When I was entering high school in the mid 90s, like any other teenager at the time, I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be cool and popular. How is that measured? Back then, popularity was measured in many ways; a cool popular kid had many friends, played sports, was outgoing and might even throw a house party where half of the school shows up. But, now with social media involved in every part of our day-to-day lifestyle, the popularity game is different.
This past year, I began to study social media interactions. Today, people define popularity by how many “likes” they get or how many followers they have. People use social media to flex their knowledge of pop culture by posting a viral video or trending news topic before others. The use of social media has expanded to sitting in a room with Facebook or Twitter acting as their therapist with the discussion of problematic life issues.
Anxiety UK conducted a survey on social media use and its effects on emotions at the University of Salford. Fifty-three percent of those who took part in the study said social media networking sites led to a change in their behavior. The research also showed that 55 percent felt anxiety when they were unable to access their social media networking sites. Meanwhile, research conducted at The University of Michigan showed that excess use of Facebook led to a decline in happiness and overall life satisfaction.
Social media has also created a new platform for bullies. Cyber bullying allows bullies to torture and humiliate their victims away from any physical place such as school or a playground. With a simple tweet or a Facebook post, a bully can humiliate someone in front of thousands of people. During my study I spent a lot of time reviewing the comments section on YouTube. Comments like “that’s gay,” or “kill yourself!” are common. It’s difficult to say why users feel compelled to make hurtful comments, especially toward someone whom they don’t know. Maybe they are projecting or just looking for a reaction, but there are times when these comments do more than anger anonymous people online.
Seventeen-year-old Daniel Perry jumped off a bridge to end his life after being bullied on social media after commenters told him to cut his throat and kill himself. After being blackmailed on social media, Perry ended his life. There are many victims like Perry and it’s heartbreaking to see families and loved ones suffer because actions of few.
There is no denying social media’s popularity. Facebook recently announced that it has 1.39 billion active users. Social media provides a way to stay connected with friends and family and stay current with what’s going on in the world. And certainly no one can underestimate the role it has played in the way people can share and communicate with each other. However, there is also no denying the negatives. Limiting the use of social media can help not only avoid the negatives but also improve social skills. Something as simple as having a conversation or limiting the use of social media with your children can help them deal with the negatives of social media.
Abhishek Patel majored in Business & Psychology at the University at Albany, State University of New York and continued his education by attending Kaplan University for Education Psychology. He is currently working in the field of marketing while surviving the harsh Chicago weather.