Yet, despite the backlash, user numbers are still rising, with the average time spent online daily totalling over an hour. Surely a few hours on Facebook isn’t doing us harm, or is it?

The Welfare Effects of Social Media was published by researchers from Stanford University and NYU. 2,844 Facebook users were included in the study to analyse the effects of deactivating your Facebook account. Half of the participants were asked to abstain for a month from engaging with the network, while the other half maintained their usual activity levels. All of those involved gave updates on how they were feeling throughout the trial.

Interestingly, the majority of the people who logged off, reported significant improvements in their happiness, anxiety and overall wellbeing. Some were even persuaded to remain offline once the study was complete.

The study concluded that there are benefits to Facebook and social media use as it allows communication, and the involvement of certain communities which would otherwise be isolated. But, not using Facebook can improve personal wellbeing, and this would be beneficial to those experiencing addiction to the network. So, will you be deleting your account?

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Sophie Burrows

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December 2021
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The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

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