Written by Nikita Srivatsav
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, social media use has skyrocketed with many more Canadians using Facebook, Tiktok, Instagram, Youtube and many other networking sites regularly. In 2021, Canada hit a record high with an 83% social media penetration rate. This statistic instigates the age-old debate of social media use and the negative impact it has on the lives of its users.
Feelings of anger, frustration and envy along with insomnia, concentration issues, and less physical activity are all common unfavourable health outcomes associated with social media usage. This perception towards social media has made people wary, but not enough to decrease usage across different groups.
However, one cross-sectional study conducted in late 2019 by Bekalu et al., examines the positive effects of social media use by differentiating between routine use and what the researchers have termed ‘emotional connection to use”. For years, research on social media use has primarily focused on the damaging effects, utilising measures such as duration of use or the number of times an app is opened. This only values quantitative usage. In contrast, this study strived to measure the use qualitatively. Thus, instead of dose-effect measurements, the type of behaviour associated with social media use was analysed, being either ‘routine’ or ‘emotional connection’.
The study concluded that although emotional connection to social media usage has negative effects, routine use does not show any detriment to the three health outcomes analysed: social well-being, positive mental health, and self-rated health. The conclusion came to include data surveying use among different age groups, gender, race/ethnicity, and education level. Unlike in routine use, feeling psychologically attached to these websites brings out negative effects such as FOMO (fear of missing out), isolation, insecurity and more. By dissecting the results, the reason that routine use impacts each health outcome can be uncovered.
Beginning with social well-being, which is formed by one’s social capital (otherwise known as an individual’s various social networks), the researchers theorised that the positive impact comes from the increase in social connection coming from routinely using social media. This could be from engaging with a Youtube channel that posts every week. However, if this turns into an emotional connection, for instance desperately needing to watch the weekly video, the positive impact diminishes. The study seems to indicate that integrating use into your social routine allows one to not feel dependent, rather using the site by choice. Positive mental health (PMH) and self-rated health (SRH) can both be subjected to the explanation of these examples as well.
So, what can we do about it? How can we, as university students, engage with social media without becoming emotionally connected to the constant flow of content? Bekalu et al. does not address this issue specifically and it is clear that it was only a preliminary study that was conducted. Overall, social media use has been shown to have benefits such as having communication regardless of geographical distance, supporting causes, being able to create, and more. All of these amazing benefits have propelled the usage of social media and has made it what the researchers call a “normal social behaviour”. Albeit, this differs from the behaviour associated with being emotionally connected to these websites and thus it is important to understand one’s relationship with these applications. The results of the study indicate that this is something we should be thinking about. I encourage you to, throughout this day, monitor your use of social networking websites in order to take care of your mental and physical health. It is important to note that social media affects different people in different ways, which is why it is essential to look back at yourself and find out how social media affects you as a unique human being.