Submissions/ Competition



Is social media a blessing or a toxin?


Discussing the negative impacts of social media





Lin Hsin-Rong


Department of English, National Chengchi University



Professor Liu Yi-Chun


December, 2023



In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg and his peers launched a digital revolutionary platform from his Harvard University dorm room, birthing what we now know as Facebook. Little did they know this platform would become widespread and significantly affect people’s lives. Initially exclusive to Harvard students, the platform expanded its accessibility to college students across America and eventually opened up universally in 2006. The way it allows people to share pictures and videos, create events, and interact with each other on posts made it a sought-after site in a short time. Today, it remains one of the most popular websites, ranking as the third most visited site in 2023, according to data from Semrush. In 2010, another influential social application, Instagram, was introduced and swiftly became the preferred platform for teenagers and young adults. The Statista website shows that approximately 70% of Instagram users fall within the age range of 13 to 34. With its primary function centered around sharing visual contents, Instagram's vibrant images bridge distances between people, fostering a heightened sense of engagement in each other's lives. Other platforms such as X (Twitter), Threads and Snapchat also take significant roles in people’s lives. Its widespread use has had profound impacts both positively and negatively. According to Jasmine Fardouly, a researcher from the UNSW Sydney university, people tend to compare their own appearance to the images they see on instagram and other social platforms, often leading them to perceive themselves as inferior. This essay aims to discuss the shadows cast by social media, exploring its potent influence on society and individuals’ mental well-being.


The influence of social media on interpersonal relationships

On an external aspect, Social media has significantly estranged people’s interpersonal relationships. Social media transcends the space and time limitations, allowing individuals to express themselves anytime and anywhere, thus bringing people closer together. According to the University of People website, around 11% of adults reported a preference for staying home on Facebook rather than going out on the weekend. A survey conducted in 2018 also revealed that 69% of teens who are online constantly say they talk to their friends online every day or almost every day. Undoubtedly, social media has fundamentally reshaped the way people communicate and socialize with each other. Nevertheless, despite the positive impacts that social networking has brought, the way it aggravates social distance has been gradually gaining attention.

Doctor Robert Kraut assumed that the extensive use of the internet can lead to social isolation. Researchers suggest that the use of social functioning applications is isolating people from earnest relationships as they communicate with anonymous strangers online (e.g., Stoll, 1995; Turkle, 1996). This phenomenon can be evidenced by Putnam’s influential article in 1995. He claimed a broad decline in civic engagement and social participation in the U.S over the past 35 years from that time. To further support the claim, Kraut and his colleagues designed research in 1998, using longitudinal data to test the causal relationship between people’s use of the Internet ( according to the survey, people dominantly used the Internet to exchange emails), their social involvement, and certain likely psychological consequences of social involvement. The study was two years long with two groups of participants. The first year’s participants consisted of families with teenagers participating in journalism courses in high schools, while the second year’s participants consisted of families in which an adult was on the Board of Directors organization (an executive committee that jointly supervises the activities of an organization). The participants were selected to have had no active internet connections, which indicates that the research was their first experience with internet use or a powerful home computer. Researchers provided the families with computer and software, free telephone lines, and free access to the Internet in exchange for permitting scientists to automatically track their Internet usage, for filling out the pretest and posttest questionnaires, and for agreeing to in-home interviews. Although they found that the amount of communication that an individual family member had with other members did not predict subsequent internet use, the profound use of the internet was associated with small but statistically significant declines in social involvement. Moreover, people who initially had larger local social circles were lighter Internet users. In conclusion, according to Kraut, the mass usage of the Internet may displace the time people spend on face-to-face interactions, therefore reducing friendship closeness.

On the other hand, some researchers assert that social media can actually strengthen social distance. Dr. Loes Pouwel believes that the use of social media with close friends can have a profoundly positive effect on friendship closeness. She explains in her paper “Social Media Use and Friendship Closeness” (2020) that social applications such as Whatsapp and Snapchat are dominantly used for private communications with close relationships. With these apps, adolescents share more intimate content with friends (Boczkowski et al., 2018, Moreno et al., 2019; Vaterlaus et al., 2016; Waterloo et al., 2017). Her study was conducted with 387 middle adolescents, with the average age being 14.11 years old, as the period of middle adolescence is when friendships become more important to teenagers (Pouwel, 2020, p.6). They substantially spend more time with friends and value physical and emotional intimacy in these friendships. The participants were first asked to provide information such as their own definition of close friendships, the number of their close friends, and the social platforms they used more than once a week. They were further required to install the Ethica Data app to complete the survey, in which they were questioned six times a day for three weeks. With a total number of 47,900 surveys sent, 73% of them were completed, with an average of 90.26 out of 126 surveys were finished. They found that teenagers who were in touch more frequently with their close friends via Whatsapp felt closer to their friends compared to those who interacted less frequently (Pouwel, 2020, p.21-23). However, though the associations for general Instagram and Snapchat use with friendship closeness were also positive, they fell below significance. Furthermore, it is notable that adolescents also felt less close with their friends after using social media in the previous hour, compared to not using them at all. The within-person associations founded in this study were based on one hour of social media use. Nevertheless, these effects may accumulate over time and result in long-term induced developments of friendship closeness.

Connection and support from friends and family are eminent contributors to individual happiness. While some studies suggest that the proper use of social applications, such as WhatsApp, contributes to relationship closeness, Pouwel’s findings show that its effects are limited to specific apps, uses, and subjects. Concerns persist regarding the unexplored long-term impacts of social platforms. Kraut’s research, while not touching on the field of modern media that did not yet exist, underscores the undeniable phenomenon of network communications replacing face-to-face interactions—a concept still applicable to the usage of contemporary social platforms. In summary, contemporary social media usage has inevitably altered interpersonal interactions, resulting in accelerated social distance and more superficial relationships.


