Facebook Criticized for Hiding Research Regarding Effects on Teens

negative mental and emotional effects of social media on teens are cause for concern

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Connecting with friends on social media may make us feel more disconnected than ever. Feelings of loneliness and jealousy often come with Facebook and Twitter use. Facebook may have hidden findings on this.

Teens using phones
From an existentialist viewpoint, the use of social media is a modern phenomenon that is not good for the human condition of teens, as research indicates their well-being is affected. Photo By Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Instagram, the picture-sharing social media app owned by Facebook, may be detrimental for teenagers. Lawmakers in a Senate hearing on Thursday took Facebook executives to task for mental and emotional harm that both Instagram and Facebook may be causing underage users. To make matters worse, Facebook appears to have deliberately kept research on these problems secret for various purposes.

At the root of the problem is the negative experience of social media. If a function of the internet is to connect us with our family and friends who are out of reach, why do we feel anything but connected? In her video series How Digital Technology Shapes Us, Dr. Indre Viskontas, Adjunct Professor of Psychology at the University of San Francisco, explained the causes and effects of this bizarre phenomenon.

Closer Yet Further Away

Many studies have documented the effects of social media use on people, with their authors yielding surprising results.

“These authors found that the more people reported using Facebook, the worse they felt,” Dr. Viskontas said. “You might think that lonely people are more likely to turn to Facebook, and that was found to be true. But when the authors controlled for loneliness, Facebook use continued to predict declines in well-being and mood.

“And a review of studies has shown that users of Facebook are not generally lonely people to begin with.”

According to Dr. Viskontas, studies have also shown that aside from loneliness, Facebook use can also cause a rise in feelings of jealousy and envy. This often happens because users compare their day-to-day life with the lives of their friends as seen through Facebook. It may not be clear why this would be a problem at first, but comparisons rarely ever work out in our favor.

When “Me and You” Becomes “Me vs. You”

Social media pages like Facebook often bring out our desires to look our best, post our most intelligent thoughts, and share our most exciting activities. However, our real lives are seldom as exciting as we make them seem online. Surprisingly, we tend to fail to realize this about our friends. We assume every day is a vacation or an adventure for them, they never have bad hair days, they always dress nicely, and so on.

“If you compare your true life to the glossy, curated ones of your friends, you’re essentially setting yourself up to be the uglified version and lose out in the comparison,” Dr. Viskontas said.

She also mentioned a book by psychology professor Barry Schwartz, who identified a personality type that he called being a “maximizer.” This is marked by being the type of person who seeks and accepts only the very best in a given category, as opposed to settling for something that is satisfactory but imperfect.

“If you’re a maximizer when it comes to your life choices, as Schwartz describes them, you are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of social media platforms that encourage comparing your experiences and decisions with those of others,” Dr. Viskontas said.

The unhealthy comparisons made on social media occur most frequently when we passively scroll on these types of websites, rather than actively engage with others.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily