Good socialization is the core to a well-functioning society, so it stands to reason that strong social networks are an essential part of life. The progression of technology and the Internet saw the introduction of user-generated content. Social media has since flourished in the form of blogs, social networking sites, and video sharing, where people can contribute as much as they consume (Anderson, P 2007). Social media has thrived, with approximately one in four people in the world using it (Social Networking Reaches Nearly One in Four Around the World 2013) – a number growing every year. The more social media becomes intertwined with our daily lives, the greater effect it has on us; this statement being especially true for young people. With the rapid increase of social networking sites and normalization using them, does social media have an impact on young people’s health? This question will be answered by outlining the extensive use of social media by young people, and the effects it can have on youths mentally, socially, and physically.
The Yellow Social Media Report, released annually since 2011, is a survey conducted to see how social media is being used. The table below has been extracted from the 2014 survey and shows the frequency of social media usage by different age groups and genders:
Yellow Social Media Report, page 13.
This report gives a clear indication of how many young people are using social media. It depicts 69% of 14-19 year olds using these sites at least once a day, and 71% of 20-29 year olds using them at least once a day, the highest usage by age group. The youth clearly dominate social media usage and use social networking sites extensively in comparison to other age groups.
Access to personal information and, with some sites, the option of anonymity has seen significant attention focused on cyberbullying. The Australian Government defines cyberbullying on their site, Cyber Smart, as ‘using technology to deliberately and repeatedly bully someone’ (Cyberbullying and Trolling: Cybersmart n.d.). A study outlined in the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention’s Suicide Research has found a link between suicidal ideation and bullying experiences; those who have experienced cyberbullying having more suicidal thoughts than those who hadn’t. While this may not seem surprising, this included the offenders of cyberbullying too. The study conducted in 2010 on adolescents, reported that 20% of the total sample have thought about suicide and 19% have attempted it (Hinduja S & Patchin J 2010, p. 31-32). Other studies, such as the Australian Psychology Society’s 2010 report on the impact of online social networking, confirm this with 60% of young adults having a negative online experience through unwanted contact, upsetting information and specific online bullying through abusive messages and harassment (The Australian Psychology Society 2010, p. 4). Cyberbullying can exacerbate instability in youths with mental health issues and have negative effects on the experience young people have online.
Some researchers suggest that social media is having a negative impact on the health of young people with Facebook being the main focus. Facebook is used by 95% of people on social media (Yellow Social Media Report 2014, p 17) and is the topic of much controversy. The site was created to enhance wellbeing, although it has been suggested that it is instead breeding addiction. The Bergan Facebook Addiction Scale was the first of its kind, taking place in January 2011, and consisted of similar wording used when diagnosing pathological gambling (Drønen, S O 2012).
Addiction to social media sites can have a negative effect on the social life of young people; easier accessibility to social networking sites is spreading anti-social behaviour in real life social interactions. 84% of 14-19 year olds use a smartphone to access social media (Yellow Social Media Report 2014, p. 31) with many young people accessing these sites in social settings such as restaurants, sporting events, school and more. The following table highlights how frequently young people are using social media in other locations:
Yellow Social Media Report 2014, page 35.
The option of having interactions with many friends at one time is becoming a tempting choice to young people who seem to want the multiplicity that social media provides. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it can provoke anti-social behaviour. The evidence shows that quite a large number of youths consciously withdraw from face-to-face interactions to delve into their online world, and this is where it could become a problem. Youths are indulging in anti-social behaviour by choosing virtual communication over face-to-face interaction.
Social media doesn’t just affect your emotional state, but can also impact on physical health. A 2010 Korean study collected data from high school students to assess whether Internet use had an impact on overall diet and physical health of young people (Jung et al. 2010). Since 69-71% of youths access social media every day (Yellow Social Media Report 2014, p. 11-13), we can assume that many of the surveys participants were using social media. The study showed that of the 853 students surveyed, young boys were prone to Internet addiction with 31.4% of boys categorized as high-risk and 14% of girls. Of these high-risk Internet users, results showed that they tended to eat smaller meals, skip meals, and snack more often than those who weren’t high-risk (Jung et al. 2010). The more time participants spent using the Internet, the more likely they were to skip dinner and supplement it with frequent snacking. This is noted negatively as the favourite snacks listed were confectionary and fast foods that were high in calories, containing fats and simple sugars which offer little nutritional value and may hinder growth and development (Jung et al. 2010). As high-risk participants were snacking more and consuming less whole fruits and vegetables, they were missing out on many vitamins and minerals.
