How Much Is Too Much: Can Social Media Bring Us Closer Together or Tear Us Apart?
In this article, we focus on social media consumption and habits. The topic was approached through an online survey conducted on the questia.ro platform. The research study was active between January 29th and January 31st, 2019 and covered 994 respondents, with a +/- 3% margin of error when reported to the Romanian online population.
‘Likes’ Aren’t Only Reactions Anymore
Information and communications technologies have changed rapidly over the last 20 years with the emergence of social media being an essential development. Almost half of the world population is connected on social media, as the number of worldwide users is 3.196 billion as of 2019, rising by 13 percent since 2018.
Staying interconnected with both the virtual and the real world has become a daily routine for many of us. At the same time, by using social networks we managed to change and even replace some of our habits.
Using social networks can have both positive and negative impact. Psychologist Scott Bea from Cleveland Clinic considers that social networks are appealing because they can help users gain more confidence when they receive ‘likes’, comments and shares on their posts. But this habit creates addiction as the users will post more often to demonstrate to themselves and their friends that they are appreciated in the virtual world.
"Social media affects the brain in the same way that a hug does”, according to American Marketing Association. When we post on social media, our brain triggers the production of dopamine, /), a chemical that plays a starring role in motivating behavior, also known as “reward molecule”. It also gets released when eating delicious food, exercising, setting and achieving a goal, having sex, and, importantly, when having successful social interactions. Moreover, it was discovered that in 10 minutes of social media time, oxytocin levels (the cuddle hormone released when we kiss or hug) rise as much as 13% . So, all the good feelings that come with oxytocin, lowered stress levels, feelings of love, trust, generosity and empathy, may come with social media as well.
It seems that after just a taste of social media, we tend to become addicted. Studies have shown that Twitter is harder to resist than giving up alcohol or cigarettes: “In an evolutionary context, it rewards us for beneficial behaviors and motivates us to repeat them.”
Moreover, a study shows that the use of social media by teenagers goes hand in hand with increased teen depression. But is social media a catalyst for depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues? It appears that our mood and behavior can be negatively influenced by social networks by:
- Reducing self-worth - Everyone posts only the good parts of their lives, so you are inclined to think that’s the reality. When you start comparing yourself with your peers’ lifestyle, you tend to believe your life isn’t good and sometimes you underestimate yourself.
- Anxiety – By design, social media compels many of its users to check their accounts on a daily basis and they succeed because they fear of missing (FOMO) what others are doing/posting.
- Lack of sleep - Most of us, before sleep, check our social media accounts for updates. This affects the quality of sleep and slows down the process of falling asleep, as researchers found out those who check their social networks frequently are three times more likely than others to have troubles falling asleep. Scrolling before bed also might be an issue as the blue light emitted by the phone sends signals to the brain so it is misled into believing it is day time, and thus, we fall asleep harder.
- Decrease in the quality of social interaction - We are almost always connected on our phones and we might not be careful at the discussions around us while we are checking for notifications or likes.
- Envy – Seeing pictures of people in holidays or photos of their new house or other achievements and possessions could trigger envy or even anger and even diminished self-worth.
- Body image – We are bombarded with images of perfection, perfect bodies, perfect faces and perfect lives. This could contribute to leave people feel down about themselves · and sometimes they end up with body image dissatisfaction. Jaimie Bloch, psychologist and clinical director, said that platforms like Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram, create an environment that is based on rating people and earning approvals through likes, shares and comments.
- Constant connectivity – According to Ms. Bloch, access to constant connectivity can prove to be negative to our mental health and lives as the pressure of being always available and responsive can cause anxiety and making us feel like we are constantly switched on.
Innovation in Communication or Neglecting Real Life?
You can forget to drink 2 liters of water per day, but never to check your social media notifications. Staying connected is a daily routine for most respondents, as 94% said they access their social media apps on a daily basis, while only 6% check them 4 to 5 times per week or less.
