Social media has not only changed the way in which society communicates but has also changed the way in which we treat others and how we view ourselves. When we evaluate the most popular social media websites, we can see a pattern of behavior that many would find alarming.
On Facebook, we judge each other based on how many people have shared or liked our posts instead of our character. On Twitter, we find someone to be popular based on the number of favorites and re-tweets as opposed to their moral compass. The same can also be said for Snapchat, it is more important to have the highest number of views than actually have something important to say. Due to this fact, while teens think they are merely using social media to connect with others and create friendships, the dark side of the internet emerges.
In the dark side of the web lives cyberbullying, negative effects on self-esteem and less frequent face-to-face interactions. According to Merriam-Webster, cyberbullying is defined as “the verbal bullying of someone (as a classmate) through the use of often anonymous electronic communication (as online posts or text messages)” (Merriam-Webster). It is a common fact that teens encounter bullying in the real world, now in the digital world we live in, cyberbullying is rapidly increasing. Help Stop Teen and School Violence is a campaign to stop bullying and cyberbullying. The two statistics that illustrate the need to address the issue of cyberbullying are: “About 50 percent of teens and young adults from ages 14 to 24 have reported that they have experienced some form of digitally abusive behavior” and “About 45 percent of teens witness rude and mean behavior being said back and forth to one another on social networking websites like Facebook and MySpace.” (Cyberbullying Statistics).
Cyberbullying is dangerous. Unlike in school, cyberbullying can happen at anytime during the day, there is no escaping it. It is there in black in white, so to speak, for all of the virtual world to see, like, and comment on. The effects of cyberbullying on the target of the abuse can be low self-esteem, stress, depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation. The American Society for the Positive Care of Children (SPCC) states on their website that suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens (Teen Suicide & Prevention). They also state that according the Journal of the American Medical Association, that “kids who are bullied are more than twice as likely to consider suicide” (Teen Suicide & Prevention). The negative effects that cyberbullying has on teens doesn’t jump to suicide ideation. During a study from Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien, it was found that when we spend more time on social media sites, the more time we spend comparing ourselves to others, leading to depression (Newsome).
We often forget that what we see in the advertisements or from celebrities are staged, it does not reflect reality. Even when translating this to those we know on social media, they more often post pictures and blogs that are “the best versions of themselves” (Newsome). We do not consider the filters used or how many times they took that one picture, in order to portray a perfect image. The view just sees the images and posts and compares it to themselves ultimately harming their own self-esteem. Others may find their self-esteem lowered when their posts, videos or blogs do not receive as many likes as other posts, as that is how they find their own validation (Newsome). They do not look inward for their validation but seek it from a virtual world who in most cases does not know that person’s true self. While all of the likes, share and comments are happening, many teens think that they are making connections in this viral world.
To quote Sherrie Campbell, a psychotherapist, ‘social media can give us a false sense of belonging and connecting that is not built on real-life exchanges. This makes it increasingly easy to lose oneself to cyberspace connections and give them more weight than they deserve.’ (Newsome). When comparing connections, reality versus viral, think of your physical best friend. You know everything about them. You can tell when they are lying or doing something out of character. The same cannot be said for connections made virally. You only know what the other person on the other side of the computer wants you to know, how they want to be perceived. Teens, unlike adults, are unable to differentiate the two. Often, teens go out and they bring their viral world with them. Look around, how many cellphone flashes go off when you are out to eat?
If you watch you often see people sitting at a table and eating, but not connecting with each other. They are too busy posting to their social media pages that they aren’t truly connecting, even though they are at the same table. It is almost as though their experience didn’t happen unless you see it on social media, this thought process is leading to a lack of face-to-face connections. The only constant is change, we see it in how we interact with others. We have gone from a society that would interact with one another in the real world, to a society that connects via social media.
Social media has both advantages and disadvantages. It is the negative side of social media like cyberbullying, the lowering of self-esteem as well as fewer face-to-face interactions that we need to be mindful of. For the mental health of our teens, we need to be more aware of the negative effects that social media can have when it is abused. .