The Impact Of Social Media On The Modern World


During the past decade, online social networking has caused profound changes in the way people communicate and interact. (Igor Pantic, 2014) We all tend to compare ourselves to others from time to time, but today, as many people tend to live part of their lives on social networking sites, social media causes more harm if not used in an appropriate manner. Surely, it helps to boost people’s motivation via self-enhancement and self-evaluation but it also plays a major role in lowering self-esteem in the person, using such a platform for comparison by comparing themselves to someone’s social media profile is like comparing their behind-the-scenes with someone’s highlights.

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Today in this age, social comparison and false social media presentation is one of the main issues of the millennials who are avid consumers of social media. There is a need to address this and identify ways to cope with it effectively.  Within a few years of its launch, Facebook was being used by four-fifths of internet users aged 13–16 in the UK (Livingstone et al. 2011). Since the launch of internet-connected smartphones, which overtook sales of cell phones in 2013, instant messaging sites such as Snapchat and WhatsApp have become standard tools of communication.

Social media has such a huge influence on the youth that they don’t realise how they are wasting their valuable time on it. Teens now-a- days spend around 9 to 10 hours on the internet. Social media or social networks are terms that typically encompass websites such as Facebook, Instagram, Myspace, Twitter, Snapchat, and Tumblr, which feature connecting with friends and sharing content in real time (Brunskill, 2013). There is a vast difference seen between social media and other means of mass media technology where the user on social media is not just limited to being a customer but also plays a role of the producer and protagonist (Toma, 2013).

Internet users post their personal information in the form of pictures and statuses. As every coin has two sides, the platform of social media has its respective pros and cons. The pros are getting introduced to the various cultures of the world, getting acquainted with worldwide news, allowing an individual to express themselves via the various social media platforms.

The cons are the insecurity of an individual’s personal information being leaked, extensive time consumption, anxiety, low self-esteem and depression (Lup et al., 2015). Depression is a common mood disorder that affects as much as 19% of the population (Comer, 2013). It is characterised by sad mood, lack of motivation and pleasure in activities which were previously pleasurable, increase or decrease in appetite and sleep, a negative self-concept and self-punitive thoughts. Beck’s cognitive theory for the cause of depression is called the cognitive triad, in which depressed people have negative views and irrational beliefs about themselves, events, and the future, which mutually influence each other (Beck & Weishaar, 2011, cited in Comer, 2013).

Mere cognitive disturbances that cause one to feel bad about themselves can potentially lead to depressive symptoms. “Facebook depression” is a new trend that has caught the media’s interest and led parents to fear for their children’s mental health. Users may post photos and statuses that reflect the most exciting parts of their lives, such as parties with friends and glamorous vacations, to create a flattering depiction of themselves. Conflict between the online image and the real self and comparison with others, exaggerated lifestyle over social media may lead to psychological distress. 

In the online age a peers’ feed has numerous opportunities for social comparison. According to Social Psychologist, Leon Festinger, people are driven to acquire a precise assessment of themselves by discerning their abilities and opinions in comparison with individuals around them. It is upward comparison when a person compares themselves with someone better while it is downward comparison when one compares oneself with others who are worse than him/her in a specific behaviour or trait. Horizontal or non-directional comparison is with those who are equal and is the most useful for collecting information about the self. People are more likely to compare themselves to those who are similar to them (Festinger, 1954). 

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In 1954, Leon Festinger published his theory of social comparison which states that humans have an inherent drive to accurately evaluate their opinions and abilities with other people. People are most likely to compare themselves to their peers when there is no objective evaluation possible. Festinger called the unidirectional drive upward which assumes that in Western culture, it is expected of others to be constantly above average and work on their abilities. (Festinger, 1954).

Upward social comparison (or negative social comparison) could either be a motivator for positive actions or lead to feelings of inadequacy. .It can be motivating sometimes, but it usually leads to feelings of inadequacy. Research states that people are more likely to socially compare themselves to other people when they experience depressive episodes which leads to a decrease in positive affect as a result of upward social comparison (Bäzner, Brömer, Hammelstein, & Meyer, 2006). Social media offers vast amounts of social information, it is not surprising that university students compare themselves to other students on social media which they stated in an interview. (Fox & Moreland, 2015).

When individuals engage in social comparison, they decide whether they are doing worse or better than the comparison target (Dijkstra et al., 2010; Festinger, 1954). Sometimes while engaging in social comparison, individuals experience aversive emotions like frustration and resentment when they socially realize that they are doing worse than others. (Dijkstra et al., 2010). Simultaneously, individuals are also more likely to experience positive emotions like relief and pride when they socially realize that they are better off than others which can lead to positive affect. (Dijkstra et al., 2010).  Social network sites such as Facebook give off the impression that others are doing better than we are. As a result, the use of these sites may lead to negative social comparison (i.e., feeling like others are doing better than oneself).

Social media offers vast amounts of social information, it is not surprising that university students compare themselves to other students on social media which they stated in an interview. (Fox & Moreland, 2015). According to social comparison theory, such negative social comparisons are detrimental to perceptions about the self. Research to date suggests that social media use increases the feeling that others are doing better and, as a result, increases negative affect and decreases positive affect (Appel, Gerlach, &Crusius, 2016). In a survey research conducted among college-aged young adults, social media use was positively related to the belief that others are better off (Chou & Edge, 2012; de Vries &Kühne, 2015). The belief that others are better off, in turn, was negatively related to emotional wellbeing (Feinstein et al., 2013).