Facebook is still dominating the worldwide top of the most popular social networks with 2.27 billion monthly active users as of January 2019, followed by Youtube (1.9b), Whatsapp (1.5b), Facebook Messenger (1.3b), WeChat (almost 1.1b) and Instagram (1b).
When considering Romania, the number of social media accounts was 11 million as of January 2019 (56% penetration, increasing rate of 10% from last year), while 9.8 million (50% penetration) are mobile social media users. Facebook is the top social media channel for Romanians, as well, with 10 million monthly active users, followed by Instagram (3.9m), LinkedIn (2.6m), Snapchat (1.4m) and Twitter with 348.5K monthly active users.
Similarly, almost all of our respondents use Facebook (99%) as a way of connecting with their peers. Almost three-quarters of them engage via WhatsApp while a little more than a half have a YouTube account. Instagram is a little more popular than Google+, with almost half of respondents having accounts on each one of the platforms. Over one quarter of respondents (30.2%) own LinkedIn accounts, while Pinterest and Twitter are used to a lower degree (with 21.2% respondents having a Pinterest account and 18.1% owning a Twitter account).
When asked about the time they spend on social media platforms, the majority of respondents (86.9%) answered they spend up to 2 hours in a single social media session, with a little more than half (53.8%) saying they stay less than one hour per session and over a quarter (33.1%) between 1 and up to 2 hours. Only a few percentage (8.1%) claims they stay on social media between 2 and up to 4 hours per session, while almost 5% spend more than 4 hours for a single session on online communities.
A little over a half of respondents (50.8%) said they sometimes publish posts on their social media profiles, while a little over a quarter (21.5%) claims they do so but rarely. The active ones, 21.5% answered they post often on their social networks.
One of the main objectives of social media platforms is to get people connected as Facebook’s slogan itself is “Facebook is a social utility that connects you with the people around you”. Social media users interact with each other through friendship invitations, private messages and reactions and comments on one’s posts.
A good meme will always do the trick. It seems that the most engaging type of post is the content related to fun stuff (with 63.4% of respondents saying they post funny content on their social networks), followed by posts related to music and media (43.9%, respectively 43.6%). Motivational and inspirational posts are also trending, with 38.2% of respondents claiming they use this type of content in their posts.
Some respondents (35%, respectively 26.5%) said they post content related to their activity and personal life, such as status updates, personal images or videos, check-ins, etc. Images with food or drinks will never get old as it seems that 31.6% of respondents also tend to post them.
A little over one quarter (27.9%) also like posting about their holidays. According to a study, it seems that social media and travel goes hand in hand as 52% of Facebook users dream about vacation when they are on the platform. While on a trip, 60% of travelers, and 97% of Millennial travelers, share their travel photos and 87% of Millenials said they use Facebook for travel inspiration.
For almost three quarters of our respondents (73%), social networks provide a way in which they can initiate discussions with their work or university colleagues. Only a little over half of the respondents agree with the fact that social media is contributing to wasting of time and to reducing the amount of time spent communicating offline (by switching to online).
On another note, a little more than half do not believe that being on social media is risky nor that they are addicted to the networks. However, there is no clear statement towards whether or not social media channels help respondents get more involved into volunteering and civic activities.
The main advantages for using social media networks consist of an easier way of communicating with people (83.8%), a more efficient way of obtaining information (82.9%) and a friendlierenvironment for socialization. Moreover, it seems that these internet communities provide the medium for getting back in touch with your old friends and acquaintances (for 64.7% of respondents) while also making new ones by discovering new people (49.2%). On the other hand, for almost 60% of respondents, using social media means an opportunity to relax.
According to Pew Research Center, users dislike their friends’ oversharing and when people post photos of them without first asking permission.
The main disadvantages of using social media networks prove to be the lack of privacy and intimacy through intense exposure (62.3%), the existence of fake data (55.9%) and even fake friendships (45.8%) and the lack of real socialization and direct conversation (54.7%, respectively 53.4%). Moreover, for 43.4% of respondents using social networks seems to be a waste of time, while 43.1% said it generates addiction.
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