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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?

social media
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

Should Live Broadcast on Social Media Platforms be Banned?

Facebook earlier faced flak for the live streaming of suicides on its platform from different parts of the world, including India

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Facebook earlier faced flak for the live streaming of suicides on its platform from different parts of the world, including India. Pixabay

Would you want your teenager to watch terrorists killing people in the real world or someone committing suicide? No one, in their right mind, would ever want their kids to get exposed to such events, simply for the repercussions that such content can have on young impressionable minds.

But with a smartphone on their hand and Facebook installed in it, chances of them watching such horrific content some day cannot be denied, especially because the social media giant allows all its users to go live.

The 28-year-old Australian who sprayed bullets on innocent people who were praying at mosques in New Zealand on March 15 decided to broadcast his act on Facebook.

Facebook said the video was viewed fewer than 200 times during the live broadcast, but it was watched about 4,000 times before being removed from the platform. By that time, copies of the 17-minute video were later shared in millions on other social media platforms, including Twitter and YouTube.

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The 28-year-old Australian who sprayed bullets on innocent people who were praying at mosques in New Zealand on March 15 decided to broadcast his act on Facebook. Pixabay

Facebook earlier faced flak for the live streaming of suicides on its platform from different parts of the world, including India. So does that mean that live broadcast on social media platforms should be banned?

“What happened in New Zealand was one-of-a-kind heinous exhibition of brutality and terror. I don’t think the world has become so bad that we should see such things occurring repetitively,” Faisal Kawoosa, Chief Analyst at market research firm techARC, told IANS.

“Live streaming is an essential part of social media platforms and as video becomes the default mode of communication over digital platforms, live streaming empowers users to be real time on these platforms,” he added.

Youngsters also find the facility, which is also available on YouTube and Instagram, useful for broadcasting their travelling adventures and tutorials.

“The ‘live’ feature on social networking platforms could be good for people who want to publicise stuff like their travel, fashion or subject tutorials,” said 25-year-old Rijul Rajpal who works with a film production company.

social media, live
The social media giant may face similar questions from lawmakers in other countries in the coming days. Pixabay

Many even find it helpful for connecting with their favourite film stars and music icons. But despite the usefulness of the feature, one cannot deny the potential of misuse of the feature, especially because the social media companies have still not developed a technology that can prevent the broadcast of live shooting.

Facebook said that its Artificial Intelligence (AI) system could not automatically detect the New Zealand shooting video as the system was not properly trained. It promised to improve its technology so that broadcast of such videos can be prevented in the future.

ALSO READ: Trump’s Son-in-Law, Jared Kushner’s Whatsapp Habits Worry Cyber Experts

But policy makers are not impressed. In the US, tech firms have already been asked to brief the Congress on March 27 regarding their response to dissemination of the video of the New Zealand terrorists attack on their platforms.

The social media giant may face similar questions from lawmakers in other countries in the coming days. (IANS)