A doctor’s take on impact of Social Media


By Dr. Priya Mendiratta, Arkansas, USA

Social mediaAye or Nay 

The social media has changed the way we interact and think. The number of global internet-users is witnessing a 7.6-percent year on year growth. Facebook has over 1.5 billion active monthly users worldwide.

With easy access to technology, smart phones and social media the world more than ever has become more closely knit. Many of us use social media regularly to connect with our friends and family across the globe. An overwhelming majority of millennials (those born after 1980) believe, that businesses should be measured more by their social impact than by profit and over 60 percent feel personally responsible about making a positive difference in the world (1).

Some of us are using it to get information or exchange information, network meaningfully, for educational platforms. Or an educational tool or even to get answers that might be medical mysteries, have meaningful discussions on any topic of interest, promote an organization, do business even unite people for a cause or keep connected, do crowd funding for charitable causes even research to sharing our lives with our families across the globe via posts and pictures or even write and blog with a group. The social media has allowed us to keep in touch with communities, family friends or people we knew going back to kindergarten if you remembered anybody from that time to classmates, colleagues and like-minded people. In the past people crossed our paths never to cross it again in our life time but now we have all those folks in our social media site , reconnected with the social media bridge ie those that crossed to those who are currently in our lives.

However I do not think we need to give the credit alone for bringing masses together to people like Mark Zuckerberg as something similar would have been in place any ways by now even if he had not started one of the first, wealthiest and largest social media. He got plain lucky just like Alexander Fleming who has taken credit for discovering penicillin whereas the others who had an equal or more role in the discovery of the first ever antibiotic are essentially forgotten.

However many things in life are a two edged sword just like some medications and interventions in medicine. One has to be cautious about its risks and adverse impact.

Similarly the usage of social media depends on ones maturity level too.

The frontal lobes,of younger brains, i.e. the part of the brain that regulates decision making, problem solving and controls purposeful behaviors consciousness and emotions is underdeveloped lacking the judgement needed at times and are not able fathom the risks of social media. This could happen with older brains undergoing atrophy or shrinkage of brain.

Perhaps all of us, the schools and other medias like TV, news need to put a disclaimer about the social media too like as on alcohol, tobacco, drugs (if marketed) with warning labels and possible risks for parents or those young minds to be alerted.

One such negative impact of social media seems to be self obsession. Remember the  movie Zoolander with Ben stiller as the self obsessed man, with pursed lips and perhaps the smart phones created many prototypes of him! Now he may be the trend starter of selfies and those pursed lips which has led to the many of those duck faced pictures that girls post with a young generation globally absorbed in self obsession and narcissism, which we know can affect their personality development eventually.

Some of the young girls suffering from selfitis or may be low self esteem end up taking 50 or more pictures of themselves a day and exchange on different social media including Snapchat, Instagram, Phhhoto, Whatsapp, Kik, Vine, Twitter, Vsco, Tumbler, etc.

I am told Facebook is for older and retired folks only and teenagers have lost interest in it, as a social media.

Recent shocking case is of a thirteen year old murdered in Virginia by an eighteen year old teenager at Virginia tech with whom she was exchanging messages on Kik. A social media app called Omegle where you can video chat with strangers, is another wake up call for parents to be educating about the risks of social media and dangers to their children. One has to be aware that many child predators are going to these sites looking for vulnerable kids or those with low self esteem.

The cyber bullying by other children or teenagers can also cause many to feel threatened , depressed and sadly at times drive them to take their own lives.

Many children are unaware that the Photos contain EXIF data information about the camera you took the photo with and can use that data to pull the exact geographic location of where that photo was taken.(2)

They also need not post where they are going to be with friends especially to strangers and be cautioned to not include strangers in friend list, keep their settings in private and avoid dicey people .(2)

Some of the teenagers are using sexting or sexually explicit pictures on some medias unknown to the parents which get shared with porn sites or with child predators and sometimes, classmates who can actually drive the teenager to shame and suicide by sharing with others.

Several of the colleges, potential employers and insurance boards check the online profiles and many times it is impossible to take stuff off that has been posted.

It can affect admissions, employment etc. In other words e-trail can become bigger and bigger for the innocent teenagers and can come back and haunt them decades later.

The line between the virtuality and reality fuzzes in some of the brains, and like an out of body experience their minds and souls detach from the real to virtual almost like the brain of an addict.

Some patterns of behavior are very similar in both the real and social media. The extroverts may post more on social world, as the derive energy from outside World and introverts might just browse through posts as they are content with themselves, a pattern similar to the real life. The super sensitive introverts might feel that every post is directed towards them.

The social media can cause misunderstandings too amongst couples, families and even friends.

Let me give you a personal example. Recently someone was offended that on a particular social media it showed that I had read a message that was urgent and did not respond until a day later. All I had done was attend to an urgent phone call from a family member from that social media in the middle of rounds, with several learners following me including residents and medical students, and we were hurrying to reach a sick patient. I quickly answered the phone but did not pay attention to any other messages and as the day turned crazier and more stressful, could not get back to checking messages on the social media until a day later and discovered that someone had sent me a message to call back urgently a day earlier. However the social media had shown “message read” by me a day before, as I had opened it to answer the call and thus the person was offended that I had ignored an urgent message.

Again it is how we communicate in life, at work, at home or social media, depends on how we want to expedite the outcome.

Those of who want to urgently communicate have our phone numbers already, so they just need to dial it or text, perhaps social media is down on the list for such urgent messages and those who don’t have our numbers, likely don’t need to urgently get in touch and can communicate any ways they want.

There is another example. Someone we know got divorced, as his spouse was communicating with a group of single women who kept brainwashing her to leave her husband and child, ultimately her brain was influenced by the communication and after a decade of happy marriage she decided to join the singles club as it sounded more fun on the chat group.

So it is important to choose friends on social media too just like in real life.

Though it is never advisable to dump your real friends ever for those in the virtual World as there can be no comparison or replacement .

One also has to deal with noise and barrage on the net and social medias just like in real life and one needs to filter what is pleasant to one’s brain and leave the din behind.

One can be overcome on the social sites with strong emotions too from bitterness, anger, comparisons, jealousy, doubt, frustration, sadness or grief and again depends on which area of the brain is lighted i.e. right hemisphere of brain is responsible for negative emotions but perhaps if we condition to light up our brains more in the left hemisphere, we could embrace empathy, happiness, joy, euphoria, gratitude or hope to make an overall positive impact.

So the millennials perhaps lighting the left brain hemisphere strongly feel that the social media has made a positive impact in every way.

Like real life emotional intelligence, we need to develop a social intelligence too in the virtual world and take time to dwell on our strengths and weakness and focus or be insightful about ourselves so we can understand others in a better light.

Overall many are confident that social media is creating positive outcomes, emotions , engagement, trends and positive life styles and will eventually outweigh the risks of negative impacts.

As someone said your worth is not known by the likes, comments or followers on social media but in your ability to love, embrace, share joy and happiness, with those who need it the most, take note and lead.


1. The Future of Social Media Will Be Built With Positive Psychology

2. Positive and Negative Effects of Social Media on Society | Ali Kingston Mwila, ITIL®, BIT | LinkedIn

Disclaimer: Any resemblance to anyone living or in another plane is purely coincidental and unintentional

About the author:
Dr. Priya Mendiratta is a Geriatrician, an associate professor in department of Geriatrics, a Clerkship and course director for Geriatrics at University of Arkansas for medical sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas, USA, with an additional degree in public health. She has a passion to write on health and social issues.