The influence of social media on personal safety

What also concerns the society are the negative impacts such as decrease in privacy and the cyberbully it induces. Can you imagine that your personal information and photos are being acquired by someone you don’t even know? It might have already happened if your social account is public. This potential breach of privacy can lead to various risks, including identity theft, unauthorized use of personal images, and even the creation of fake profiles in people’s name. Cybercriminals threaten not only individuals’ online presence but also their real-world security. For instance, criminals can use stolen personal information such as dates of birth to open new accounts and result in huge financial loss. In addition to identity-related risks, the exposure of personal details can also make people vulnerable to cyberbullying. Strangers with malicious intent can misuse the gathered information to invade people’s personal space, potentially causing emotional distress and harm. Amanda Michelle Todd set a sad but true example. She was a 15 years old Canadian student who was being blackmailed into exposing her breasts via webcam, and of being bullied and physically assaulted by a middle aged Dutch who she didn’t even know. This man, Aydin Coban, used numerous fake accounts and fake information to harass Todd and built negative rumors of her, which led to a huge amount of people joining the bully and eventually resulted in her death. Her story not only reminds us of the frightening consequences of cyberbullying but also alerts us to the importance of privacy safety.


The influence of social media on mental well-being

As for the psychological aspect, I’m concerned that social platforms may negatively affect one’s self presentation and self impression. The profile page serves as the primary means for people to get to know a person. Some users often “stalk” others’ posts and stories, forming preconceptions before they actually interact with others. Consequently, it becomes crucial to construct an ideal profile page that reflects a specific image users wish others to perceive, some may even present an identity that deviates from their true self. While false self-presentation is not a new phenomenon in the digital era and is common for individuals to present themselves in a manner different from who they really are and with the set of their real values, it is essential to recognize that not all forms of self-presentation on social media are inherently negative. Donald Winnicott, an English pediatrician and psychologist, explained in his paper “the true self and false self” (1960) that low degrees of false self presentations are natural and perhaps not harmful. However, when the gap between the real self and the ideal self becomes too wide, it can lead to some unhealthy psychological impacts. Take myself for instance, I used to post silly selfies on my profile and overshare my life with my friends online. However, after I found that people thought I was overly narcissistic and were teasing me behind my back, I stopped posting selfies on my account. I even started to believe that posting such things is an awkward and embarrassing action, and for a long time, I never posted any stories. Even now, I post certain content to avoid judgments. This action can be explained that under the gradually uncertain world, individuals tend to change their manner or adapt their expectations of the world to better fit the changes in their environments and align with the way the world behaves (Social Media and Changes in Values: Correlated or Causated?, 2023). Yet, adapting self presentations on social media to align with the online world not only risks disconnection from reality but also contributes to mental struggles.

Moreover, it is proved that online social activities have been associated with anxiety and depression. One of the explanations to this phenomenon is that text communication may lead to the wrong impression of the physical and personality traits of other users. If an individual already has certain depressive predispositions, they’re likely to be depressed when thinking of other users’ happier impressions (Pantic, 2014). A study conducted by Park et al. (2014) proposing a correlation between the level of depression in users and their increased utilization of Facebook features related to depression tips and facts. The researchers developed a distinctive application called EmotionDiary, demonstrating its effectiveness in assessing depressive symptoms in individuals. In essence, specific behavioral traits indicative of depression in a social network user can be measured, and this quantification holds significant potential as a predictor for future depression diagnoses. Furthermore, one of the well-known terms, Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), was introduced in 2004 to describe a phenomenon in which individuals desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing and experience apprehension about being absent (Gupta et al., 2021). While it is proven to foster positive impacts on well-being when it leads to social media use that increases social connection (Roberts et al, 2019), it triggers anxiety and a sense of inferiority by leading individuals to perceive themselves as having a low social rank (Gordon, 2022). With social networks, FOMO has become a bigger issue. According to the Strategy website, almost three-quarters of FOMO contributors use Facebook (72%), followed by Instagram (14%), Twitter (11%), and Pinterest (8%). Adolescents and young adults who seem to always be online checking updates and posts of their friends can easily define their lives based on what they see online; their overall satisfaction diminishes due to the constant urge to stay connected with others' activities (Kross et al, 2013). Reflecting on my personal experience, I grappled with profound insecurity throughout adolescence after becoming active on social media. Despite being aware that many online photos were photoshopped, I couldn’t stop comparing my appearance with attractive people I saw on Instagram. This unhealthy habit led me to develop a strong aversion to my own looks, I further became addicted to photoshopping my pictures before posting them because I believed that only when I looked good would people add me on social media. These thoughts and actions were incredibly unhealthy and abnormal, and I’m sure I was not the only teenager who suffered from this kind of struggle. Sarcastically, it is also suggested that individuals often encounter anxiety and other psychological withdrawal symptoms when they stop using social networks (Walton, 2017).



Despite widespread awareness of the harmful impacts of social media, resisting its use remains a considerable challenge for most individuals. The foremost reason behind this struggle is the highly addictive nature of social platforms. Walton metaphorically equates this addiction to drug consumption, highlighting the persistent return to social media despite the absence of genuine mood improvement, creating a detrimental and cyclical pattern. Although social media has expanded social circles and provided convenience and is undoubtedly a breakthrough in human history, its adverse effects should not be underestimated. Society faces emerging cyber threats due to diminishing privacy, while interpersonal closeness is estranged. Moreover, the psychological influence on individuals’ self-perception and overall mental well-being is even worse. In a nutshell, the advent of social media cannot be considered an unequivocal blessing. It is imperative to weigh its advantages and disadvantages, and crucial to assert control over its impact rather than succumb to its potentially detrimental influence.



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