An experiment which comprised of 112 female students and staff members of a university (aged 17–25) stated a more negative mood balance after using social media platform Facebook than after using a control website (Fardouly et al., 2015). Furthermore, in one quasi-experiment among 89 depressed and non-depressed adults, individuals who viewed profiles of attractive peers (in terms of job and education, friends, likes, and comments) reported more envy than those who viewed unattractive profiles (Appel, Crusius, & Gerlach, 2015). Moreover, Haferkamp and Krämer (2011) performed an experiment with 91 participants (mean age 22.5) and it was found that when individuals viewed the profiles of attractive people they experienced more negative feelings while individuals who viewed the profiles of unattractive people experienced more positive emotions.

Kraut and colleagues presented the adverse psychological impact of social media (1998) and by Young and Rodgers (1998), found that frequent internet use raised the risk of depressive symptoms. Studies have shown correlations of online activity by younger people with low self-esteem (Caplan 2002), loneliness (Clayton et al. 2013) self-harm (Lam et al. 2009.  Reduced face-to-face contact detracts from a traditional supportive environment that can help young people to manage the challenges of adolescence. Development of self-awareness may be inhibited in young people who lack engagement in reflective interactions with family and friends (Siegel 2014).

A study showed that adolescent participants who reported depressive mood were more likely to use the internet for friendships and to express feelings compared to those who did not report depressive symptoms (Niall McCrae & Others,2017). From the study by Dumitrache and colleagues (2012) of self-image and depressive tendencies in Facebook user the correlation between amount of identity-related items in Facebook profiles and depressive symptoms was statistically significant. The study showed that depressive symptoms correlated with low self-image and identity-type information on Facebook.

The American Academy of Pediatrics voiced worries about “Facebook Depression” (O’Keeffe & Clarke- Pearson, 2011) and warns that the use of social media can lead to depressive symptoms (Dian A. de Vries, A. MartheMöller, Marieke S. Wieringa, Anniek W. Eigenraam& Kirsten Hamelink 2017).  “Facebook depression” is a new trend that has caught the media’s interest and led parents to fear for their children’s mental health.  Although some authors indeed find that social media use is related to increased depressive symptoms (e.g., Pantic et al., 2012; Tsitsika et al., 2014), others show that social media use is not related to depressive symptoms (e.g., Datu, Valdez, &Datu, 2012; Jelenchick, Eickhoff, & Moreno, 2013) or is associated with decreased depressive symptoms (Thorsteinsson& Davey, 2014). One explanation for these contradicting findings is that the effects of social media use depend on the specific social media activities that individuals engage in. (Frison & Eggermont, 2016).

On social media, individuals will predominantly encounter positive posts, as people tend to present the most positive sides of themselves and their lives on these platforms (Lin & Utz, 2015; Qiu, Lin, Leung, & Tov, 2012; Reinecke &Trepte, 2014). Viewing these positive posts may have positive or negative consequences for the viewer’s mood (Lin & Utz, 2015). A growing body of research studying social media from a social comparison perspective suggests that browsing others’ positive posts has negative effects on mood through envy and the feeling that others have a better life (Chou & Edge, 2012; Haferkamp & Krämer, 2011; Sagioglou & Greitemeyer, 2014; Tandoc, Ferrucci, & Duffy, 2015).

A study examined whether the tendency to negatively compare oneself with others while using Facebook, leads to increase in depressive symptoms. Negative social comparison on Facebook was predicted to be associated with increases in rumination, which in turn, was predicted to be associated with depressive symptoms. Results indicated that in the context of social networking, negatively comparing oneself with others may place individuals at risk for rumination and  in turn, depressive symptoms. (Feinstein, Brian A.,Hershenberg, Rachel,Bhatia, Vickie, Latack, Jessica A., Meuwly, Nathalie, Davila, Joanne,2013).

Another study investigated the indirect relationship between Facebook use and self-perceptions through negative social comparison. A survey among 231 emerging adults (age 18–25) showed that Facebook use was related to a greater degree of negative social comparison, which was in turn related negatively to self-perceived social competence and physical attractiveness. (Dian VriesRinaldoKühne,2015). 

There has been a hike in the usage of social media and evidence of an upsurge in social comparison in recent times. A number of studies have pointed out to the relation between social comparison and depressive symptoms in relation to usage time and towards social comparison in relation to the preferred social media platform.  We have thus observed a surge of research on relationships between social media usage and social comparison in the West.

However the same cannot be said for the Indian population where research on social behaviours (definitely in case of social media usage and social comparison) and mental health processes is sparse. Thus, it would only be pertinent to dwell on this connection and with peculiar emphasis on the Indian population (specifically Mumbai residents), to have more insight and see if social comparison is associated to depression.

In this study it is predicted that there will be a relationship between social comparison and depression. It is further predicted that the relationship between social comparison and depression will be stronger when controlling for hours of social media usage.

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