When MySpace and Facebook ushered in the era of social networking, the idea was to draw people together. Fast-forward 15 years and instead of an ideal global community, social media has become less about relationships and a lot more about showing off. It’s keeping up with the Jones’ on steroids.
Today, multiple studies show that as social media use rises, so do the cases of depression and anxiety, especially in kids and teens. While the exact reasons for it haven’t been proven, it’s easy to hypotheses that the idealized versions of life that many post on social media lead others to feel that their own lives are less fun, glamorous and therefore not as good. In fact a recent survey found that a scant five percent of Americans believe social media has a positive effect on mental health.
Amongst the younger generations, social media has created an addiction to likes and views. Not only do they feel like they must document every aspect of their lives from the mundane of what they eat to the exciting travel photos, younger people derive a sense of self worth from how their posts are received by their network. While older individuals are less susceptible to that, social media posts by younger people tend to make them feel like they are less able than they really are.
And it’s not just our personal network that causes social media to make us anxious; it’s the advertisers too. As social channels have exploded in popularity, brands jumped on board to use it as a vehicle to advertise everything from beauty products to cars. Through systematic, targeted ads social media users are bombarded with messages for things they likely want and may not be able to afford. This creates even more anxiety that they’re not keeping up with the Jones’.
Even business platforms like LinkedIn foster anxiety as you compare your job title and professional experience and connections to others.
Since it doesn’t appear that social media is going to disappear anytime soon, what’s needed are platforms that help the problem rather than contribute to it. It’s time to return to the utopian vision of social media and create networks that actually help dispel social anxiety rather instead of feed it.
New social platforms like Hoooked Up are designed to create connection, not competition by eliminating likes and creating an environment based on intention and interaction. The app allows users to share updates and chat like many other networks, but is designed to be an online community where users can offer services, list real estate, and sell goods peer-to-peer. The goal of these next generation platforms is to benefit people economically and socially.
Even the most popular networks are taking notice of the issues with social media. Instagram is piloting a program where others can’t see the likes your post of story receives, although the account holder will still have access to that information.
Social media does have the power to be a positive influence, but only when it’s no longer a popularity contest and instead truly does foster positive connections that build people up rather than tear down their self-esteem.