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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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This photo taken March 22, 2018, shows apps for WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and other social networks on a smartphone. VOA
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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Social Media Laws Should Be Tightened: Germany

Facebook in July said it had deleted hundreds of offensive posts since implementation of the law

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An illustration picture shows a man starting his Twitter app on a mobile device in Hanau near Frankfurt. VOA

German states have drafted a list of demands aimed at tightening a law that requires social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to remove hate speech from their sites, the Handelblatt newspaper reported Monday.

Justice ministers from the states will submit their proposed revisions to the German law called NetzDG at a meeting with Justice Minister Katarina Barley on Thursday, the newspaper said, saying it had obtained a draft of the document.

The law, which came into full force on Jan. 1, is a highly ambitious effort to control what appears on social media and it has drawn a range of criticism.

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Twitter allows publishers to monetise video views globally. (VOA)

While the German states are focused on concerns about how complaints are processed, other officials have called for changes following criticism that too much content was being blocked.

The states’ justice ministers are calling for changes that would make it easier for people who want to complain about banned content such as pro-Nazi ideology to find the required forms on social media platforms.

They also want to fine social media companies up to 500,000 euros ($560,950) for providing “meaningless replies” to queries from law enforcement authorities, the newspaper said.

Till Steffen, the top justice official in Hamburg and a member of the Greens party, told the newspaper that the law had in some cases proven to be “a paper tiger.”

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If we want to effectively limit hate and incitement on the internet, we have to give the law more bite. Pixabay

“If we want to effectively limit hate and incitement on the internet, we have to give the law more bite and close the loopholes,” he told the paper. “For instance, it cannot be the case that some platforms hide their complaint forms so that no one can find them.”

Also Read: Facebook Allows French Regulators to Oversee Hate Speech Control

Facebook in July said it had deleted hundreds of offensive posts since implementation of the law, which foresees fines of up to 50 million euros ($56.10 million) for failure to comply. (VOA)