What are the effects of social media

Online platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Youtube have become indispensable in today's media world. Many, especially young people, spend a large part of their free time on social media platforms. The possibilities of communicating with one another have grown significantly with the invention of social networks. Within a very short time you can get in touch with people all over the world. This raises the question of the consequences of the increasing use of “social media” on the human psyche and especially on self-esteem. What does the current data show on this?

What are the positive and negative effects of social media?
Moderate use of social networks is unlikely to cause any serious problems. However, as soon as it has a major impact on everyday life, social media use can quickly become a problem. Dependence on social networks can affect relationships with other people, sleeping habits and performance at work, at school or during studies. The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has examined the effects of social media on the human psyche and wellbeing as part of a current British study entitled "Status of Mind: Social media and young people's mental health and wellbeing". The researchers concentrated on people aged 16 to 24, as this target group most often uses social media such as Facebook, Twitter and the like. The study found positive as well as negative effects of social media on mental health. The main results are summarized in the following points.

Positive effects of social media on mental health
Networking with people from all walks of life gives you the opportunity to exchange ideas with other people affected or to learn from their experiences and then to integrate them into your own life. Research was able to show that learning through the experiences of others in the sense of model learning has a positive effect on one's own health. Seven out of ten study participants report that the exchange via social networks helped them in difficult times. Another positive effect is that you can find and express your identity in social networks. The possibility of international networking via the platforms is also a great advantage when you are physically separated from friends or family. There are studies that show that strong media interaction can strengthen friendships. This gives you the chance to maintain relationships over greater distances.

Negative effects of social media on mental health
In addition to the positive effects, there are also clearly negative effects. In the UK study mentioned above, four out of five respondents stated that social media heightened their fears. The study showed that heavy social media users who spend more than two hours a day report more often that they are in poor mental health. According to the authors, this is primarily due to the fact that they develop negative feelings when they see pictures of friends who, for example, are on vacation while we are working.

The frequent social comparison with pictures of other people, often edited with Photoshop or similar, which are often far from reality, promotes unrealistic expectations of one's own life and thus also endangers the development of a healthy self-confidence. The researchers found that excessive use of more than two hours a day increases psychological stress and can promote suicidal thoughts.

The impact of social media on sleep
The mere use of social media has an impact on sleep. The users lie in bed with their laptop or cell phone, which emits blue light. This suppresses the production of melatonin, which is crucial for falling asleep. In the study mentioned, the young people stated that they often wake up at night to check their messages on social media.

Distorted body image due to social comparison
The various platforms of social media give users the opportunity to share insights from their life with other users and at the same time to be up to date with the lives of others. However, the constant updates from the lives of other users can also lead to a constant comparison with the lives of other users. This can lead to increased self-doubt, insecurity about your own body image, feelings of fear and lower self-esteem. In particular, women and girls who have been on social media for a short time have a poorer self-image than non-users. It could also be shown that the willingness to diet or other ways of optimizing the body increased after use.

Bullying and social media
With the rise of social media, the contact options have become more and more frequent - and the opportunities for bullying have increased accordingly. Seven out of ten young people have already been victims of cyber bullying. Victims of bullying tend to have poor school qualifications, depression, anxiety, loneliness and eating disorders. Cyber-bullying can take various forms - negative comments on posts, insults via personal messages or the distribution of pictures that show the victim of bullying in a compromising situation. Although there is an opportunity to report inappropriate posts on social media, the young people believe that companies hardly react to them.

In conclusion, mindful use of social media is important for mental health. A good balance is key here. The use of social media should run alongside everyday activities and should not replace them. It can also be advisable to consciously take a break from social media every now and then. In certain cases it is helpful to set a certain period of time per day when you are not active on social media.

In this sense, go out into nature more often, meet friends in the “real world”, enjoy moments without social media and don't be afraid of missing out.


Royal society for public health: "Status of Mind: Social media and young people`s mental health and wellbeing", at: https://www.rsph.org.uk/our-work/campaigns/status-of-mind. html (accessed on September 3, 2018)

Primack, B.A., Shensa, A., Escoar-Viera, C.G. et al. (2017). Use of multiple social media platforms and symptoms of depression and anxiety: A nationally-representative study among U.S. young adults. Computers in human behavior 69: 1-9

Lia Frei, M. Sc. psychologist