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Loneliness And Depression Can Be Linked to Social Media: Study

It is unclear if the depressing effects of social media will cross generational lines to older or younger people

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Study Links Social Media Addicts, Substance Abusers. (VOA)

University of Pennsylvania researchers say that for the first time they have linked social media use to increases in depression and loneliness.

The idea that social media is anything but social when it comes to mental health has been talked about for years, but not many studies have managed to actually link the two.

To do that, Penn researchers, led by psychologist Melissa Hunt, designed a study that focused on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.

The results were published in the November issue of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

Social media. Offensive Speech
An iPhone with Twitter, Facebook and other apps, May 21, 2013. U.S. internet companies are taking a harder look at their policies that have promoted free expression around the world.. VOA

How study worked

The study was conducted with 143 participants, who before they began, completed a mood survey and sent along photos of their battery screens, showing how often they were using their phones to access social media.

“We set out to do a much more comprehensive, rigorous study that was also more ecologically valid,” Hunt said. That term, ecologically valid, means that the research attempts to mimic real life.

The study divided the participants into two groups: The first group was allowed to maintain their normal social media habits. The other, the control group, was restricted to 10 minutes per day on each of the three platforms: Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.

The restrictions were put in place for three weeks and then the participants returned and were tested for outcomes such as fear of missing out (FOMO), anxiety, depression and loneliness.

Social Media
Chiara Valenzano, right, photographs her food as she has lunch with her friend Giulia Terranova at the ‘This is not a Sushi bar’ restaurant, in Milan, Italy, Oct. 16, 2018. At the restaurant, payment can be made according to the number of Instagram followers one has. VOA

Results of study

The results showed a very clear link between social media use and increased levels of depression and loneliness.

“Using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness,” Hunt said. “These effects are particularly pronounced for folks who were more depressed when they came into the study.”

She calls her findings the “grand irony” of social media.

What is it about social media that’s just so depressing?

Hunt says that it’s two major things. The first is that social media invites what Hunt calls “downward social comparison.” When you’re online, it can sometimes seem that “everyone else is cooler and having more fun and included in more things and you’re left out,” she said. And that’s just generally demoralizing.

Social Media
The study was conducted with 143 participants, who before they began, completed a mood survey Pixabay

The second factor is a bit more nuanced.

“Time is a zero-sum game,” Hunt told VOA. “Every minute you spend online is a minute you are not doing your work or not meeting a friend for dinner or having a deep conversation with your roommate.”

And these real life activities are the ones that can bolster self-esteem and self worth, Hunt said.

What to learn

So what’s the takeaway?

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A girl uses her mobile phone in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 5, 2017. A researcher in Britain says her findings suggest young girls who are more active on social media have lower levels of well-being in their teens. VOA

People are on their devices, and that’s not going to change, she said. But as in life, a bit of moderation goes a long way.

“In general, I would say, put your phone down and be with the people in your life,” she added.

Also Read: Childhood Violence May Spur Puberty, Depression: Study

Hunt pointed out a few caveats to the study. First, it was done exclusively with 18- to 22-year-olds, and it is unclear if the depressing effects of social media will cross generational lines to older or younger people, Hunt said. But she expects her results should generalize at least for people through the age of 30.

Hunt says she is now beginning a study to gauge the emotional impact of dating apps. (VOA)

Next Story

Theme of Annual Conference is Privacy, Reflecting Users’ Growing Ambivalence about Social Media

Now as the conference kicks off its 10th anniversary in Toronto, Canada on July 19, the theme is privacy

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Conference, Privacy, Social Media
FILE - Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to logos of social media apps Signal, Whatsapp and Telegram projected on a screen in this picture illustration. VOA

When the first International Conference on Social Media and Society was held in 2010, social media firms like Facebook, Twitter and others were seen in mostly a positive light, as a novel way of empowering and connecting people.

Now as the conference kicks off its 10th anniversary in Toronto, Canada on July 19, the theme is privacy and trust, reflecting users’ growing ambivalence about social media, said Anatoliy Gruzd, an associate professor at Ryerson University and the event’s organizer.

“People are realizing the importance of the platforms and the potential negative impact on their lives and their communities,” he said. The effects can be societal, personal and political, he said.

The conference comes as governments, nonprofits and consumers grapple with the negative effects of social media. President Donald Trump recently held a summit on social media at the White House, claiming that Twitter, Facebook and others are biased against him and conservative voices.

Conference, Privacy, Social Media
FILE – Laptops sit on a table in the empty offices of Cambridge Analytica in Washington, D.C., U.S., May 2, 2018. VOA

Now social media research, a field that didn’t exist before the mid-2000s, touches on almost every aspect of life. “We feel our work has a direct relationship to what is happening now rather than historical events,” Gruzd said.

Teens’ ambivalence about social media

Valerie Steeves, a professor at the University of Ottawa and one of the conference’s keynote speakers, said teens and young adults are more careful now about how they present themselves online compared to 10 years ago. The event’s keynote talks will be livestreamed on YouTube.

“In 2000, teens were going online because it was the cool place to be,” she said. “Now they have to be on, it’s infrastructure they have to use.”

Also Read- Dangerously High Temperatures in United States could Quickly Cause Heat Stress

And teens are ambivalent about being there. “They are very careful about how they post,” she said. Among their concerns — their data being “grabbed by a corporation,” she said. In a recent study of 5,500 children ages 11 to 17 in Canada, 95 percent said they didn’t think marketers should be able see the content they post online.

Trust in social media firms has eroded in recent years. That could be in part from publicized incidents, such as Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which Facebook allowed an outside researcher to have access to user data that was then used in political campaigns.

As a result of that scandal, the Federal Trade Commission this past week reportedly voted to approve a $5 billion settlement with Facebook that could end an investigation into its privacy practices.

Still, the power and reach of social media can bring people together around a shared interest like no other form of communication. One paper at the conference looks at how women discussing sexual abuse and harassment in China use code words on social media to circumvent censors.

Conference, Privacy, Social Media
When the first International Conference on Social Media and Society was held in 2010, social media firms like Facebook, Twitter and others were seen in mostly a positive light. VOA

Fake news and social media

In another paper, researchers examine the dynamics of polarization in the 2018 Brazilian presidential campaign. They found that fake news and misinformation didn’t really spread widely but stayed within polarized online communities, being passed around whether it was true or not, Gruzd said.

“We think fake news affects the whole society, but it may stay in pockets,” he said. “That doesn’t make it any less dangerous. It can make views more extreme and then turn into offline actions.”

Also Read- YouTube Fined in Millions Over Kids’ Data Privacy Breach

Trust, privacy, ambivalence and the promise of connection — social media will continue to be fodder for researchers as society grapples with its power. (VOA)