Social Media Dangers

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Since the beginning of the Internet, pundits have worried that computer-mediated communication would have a pernicious effect on our social networks. Instead of going out and interacting with others in traditional settings, the fearmongers fretted, people will stare at their computers all day typing messages to people they’ve never even met. And if you’ll look up from your smartphone a moment, you’ll see that everyone around you is engrossed in theirs. So maybe the fearmongers were right.

There’s even scientific evidence that suggests social media use is bad for your psychological health. Some results show that people feel lonelier—and experience drops in self-esteem—after using Facebook. These reports about the dangers of social media use
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Particularly for those who suffer from social anxiety—that is, the fear of interacting with other people, especially strangers—social media seems like a safe alternative. These people lack the necessary social skills to successfully navigate interpersonal exchanges. As a result, their social networks are fragile and fail to support their need for connectedness. But when they go online, they carry with them this same set of inappropriate social behaviors.

Clark and colleagues warn of two pitfalls in social media use. The first pitfall is what they call “social snacking.” This involves activities such as browsing through other people’s profiles or reading other people’s comments without making any of your own. Social snacking may feel like social engagement, and while you’re doing it you might temporarily forget your own feelings of loneliness. But just as junk food makes you feel both bloated and empty afterward, social snacking only leaves you with much time wasted and more loneliness than before.

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Instead of interacting with those around them, they stand back and watch as others chit-chat, laugh, and seem to have a grand old time. In the end, the spectacle only makes the socially awkward feel even lonelier. And they engage in maladaptive social comparisons as well. Because other people seem to have much happier and more fulfilling lives than they do, their self-esteem takes a heavy hit as well.

In the end, whether using social media makes you feel lonelier or not depends on what you do when you're online. If you already have good social skills, you’ll find Facebook a useful tool for keeping in touch with friends and family. In this way, social networking sites enrich our lives.

But if you find yourself passively browsing through social media to take your mind off your loneliness, you’d be better off spending some time in self-help instead. There are plenty of sites on the Internet—including here on Psychology Today—that give sound advice on how to improve your social skills. Take the advice to heart and practice it in public. As your social skills improve, so will the quality of the time you spend on
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