Most people use at least one major social media platform, but fail to understand just how impactful daily social media use can be. It’s entertaining to scroll through memes, photos, and life updates from the people you’ve met throughout your life, but we often don’t see the ways that social media changes how we act and think—not to mention changing the opportunities that are available to us.
Let’s start by looking at some of the ways that social media can have a direct impact on your life:
- Job prospects. At this point, it’s likely that millions of people have missed out on job opportunities or lost their current jobs due to something they said or did on social media. Employers often comb through applicants’ and employees’ former posts. If they find something offensive, or something that indicates a lack of character, it could prevent you from landing that job, or progressing your career.
- ESTA applications. On your ESTA application and on other important applications, you may be prompted for your social media information. Officials review this information to evaluate potential security threats. Most people don’t have to worry about this, but if you’ve made even vaguely threatening or concerning posts in the past, it could affect your ability to travel.
- Legal matters. Similarly, your social media posts can be used in legal evaluations. For example, your posting history may be used against you in a court of law as you battle for custody of your child, or as you’re trying to prove your character.
- New relationships. When you meet someone new, how often do you pull up or try to find their social media information and start scrolling through it? They’re probably doing the same to you. For better or worse, your social media is responsible for shaping the first (and second) impressions of almost everyone you meet.
Mental and Emotional Health
We also need to be concerned about the ways that social media might be affecting our mental health, and the ways in which we think:
- Abuse and harassment. One of the biggest problems with social media is its proclivity for allowing abuse and harassment. Many people experience some variation of cyberbullying or harassment from individuals intentionally trying to make them feel bad. Those who aren’t direct targets can still be negatively affected by slurs and offensive language used by other users in public comment feeds.
- Anxiety and loneliness. There’s also sufficient evidence to suggest that despite its intention to make us more connected and more confident, social media use actually stokes feelings of anxiety and loneliness. Why is this the case? There are many factors that are likely to be in play here. For example, you may suffer from a “fear of missing out” (FOMO), witnessing other people have a good time when you’re on social media and constantly wanting to check social media when you’re off it. Due to the open transparency and constant accessibility of social media, you may also feel anxiety related to a lack of privacy. On top of that, social media often gives us the sense that we’re socializing without actually allowing us to socialize the way we do best—with in-person, direct conversations.
- Echo chambers. Users on social media tend to self-isolate in some respects, unfriending and unfollowing sources who say things they don’t agree with and seeking out people who do agree with them. This facilitates the development of echo chambers, where only one narrative is constantly recycled. In turn, this limits our ability to remain open minded to new ideas, causes us to demonize people we don’t agree with, and in some cases, allows us to continue believing untruths.
Should You Get Off Social Media?
There are some clear benefits to using social media, so don’t abandon your social media platforms as a knee-jerk reaction. For example, you’ll be able to keep in contact with people you might otherwise neglect, and you’ll get access to a unique, individualized stream of news.
You’ll need to spend some time introspecting and evaluating whether social media is doing more harm or good for you, personally. If you feel there are more negative consequences than positive benefits to using a specific platform, consider uninstalling it or temporarily deleting it for a week. How do you feel at the end of this week?
Detaching completely from social media can be hard, but it can also have enormous positive benefits, and is the right move for millions of people—even if they don’t know it. If you decide to keep your social media accounts open, make sure you’re aware of the potential damage and negative effects it can cause, and find a way to mitigate them.
Larry Alton is a professional blogger, writer, and researcher who contributes to a number of reputable online media outlets and news sources. A graduate of Iowa State University, I’m now a full-time freelance writer and business consultant.