Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram – oh, my! Nowadays, it seems like everyone is on social media. However, the positives of social media are often overshadowed by the seemingly endless negatives of the platforms. From addiction and mental health issues to jealousy and unhealthy comparisons, social media might be ruining our lives.
Despite headlines insinuating that this is a common sentiment, how many people actually think negatively of social media? We surveyed over 2,700 Americans about their digital habits and life satisfaction to see if social media is as bad as some say. Keep reading to see what we found.
Studies have found that the top five social media platforms – YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter – are associated with bullying, body image issues, and even the fear of missing out, as well as being linked to depression and anxiety. However, when asked about the effects of social media, 70.4% of people said it improved their life satisfaction. But opinions – and negative consequences – weren't equal for all.
While gender and political affiliation had little variation in opinion, millennials and people in a relationship were the most likely to think social media worsened their life satisfaction. In fact, young people are significantly more susceptible to the negative aspects of social media. A rise in mental health disorders among teens has been linked to social media, and considering young adults make up the majority of platform users and are highly influenced by social acceptance, it makes sense that their perceptions of social media would differ.
For Better or Worse
Overall, those who claimed social media improved their lives were more likely to be men, baby boomers, Republicans, and from the South. Being married and having an associate degree also seemed to be linked to viewing social media in a more positive light. On the other hand, those who believed social media worsened their lives were more likely to be women, millennials, Democrats, and from the Midwest. Coinciding with their tendency to be younger, those with this negative belief were also more likely to be unmarried and have an incomplete college degree.
According to the Pew Research Center, women use Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest more than their male counterparts, while young adults use all social media sites more than those older than 50. Interestingly, those who had completed some college were more likely to use Facebook and Snapchat more than those who stopped at high school or completed a college degree or higher.
Our World Without It
The grass may always be greener on the other side, but when it comes to a world without social media – people weren't too keen on the idea. Nearly 60% of respondents said they would not prefer a society in which social media didn't exist. Nevertheless, millennials and Republicans were the most likely to say they'd prefer a world without social media, with 43.9% and 45% saying so, respectively. People who were not in romantic relationships were least likely to report this in comparison to married people —nearly half of whom preferred a society without it.
One might think that people who believe social media worsens life satisfaction would prefer a world without it, but 36.6% of people who reported this said they would not prefer a world void of social media. On the flip side, nearly a third of people who believed social media improved their lives would prefer a world without it, perhaps considering its negative effects on society a priority over the personal benefits they receive from it.
Satisfied in the South
Societal pressures and the negativity that stems from social media typically affect the population in its entirety. After all, Americans live in the same society and are subject to the same trends. But just as cultures differ by region, so too do Americans' opinions. People living in the South were the most likely to believe social media improved their life satisfaction, while those in the Midwest were the least likely. However, the Midwest was the only region in which women were more likely than men to think positively of social media – compared to 62.4% of Midwestern men, 70.4% of women in the Midwest said social media improved their life satisfaction.
Country of Consequences
Flipping sides entirely, people from the Midwest were the most likely to say social media worsened their life satisfaction, followed by those in the Northeast. While women in the South, Northeast, and West were more likely than their male counterparts to believe social media reduced their life satisfaction, men in the Midwest were more likely to believe this (41.2%).
However, there is no clear reason why people in the Midwest seem to have more negative experiences and perceptions of social media – for one, it isn't necessarily because they have a worse quality of life than other regions. In fact, states in the South rank the lowest for well-being scores, yet are the least affected by social media's negative aspects. For some, this may be because social media is a type of escape, while others may view it as something from which they need to escape.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
There is no denying that there are pros and cons to social media. On the one hand, digital platforms bring people together, allowing them to keep in touch with family and friends. However, societal pressures can seep through posts – Instagram portrays unrealistic images, while Snapchat shows life highlights and alters face shapes. And while users may not notice these negatively affecting their self-esteem, stress, mood, and overall mental health, the consequences are ever-present.
While studies have found the negatives to be widespread, the majority of people don't seem to notice them. Men, baby boomers, and those living in the South were more likely to see the positive sides of social media, but Americans, as a whole, thought that social media improved their life satisfaction. But even among people who thought it worsened their life satisfaction, a society without social media didn't seem to be the answer.
We collected responses from 2,718 American respondents. 39.9% percent of our respondents identified as male, while 60.1% identified as female. The respondents were primarily millennials, with 53% of respondents between the ages of 23 and 38, another 36% of respondents were between the ages of 30 and 54, 6% between the ages of 55 and 75, and 5% reported as above the age of 75. Survey responses were self-reported and are, therefore, limited by self-reporting biases.
Fair Use Statement
There are plenty of plus sides to social media – one of which is talking about its effects. If you'd like to share our findings on perceptions of social media, the content and graphics found here are available for non-commercial reuse. Just don't forget to link back to this page to give the authors proper credit.