Social media was first introduced in around 1979 when Usenet was launched; Usenet was the first recorded network that allowed users to post news to newsgroups (Fetos, Les, & Angelina, 2018). Ever since then, social media boomed to have around 3.5 billion users, most of which are adolescents around the ages of 10 to 19 (Esteban, 2019). The recent rise in social media has allowed for a much easier means of communicating and connecting with others; however, it poses several risks to the mind and the body and affects productivity and security.
Social media is said to detrimentally affect several aspects of one’s mental health and physical health. External influences such as those from social media platforms are more likely to demean the self-esteem of males and females, contributing to depression and anxiety. According to the National Center for Health Research, an estimated of 44.7 million adults aged 18 or older in the US had a mental illness in 2016; young adults aged 18-25 had the highest prevalence of any mental illness at 22.1% compared to adults aged 26-49 at 21.1% and aged 50 and older at 14.5% (Mir & Novas, 2018).
Another study links the consistent usage of social media to risk factors for depression. A psychology professor at San Diego State University discovered that teens using social media for 5 or more hours a day were 71% more likely to have at least one risk factor for suicide compared to teens who spent only 1 hour a day online. This risk increases with only two or more hours spent online (Mir & Novas, 2018). Both of these studies help solidify the fact that the more social media is used, the higher the chance someone has to develop a mental illness. Adam Alter of New York University delineates that “The minute you take a drug, drink alcohol, smoke a cigarette… when you get a like on social media, all of those experiences produce dopamine, which is a chemical that’s associated with pleasure. When someone likes an Instagram post or any content that you share, it’s a little bit like taking a drug. As far as your brain is concerned, it’s a very similar experience…” (Eames, 2017). If a person is on social media for too long, there will be a myriad of dopamine produced causing individuals to experience emotional problems.
The physical health of an individual can be damaged by the excessive use of social media. Smartphones emit a type of light called blue light that interferes with sleep. This blue light is substantially the same as the light of the sun, beguiling the brain into believing that it is actually daytime (How Exposure to Blue Light Affects Your Brain and Body, 2016). If an individual uses their phone every night before going to bed, the blue light prohibits the release of melatonin – a hormone synthesized by the pineal gland in the brain. Melatonin is responsible for controlling the circadian rhythm – the physical/mental/behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s environment (Circadian Rhythms, 2017).
Dark environments stimulate the pineal gland to release melatonin, while bright environments with blue light from smartphones hinder this production. This disruption of the circadian rhythm leaves individuals distracted and impairs their memory the next day; a poor night’s sleep can make it more difficult for people to learn. Scientists are also discovering that cataracts – the clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye – can be caused by excessive exposure to blue light.
The exponential growth of social media is causing platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to become more and more unsafe every day. Invasion of privacy – the unjustifiable intrusion into one’s personal life without consent – can cause an individual to feel unsafe and unwelcome on social media. For example, back in 2011, there was a hack on Sony’s Playstation network. Over 70 million accounts on the network were affected by the hack; information such as names, e-mails, dates of births and even credit card information were taken by the hackers (Mo, 2017).
Public bashing – verbal attacks towards an individual using abusive and pejorative remarks – is one of the most common types of ethical dilemmas. Students who experience bullying or cyberbullying are nearly 2 times more likely to attempt suicide than the average individual and are also associated with the development of low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, family problems, academic difficulties, delinquency, and school violence (Hinduja, 2018).
Another common ethical dilemma is dishonesty and distortion – the deceitfulness regarding someone’s intentions or identity, giving someone a misleading account or impression. Dishonesty and distortion is very common on social media apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Tinder. In 2018, an 18-year-old teenager, Denali Brehmer, killed her best friend because an online stranger said that he would pay her to do it. The online stranger, Tyler, promised to reward Denali with $9M for killing her. After shooting her best friend in the back of the head, Denali took videos and photos to send to Tyler. This predatory behavior is known as dishonesty and distortion (Justin et al., 2013). According to the National Violence Against Women Survey, 1/12 women and 1/45 men will be cyberstalked throughout their lives (Cyberstalking is a Growing Problem, 1999).
Social media can generate several issues relating to productivity, health, sleep schedules, and more. 45% of teenagers state that they check their phones almost constantly and 44% of teenagers state that they check their phones several times a day (Felix, 2018). This can cause students to become distracted in doing their work; instead, they will start worrying about the appearance of others and what their friends are doing, causing their sleep schedules to be disrupted. By constantly checking social media, teenagers feel a sense of inadequacy when they see a person with the “ideal” body type. Copious correlational and experimental studies have linked exposure to the thin ideal in mass media to body dissatisfaction, internalization of the thin ideal, and disordered eating among women (Media & Eating Disorders, 2018).
69% of American elementary school girls who read magazines say that the pictures influence their concept of the ideal body shape; 47% say the pictures make them want to lose weight. (Martin, 2010). Social media idealizes men to be muscular, causing body dissatisfaction (Media & Eating Disorders, 2018). All of these issues can cause anorexia nervosa – an eating disorder characterized by abnormally low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of weight (Mayo Clinic, 2019).
Social media has been an accelerating pandemic since the launch of Usenet in 1979. Despite all of its valuable uses, social media poses more harm than help. By heavily relying on social media, it affects both the mental and physical health of an individual resulting in a myriad of health issues that can even lead to death. Often, teenagers are seen to neglect their bodies and their responsibilities in order to check and become up-to-date on social media. Social media is a very beneficial tool when used correctly; however, when used incorrectly it does not provide any ample benefits though the scientific, ethical, or social perspective.