🪷 Wellbeing

May 23, 2024

7 min read

Why Social Media can Be Harmful

Why Social Media can Be Harmful

While social media can be fantastic tools, they can also have significant negative effects. We often discuss the impacts on individuals, but what do we know about the causes of these side effects? Today, we explore how social media can negatively impact us.

In 2024, the question of whether to be on social media is no longer relevant. Today, more than half of the world's population—62.3%—is on at least one of these platforms. Those who have chosen to abstain have become a minority. However, this doesn't necessarily mean it's a "good thing." Quite the contrary.

For the older generation, names like MySpace might ring a bell. For younger people, it's Facebook. Before it was overtaken by quirky aunts and octogenarian neighbors with questionable jokes, Facebook was quite revolutionary. 

A platform—apparently free, but more on that later—that allowed you to connect with anyone: long-lost friends, enthusiasts like you from across the globe, classmates, and family. Honestly, Facebook was magical.

Quickly, the number of platforms expanded. When something works, the fish multiply, and the predators swoop in. Without us really noticing, these services became real businesses, extremely lucrative, with some valued at hundreds of billions of dollars. If we look at what social media has become today—without falling into the timeless "it was better before"they have mostly become a real source of trouble for many of us: between addiction, data exploitation, misinformation, manipulation, and harassment, the issues have multiplied, turning these tools, for some, into a living hell.

You may have already read other articles, seen ads urging you to disconnect, or even bought a $150 course promising you the BEST techniques for a "good" detox. Well, this article isn't about that. Today, we're going to explore why social media is in our crosshairs and what you REALLY risk by using them.

Misinformation & Pseudo-Expertise

With more than 5 billion users, quality control is no longer a priority. That might be the problem. Social media isn't there to provide scientifically controlled or certified information; it's just a platform for content created by ordinary people.

| “The first step towards knowledge is to know our own ignorance.” —Socrates

Have you ever heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect? It's a cognitive bias that leads the least qualified people on a specific subject to overestimate their actual skills. 

On social media, this is especially evident in the comments section. Some people "know better than anyone else" what's good for us, while others go so far as to reject verified expertise, invoking a form of "conspiracy against humanity."

| “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” —Charles Darwin

Bit by bit, these minority groups can occupy more and more space on social media, especially those with lax moderation policies. At first glance, we don't see the problem; you just have to "ignore them." But here's the thing:

⚖️ Not everyone is equal

Not everyone has the same ability to take a step back, the same knowledge, or even the same mental strength. Some are more naive or more sensitive and are more easily duped.

🔂 Repetition can prevail

A piece of information can be strongly repeated (via bots or by very active groups of people). Seeing information repeatedly can lead to increasing trust: "if so many people are talking about it, it can't be false, right?".

🔀 Algorithms

Social media knows when a topic interests you. To keep you engaged as long as possible, they create "loops," locking users into a circuit where each post leads to another similar post. It's not easy to breathe when your head is being held underwater.

Don’t worry, TikTok will always be around

But your

won't wait.

Better Screen Time

Made simple. See by yourself.

⚡️

💜

🔒

⌨️

🌿

🌿

🌙

Don’t worry, TikTok will always be around

But your

won't wait.

Better Screen Time

Made simple. See by yourself.

⚡️

💜

🔒

⌨️

🌿

🌿

🌙

Don’t worry, TikTok will always be around

But your

won't wait.

Better Screen Time

All made simple. See by yourself.

⚡️

💜

🔒

⌨️

🌿

🌿

🌙

Don’t worry, TikTok will always be around

But your

won't wait.

Better Screen Time

All made simple. See by yourself.

Mass Harassment & Cancel Culture

While social media is often seen as a space for "freedom of expression," it's crucial to be cautious about what and how quickly we share our thoughts. In recent years, some social media platforms have turned into virtual tribunals, epitomized by "Cancel Culture." This phenomenon involves publicly denouncing a person, company, or celebrity to ostracize them, often for perceived wrongdoing. Amid virulent insults and witch hunts, it’s easy to fall into a form of mass harassment.

| “It’s dehumanizing to have thousands of people passing through our computer screens, so we do things we’d never do if people were sitting next to us.” —"Anything You Want", Derek Sivers

Because yes, behind the screen, we often minimize the words and the violence in which we can express ourselves. But just because we've had a bad day doesn't mean others should pay for it. And it's because we tend to quickly forget this "detail" that social media have become real outlets. The problem is that navigating among hundreds of thousands of hateful, insulting messages ends up having an impact: whether on the person concerned or even on someone who has nothing to do with it. But where does this hatred come from? Although there are no real answers to this question, some advance the hypothesis of a form of jealousy:

Behind the screen, we often minimize the impact of our words and the violence with which we express ourselves. But just because we've had a bad day doesn't mean others should bear the brunt of our frustration. We tend to forget this "detail," turning social media into real outlets for our anger. The problem is that navigating through hundreds of thousands of hateful, insulting messages can have a significant impact—whether on the person targeted or even on bystanders. But where does this hatred come from? While there are no definitive answers, some suggest it stems from a form of jealousy:

| "The cooler the things you get to do are, the more people hate you. It's crazy. It's way worse than it's ever been.” —Billie Eilish

Destruction of Health

|“Most people don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. They imitate others, go with the flow, and follow paths without making their own. They spend decades in pursuit of something that someone convinced them they should want, without realizing that it won’t make them happy” —“Anything you want”, Derek Sivers

Social media often sells us an idealized version of life, one that doesn't truly exist. It's more of a romanticized, embellished representation. Why would anyone pay for a life that looks exactly like theirs? No one would. Social media are businesses first and foremost, which is why everything is idealized, even if it means "lying" a little around the edges—because it "sells" better. However, we don't all perceive these matters the same way. Constantly viewing these "perfect" visions of life can create real complexes in some people.