This study shows a clear connection between high Internet use and poor health, linking high-risk users to poor nutrition choices that could lead to cardiovascular disease, being overweight and obesity which could bring on such health outcomes as diabetes, metabolic disorders, and hypertension – to name a few. These outcomes are not those associated with good health and show how using social media can start to impact the physical health of young people. Another study among college students associated greater Internet use with fewer days per week of exercise (Christakis, D et al. 2013, p. 1).
It seems as though the majority of research points to the negative impacts that social media can have on young people, but there are many positives that come with using these services. The research on these positive effects appears to still be in its infancy, but continue to develop as people learn how to use social media in a constructive way.
A 2012 study conducted by Common Sense Media states that, of the 1,030 teenagers surveyed, the majority were more likely to report having a positive experience on social media than a negative one (Common Sense Media 2012, p. 12).
Common Sense Media 2012, p. 12.
Connecting with friends and family has always been a top benefit of social media, 95% of people say they use it for this reason (Yellow Social Media Report 2014, page 41).
Social media has also been liked to young people becoming active citizens, explorers and learners, and to the development of young people’s voice and opinions. It is a good tool to promote independence and even builds resilience in a world that can sometimes be hostile. Using social media means faster communication, can help with education and, if used correctly, can strengthen relationships and help fight mental illness. While there is an alarming amount of evidence in regards to the negatives of social media, there are many positives to using this new communication technology, too. After all, why would it be so popular if it didn’t enhance people’s lives?
Social media has taken off to be an endless world of online social interaction and has propelled our methods of socialization to new heights. It has thrived in today’s data-driven society; user-generated content means that anyone and everyone can have an opinion, but is this always a positive thing? It seems that the gift of easy interaction with friends and family, and the ability to connect with the world comes with great risks to the health of young people. Through outlining the extensive use of social media by young people, and the positive and negative effects it can have, we have discovered that that social media does indeed have both a positive and negative impact on the health of young people. Although the negative impacts seem quite shocking, the experience had by youths on social media seems to be entirely individualized; it is for this reason that I believe young people will continue to reap benefits from social media. Social media is an extension of human speech and expression, so it is not the fault of social media services that it is sometimes used in a negative way; it has both benefits and risks, and these are entirely dependent on how we choose to use it.
Anderson, P 2007, What is Web 2.0? Ideas, technologies and implications for education, accessed 20 September 2014, <http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/techwatch/tsw0701b.pdf>.
The Australian Psychology Society 2010, The Social and Psychological Impact of Online Social Networking, viewed 20 September 2014, <https://www.psychology.org.au/Assets/Files/Social-and-Psychological-Impact-of-Social-Networking-Sites.pdf>.
Christakis, D, Cox, E, Davis, A, Eickhoff, J, Goniu, N, Jelenchick, L, Koff, R, Moreno, M & Young, H 2013, ‘Associations between internet use and fitness among college students: an experience sampling approach’, Journal of Interaction Science, vol. 1, no. 4, pp. 1-8, viewed 20 September 2014, <http://www.journalofinteractionscience.com/content/pdf/2194-0827-1-4.pdf>.
Cyberbullying and Trolling: Cybersmart n.d., viewed 20 September 2014, < http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/Teens/How%20do%20I%20deal%20with/Cyberbullying.aspx>.
Common Sense Media 2012, Social Media, Social Life: How Teens View Their Digital Lives, viewed 20 September 2014, <https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/research/socialmediasociallife-final-061812.pdf>.
Drønen, S O 2012, New Research about Facebook Addiction, viewed 20 September 2014, <http://www.uib.no/en/news/36380/new-research-about-facebook-addiction>.
Hinduja S & Patchin J 2010, ‘Bullying, cyberbullying, and suicide’, Suicide Research: Selected Readings, vol. 4, pp. 31-32.
Jung, I, Kim, J, Kim, S , Kim, Y, Lim, Y & Park J 2010, ‘The effects of Internet addiction on the lifestyle and dietary behavior of Korean adolescents’, Nutrition Research and Practice, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 51-57, viewed 20 September 2014, <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2830415/>.
Social Networking Reaches Nearly One in Four Around the World 2013, viewed 20 September 2014, <http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Social-Networking-Reaches-Nearly-One-Four-Around-World/1009976>.
Yellow Social Media Report 2014, viewed 20 September 2014, <http://about.sensis.com.au/IgnitionSuite/uploads/docs/Yellow-Social-Media-Report-2014.pdf>.