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The dangers of social media in 140 characters or less

Izzy Cross, Staff Writer

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Think about your day. Think about all the ways your phone factors into it. You have it handy anywhere you go; it’s a convenient tool for staying in touch, good for storing reminders and other information; it’s probably been quite useful for activities during class, to relieve boredom, to help with classwork, and stay up-to-date with the world.

Your phone probably holds much of your social life too: texts with friends, Snapchat stories, and many other applications made for sharing and connecting with others. Smartphones have become a commodity and a symbol of status today, and as such, society largely takes place on our phones through these social media apps.

There are many benefits to social media- in a technologically advanced world such as this one, it’s a convenient tool for staying engaged and informed in the world, learning new things, sharing new ideas, and instant communication.

According to a study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, social media can be an important tool for teens. It has the potential to develop important social skills in teens, to allow for enhanced connection to their communities, peers, and friends. It can allow for development of unique communication styles and social identities. It is also helpful in building a sense of community and making new friends online.

However, social media has some negative pitfalls if used excessively. Suddenly, not being able to open Snapchat is anxiety-producing, or having to live with the thought of missing something during a class can be unbearable. That’s a problem.

“I’ve seen students who literally can’t put their phone down,” said Jerry Fordyce, head of Student Media. “It almost looks like withdrawal symptoms when they have to put their phone away for a full class.”

This addiction to the thoughtless amusements social media can offer often also leads to a micro-focus on unimportant details that suddenly seem imperative to social livelihood.

“It [social media] can sometimes lead to an obsession with the mindless, the stuff that just isn’t as important in the world,” Fordyce said. “It can cause you to ignore bigger things.”

This micro-focus isn’t healthy- although social media can help you stay engaged in the world, if you get too wrapped up in your little screen the larger world and more important issues just melt away. It can be overwhelming, and can even impact self-esteem and psychological development.

According to UCLA’s study on teen brains and the impact of social media, seeing “likes” on pictures and statuses stimulates a response in the region of the brain that is associated with the reward system. Our sense of self-worth may be influenced by Instagram, Snaps, and Tweets more than we realize.

“When the teens saw their own photos with a large number of likes, we saw activity across a large region of the brain,” said Lauren Sherman, who was the lead author in the research project. “This shows the importance of peer approval [to teenagers].”

Social media provides a very public avenue for expressing approval- by liking pictures and updates, approval is gained, and by withholding likes it can be perceived as disapproval. For teenagers, it’s important to become socialized into groups and with such a widespread integration of social media in their lives, it becomes very easy to associate the number of likes we have with our own personal value.

“While social media is not the cause of low self-esteem, it has all the right elements to contribute to it,” said Claire Mysko, best-selling author, cited in Dove’s campaign for promoting positive self-image in women.

The negativity potentially caused by an over-fixation on social media and over-reliance on digital communication can spread to your relationships. Many of us feel that our phones enhance our connections, but when social media becomes an obsession, sometimes you can find yourself over-analyzing every little thing and feeling insecure in your relationships.

“There is this universal feeling of wanted to be accepted,” said Mysko. “But when you get in the space of being on social media, a lot of it is based on feedback and the idea of collecting likes. This can be a catalyst for more insecurity.”

You can send a text and know when the other person has received it; the ability to track friends’ Instagram and Snapchat activity lets you know for sure when someone is ignoring you. It’s almost a manipulative tool now, a way to “play games.”

This is anxiety-provoking- when you’re analyzing all these subtle messages, you can start to overthink relationships and become obsessed with trying to interpret someone’s ambiguous actions on social media.

“Every teenager has an instinctive need to be part of a community, and many of them feel isolated,” said Fordyce. “No matter how many friends you have, it’s never enough when you’re a teenager.”

Even follower counts can seem very important when you’re thinking with that kind of logic. It’s nice to look at a large number of followers and feel that you matter in someone else’s life, even if your friends in real life are letting you down.  

“Social media allows us to have a large group of friends online that are always there for you,” he said.

But friendships on social media cannot be the extent of it. Ultimately, social media might be hurting communication more than it’s helping it.

“It does impact the flow of communication because you’re not able to communicate as effectively, even though you’re using communication tools,” said Fordyce. “It diminishes communication skills because it’s so limited.”

Social media isn’t inherently bad; but, as with everything, if used poorly it can pose some risks and negative consequences. One solution could be to become more informed about proper usage and how to manage it responsibly.

“We’re not going to be able to just put it aside,” said Fordyce. “We have to adapt and teach students to be more effective with social media.”

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The dangers of social media in 140 characters or less