Social media has been one of the biggest trends of the 21st century to date.
For a lot of people, being able to stay in touch with friends and family, no matter where they are in the world, has been nothing short of a revelation.
Social media can undoubtedly be a force for good, but there are also some significant downsides of using apps such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram?
We are facing a depression crisis – so could social media be a contributing factor?
The rise of the influencer
In the early days of social media, it all seemed so innocent. Even though Facebook started as a way for college students to rate each other by their attractiveness – as detailed in the hit Hollywood movie The Social Network – the early days of social media were fairly benign.
Now, with 310 million Facebook users in India alone – more than anywhere else in the world – it is clear that the site is a big part of daily life for many people in the country.
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, is known for its addictive nature and in recent years there has been something a little more sinister happening: the rise of the influencer.
These users, who are typically young, fresh-faced and squeaky clean, have amassed huge followings that they can then parlay into a regular income. Companies pay them to post sponsored advertisements and people snap up products and services as a result of them being recommended by someone they trust due to following them on social media.
We might not really need these items, which have not been vetted by the influencers themselves, but seeing them being posted about increases our desire to make a purchase.
This in turn can have a negative impact on our mental health, with shopping providing a quick hit of dopamine that fades fast.
Blind trust in an era of fake news
By now, most people know not to believe everything that they read on the internet. With virtually no moderation on sites such as Twitter, it is easy for lies and conspiracy theories to spread.
Blindly trusting influencers on the basis of what they post on social media could therefore be dangerous. Let’s use the example of Twitch, a streaming site enjoying massive popularity.
Some streamers on Twitch amass big followings by showing themselves playing games such as online slots at casino sites. Some people may never have used such sites before, but be drawn into signing up as a result of seeing their favourite Twitch presences win big.
Instead, it is always important to do your own research into things such as online casinos before deciding whether or not they are for you. Failing to do this can lead to bad decisions being made.
Many Twitch streamers actually have affiliate deals, which means they get paid every time someone clicks through from their profile and signs up to the online casino they are promoting.
But most people do not realise that this is the case when they are casually watching Twitch.
Social media is not a reflection of real life
In these unprecedented times, it is important people remember the golden rule when it comes to social media: it is not real.
Posts on Instagram are often edited by users before being uploaded onto the platform. Many people make themselves look slimmer, or emphasise aspects they like about their looks. It is common for skin blemishes to be deleted through the use of editing software.
People who compare themselves to social media users are setting themselves up to fail. The images that are posted on social media sites like Instagram are just not a reflection of reality.
The algorithm that apps like Instagram use is also worth deconstructing. If you search for a certain type of post, the algorithm will start to show you more similar material. This makes it easy to get lost in a rabbit hole, thinking that users are far more superior to ourselves.
Furthermore, social media involves confirmation bias. When we look for certain things, such as diet advice, we are likely to be shown a lot more of this in the future, which can be triggering. Social media is not all bad but, like most addictive.