A recent investigation by the Wall Street Journal revealed that Meta was aware of the risks Instagram posed to young audiences' health and kept this information secret, leading several US states to file lawsuits against these web giants.

But that’s not all. If social media services are known to affect our mental health, they can also be a source of exhaustion.

| “Social media drags us into a frenetic pace that prevents us from taking a break or stepping back. They suck us into frenzied consumption, often without specific goals” —“C'est décidé, je ralentis”, Xavier Kreutzer

With social media, we no longer have real "breaks" in our lives. Even if you don't use them, things continue to happen there. This is where FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) comes in. It's the obsessive desire to stay hyper-connected, driven by an irrational fear of "missing out on something." Combine this with the stress of daily life, and you're already on the verge of burnout.

Data Exploitation

Have you ever REALLY read the terms and conditions of the tools and apps you use? Or at least understood what accepting them means for you and your data?

| “Even experienced lawyers can struggle to understand websites’ Terms and Conditions. So what hope do young people have? Social media providers need to ask themselves: how can someone give informed content to something they can’t possibly understand?” —Jenny Afia, Partner at Schillings

In an effort to make Terms and Conditions more accessible, Jenny Afia, a data protection expert lawyer, proposed a simplified version of Instagram's general terms of use. She ensured these terms could be understood by all, especially younger users. Here are the main points she highlighted:

  • Officially you own any original pictures and videos you post, but we are allowed to use them, and we can let others use them as well, anywhere around the world. Other people might pay us to use them and we will not pay you for that.

  • […] We may keep, use and share your personal information with companies connected with Instagram. This information includes your name, email address, school, where you live, pictures, phone number, your likes and dislikes, where you go, who your friends are, how often you use Instagram, and any other personal information we find such as your birthday or who you are chatting with, including in private messages (DMs).

  • We might send you adverts connected to your interests which we are monitoring. You cannot stop us doing this and it will not always be obvious that it is an advert.

  • We can change or end Instagram, or stop you accessing Instagram at any time, for any reason and without letting you know in advance. We can also delete posts and other content randomly, without telling you, for any reason. If we do this, we will not be responsible for paying out any money and you won’t have any right to complain.

  • We can force you to give up your username for any reason.

  • We can, but do not have to, remove, edit, block and/or monitor anything posted or any accounts that we think breaks any of these rules. We are not responsible if somebody breaks the law or breaks these rules; but if you break them, you are responsible.

Adapted from QZ

Even though Apple is leading a battle to help users manage their data more effectively, notably through the App Tracking Transparency initiative, social media giants already have a lot of information about us, and with our consent. As soon as you tap "Get" on the App Store, you're giving them access to all of these:

And I invite you to tap "Other data" for the rest. You might change your mind about your use of certain services.

Protect Yourself From Social Media

To have a healthtier relationship with social media, our best advice is to use it with intention.

🧠 Know Why You're Using It

Most of us use social media by default. It's time to think about what you really want from it. For example, if you use Instagram to keep in touch with friends and family, stick to that. Check their stories and DMs, and avoid scrolling through Reels. If you can't find a good reason to use a platform, it’s probably not worth your time.

🔒 Use an App Blocker to Help

Once you know why you're using social media, use an app blocker like Jomo to stay on track. Jomo is free on the App Store. It blocks your social media apps by default and only unlocks them if you give a valid reason and set a time limit. Once your time is up, the app blocks again, stopping mindless scrolling.

This screen time rule is easy to stick with and will keep you intentional with social media. Here's how to set it up:

1️⃣ Download Jomo.

2️⃣ Go to Rules > Sessions > Templates > Conscious Use.

3️⃣ In "Blocked Content," select your social media apps.

4️⃣ Tap "Breaks" and choose "Intention." You will have to write an intention to unlock social media temporarily. You can customize the number of unlocks per day and the maximum duration for each.

5️⃣ Press "Schedule."

Now your "Conscious Use" session is active. To take a break, press "Pause" on the session card or open a blocked app and press "Unlock."


Screenshot of the "Conscious Use" blocking session in the Jomo app


Social networks are sold as incredible tools to "give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together" (Facebook's "official" mission), but their original mission has mostly become a very lucrative business. Today, their bread and butter is your time, attention, and data. Your mental health doesn't matter to them; what matters is profit. So, if you use these services daily and intensively, ask yourself: who am I serving more, myself or them?

🔗 Datareportal ; Public Health ; QZ | ✋ Illustrations by Jomo | Photography Unsplash