The dark side of social media?
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can definitely be used for the power of good. They allow us to keep in touch with friends, keep up with current affairs, grow our professional networks, and have fun. Unfortunately, research suggests that using multiple social networks carries with it an elevated risk of depression and anxiety. Recent findings show that young adults should think carefully about their social media use, not just in terms of how many hours per day they spend online, but also how many platforms they incorporate into their digital life.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health (CRMTH) released a report in the journal, Computers in Human Behavior outlining some intriguing links between social media use and mental health. The objective of the study was to establish whether the number of platforms a person uses has an effect on their mental health, independent of the total amount of time they spend online in a typical day.
The study protocol was simple. Questionnaires measuring symptoms of anxiety and depression were administered to 1,787 adults between the ages of 19 and 32. The participants were also asked to report their social media habits including the frequency with which they used various social media platforms and how many profiles they maintained across 11 of the most popular social media sites.
Compared to participants who used between zero and two social media sites, those who used between seven and eleven were three times more likely to show symptoms of depression and anxiety. This finding persisted even when the researchers took into account other variables known to affect anxiety and depression such as total time spent on social media, gender, and relationship status.
What does this mean for social media users?
At the moment, we cannot know for certain why people who use more social media platforms appear to have a higher risk of mental distress. Brian A. Primack, leader of this study, has cautioned that there could be multiple reasons for this apparent link.
One reason is that multi-tasking increases the risk of cognitive dysfunction and poor mental health, and those who use multiple platforms at the same time may be falling victim to this effect. Although multi-tasking may appear to be an efficient means of working, the end result is that multi-taskers suffer a drop in productivity and overall wellbeing.
Another possible explanation is that because every platform has a distinct set of rules and unwritten code of conduct, attempting to maintain an appropriate presence on each could result in stress and negative emotions. A post that is entirely appropriate for one type of platform may not be so well-received on another, and it may be hard to adjust one’s persona to suit every site.
Finally, the more social media platforms an individual uses, the more vulnerable they are to committing social sins and getting into confrontations with others. This could lead to problems in close relationships, which may in turn cause stress and anxiety.
However, more research is needed to explain this association. In the meantime, findings like this are important proof that our online activities have a significant impact on our mental wellbeing. With social media use more common than ever before, keeping our internet use within sensible parameters is a key part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. If you find that maintaining several profiles is causing you to feel stressed or depressed, why not try cutting back on the number of social media platforms you use? Taking the decision to focus only on one or two sites may be a smart move as far as your mental health is concerned.