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Digital Despair: How Social Media Affects Our Well-Being

How Social Media Affects Our Well-Being

In the world of digital marketing, attention is a hot commodity. Social media platforms demand 24/7 engagement from users, but this method of promotion has become increasingly detrimental.

One study after another has proven that social media leads to despair, with screen time tied to increased depression and anxiety among users.

It’s time to rethink strategies that harm consumers. Yes, we’re a digital marketing agency, but it’s the responsibility of companies like ours to initiate conversation within the agency world. The only way to create change is to start with awareness.

How Social Media Actually Works

A large part of the problem stems from the way social media functions. Each social platform makes money by serving ads, which is why they can offer their services free to the public.

The more ads they serve to consumers, the more money they make, and the longer a consumer spends on their app or website, the more ads they can serve. Naturally, the result is a combination of strategies aimed at getting you to spend as much time on their platform as possible.

The average person in the United States spends two hours and six minutes on social media every day, and this number has continued to grow since 2012.

Why It’s a Problem

Large amounts of time spent interacting with social media is unhealthy for the mind. One study on the impact of screen time on well-being found that increased screen time results in “lower psychological well-being, including less curiosity, lower self-control, more distractibility, more difficulty making friends, less emotional stability, being more difficult to care for, and inability to finish tasks.”

Heavy use can also result in unrealistic expectations and self-doubt when one’s life doesn’t meet those expectations. Another common reaction is anxiety from fear of missing out, or FOMO.

The unhealthy impact of social media can be particularly harmful to adolescents with developing brains. Frequent screen time can impact their development, the information they take in, how they view themselves and how they relate to others.

These are but a few of the ways that social media has proven to be damaging when used in excess, and change has been a long time coming.


A Brief History of Tech Well-Being

The notion that excessive social media use and specific marketing tactics might have dire long term consequences is nothing new. Back in 2013, a Google design ethicist by the name of Tristan Harris put together a presentation titled “A Call to Minimize Distraction & Respect Users’ Attention”.

Fast forward 5 years to 2018 when Google released Wellbeing, a site that gives people “tips and tools to help [them] achieve [their] personal sense of digital wellbeing.” It even encourages individuals to unplug more and minimize digital distractions.

This came a year after Facebook contributed to the discussion on how to use social media safely.

Just this year, the documentary The Social Dilemma came out on Netflix, giving viewers an inside look to the suffering that undue social media use causes and how.

People are beginning to open their eyes and demand better, but there’s a long way to go.

Is It Too Late?

The goal isn’t to drop social media or dub it an evil force. Social media is here to stay for the long haul, and it does a lot of good, too.

Even so, it’s not too late to continue to make changes for the health of humanity. Read on for what you can do to help the revolution.

The Answer Starts With Awareness

The first step to leading any big change is making people aware of the problem at hand. In other words: education. Spread the message and generate awareness of how social media works and why it can be harmful.

Only from there can regulation become an option.

What Marketers Can Do

If you work in the industry, hold conversations about the impacts of social media and get others talking about it. Share in LinkedIn groups and host conferences. Even chatting with fellow co-workers over lunch gets the conversation going.

From there, start devising solutions together. Brainstorm ways that agencies can advertise without relying on constant engagement or unhealthy expectations.

When they arise, support the policy changes that hold social media companies accountable.

What the Average Person Can Do

If social media has you feeling down, there’s a lot you can do to prevent digital despair and form a healthier relationship with it. The first step is to take back control. The Center for Humane Technology offers tips on how to do just that, including:

  • Grayscaling your phone to encourage checking it less frequently
  • Turning off all notifications that don’t come from people
  • Limiting your home screen to tools
  • Charging devices in a separate room

You can also help by fact-checking what you share on social media. Use our guide to fact-checking to consume accurate information and prevent the spread of misleading news.

Let’s Take Social Media Ethics Up a Notch

More people are flocking to social media every day, making it an ever-greater marketing tool. As marketers and advertisers, we have a responsibility not just to clients, but to the consumer. Our industry gets a bad rep, and it’s no wonder when social media practices take advantage of consumers at the expense of their well-being. We’re all aware of basic social media ethics, but it’s time to step it up.

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