Get in the know: how to spot the dangers of social media

There’s no denying we live in a blue world (hi, social media) so understanding the very real dangers is important – especially for young people.

Scroll Free September didn’t come out of nowhere. Sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube may be little over a decade old, but it’s now genuinely impossible to imagine the modern world without them.

Part of this is down to their astonishing utility, of course; everything from public events to restaurant bookings, your Starbucks order to the latest viral video, is coordinated by the connectivity of social media. Gone are the days of social media as a fad – it’s here to stay.

But there is a darker side. Just last year, former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya stated he regretted his role in helping Facebook become the largest social media platform in the world. Speaking to the Guardian, he expanded: “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.”

Referring to that short term elation you feel when notifications light up, or when someone sends you a message. These remarks came on the heels of several years of scientific research which has linked excessive social media use (especially amongst young people) to depression and anxiety.

When you think about it, measuring out your happiness in Facebook likes or retweets seems like a bad move for daily wellbeing, and when a former Facebook employee is speaking out about it, there might well be something in it. Yet social media is used for so many essential daily functions – we’re all guilty of loving it!

However, there is a big difference between using social media to organise your shifts at work, keep in touch with friends or organise events; and being glued to your smartphone endlessly and aimlessly.

It might be a good idea to divide your social media use into essential and non-essential functions. Letting your Mum know where you are? Probably quite essential. Checking a Facebook status every two minutes for reacts? Probably less so. It’s a simple idea: when you can work out what you need social media for, you can begin to limit what you don’t need it for.

This isn’t to say you should banish non-essential use altogether – there’s plenty of fun to be had watching daft videos or chatting nonsense with your mates – but in light of dangers which are becoming ever more apparent, it might be a good idea to cut down.

Initiatives like Scroll Free September from the Royal Society for Public Health came from concerns like this and work to combat the negative side effects of excessive social media use.

Things like “anxiety and depression, negative body image, cyberbullying, poor sleep and FOMO” are amongst the dangers RSPH seeks to combat. But September is just a month (one that’s just passed, in fact) and there’s much you can do all year round to guard against the dangers social media has whilst continuing to enjoy the obvious benefits.

Words: Tom McDonald

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