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Is Social Media Harmful?

There are many different opinions about social media. I believe that we need to take this issue to God and for Him to show us what is best for us at this stage of our life. Should we have social media, get rid of it completely or sit somewhere in the middle? After you watch the following YouTube talks I encourage you to pray about it and establish ways of linking with people that are healthy for both them and you. At the end are some Bible verses that might encourage you as you pray about how to move forward with social media.

1. Quit Social Media - Dr Cal Newport

Dr Newport has never had a social media account in his life. He is a millennial, a computer scientist and book author who started his journey in life without Facebook as he was jealous of what the creator did. He realized later social media was dangerous and has never signed up.

Two things he wants to say to others:-

1. Even though he does not have a social media account he is OK. He has friends, knows what is going on in the world and in his job as a computer scientist still collaborates with people all around the world, is exposed to interesting ideas and does not lack in entertainment options. He says that he is actually better off without social media. He is happier, he has more sustainability in his life and is more successful professionally because he does not use social media.

2. To convince the audience that there is a better world outside social media. To convince people that they would be better off if they quit social media. His view of the future is that it is one where fewer people actually use social media.

There are three common objections when they are shown that quitting social media is good:-

1. Social media is one of the fundamental technologies of the 21st century. To reject it would be going backwards. Dr Newport believes this is nonsense. He believes it is not a fundamental technology but he sees it as a source of entertainment. He gives an example of a slot machine from a casino. The social media companies give you shiny treats for minutes of your attention and bites of your personal data which can be onsold to other companies. Not having social media is just rejecting one form of entertainment for another. (eg: Watching Netflicks instead of free to air TV). Dr Newport sees social media as an unsavoury source of entertainment as the companies hire "Attention Engineers" who borrow principles from Los Vegas casinos to try to make these products as addictive as possible. The more addicted you are the more profit they make.

2. Social media is essential for my success in business in the 21st-century economy. If I do not have a well-cultivated social media image or brand people will not know who I am. People will not be able to find me and I will miss opportunities. Dr Newport disagrees with this. In this world, we are successful when we can produce things that are rare and valuable. The market overlooks things that are easy to replicate and are of little value. Any person can replicate what you do on social media. If what you do requires deep skills and is only something that you can do then the market will value you.

3. Social media is harmless, I have some fun on it, I do not use it very much, I am a first adopter and I might miss out on something if I do not use it. What is the harm of using it? Dr Newport says social media brings with it documented significant harms. It is important that we know and understand these issues before allowing social media in our lives. A major issue is a way social media fragments our attention. Research says that if you are constantly breaking up your day being distracted the can permanently reduce your capacity for concentration. This reduces our ability to put deep effort into what we do. There is also psychological harm caused by social media. Research says the more you use social media the more lonely or isolated you can feel. Looking constantly at other people's carefully crafted accounts of their life can make your life feel inadequate and create high rates of depression. Also, we are constantly interrupted and given intermittent rewards, so we are constantly on guard and checking our phone for updates. This short-circuits the brain and has long term effects including anxiety. On university campuses, there has been an explosion of anxiety-related issues in students due to social media.

When looking at whether you are going to use social media, it is essential that you can see a very positive reason for using it and it will not cause you harm. Life without social media is actually very good. Leaving social media has effects, not unlike a detoxing process. You start by feeling uncomfortable and something is missing. The phone has a phantom vibration. After detoxing over a few weeks, though, things can actually become quite positive. There are two things that are quite positive when you quit social media:-


1. You become much more productive - You can get your work done in the allocated time as you are not distracted. This is because your attention has not been fragmented and you can do one thing after another with intensity.

2. Outside of work things can be quite peaceful. Reading books, listening to the radio etc is restorative.

So, social media is not healthy for everyone. There are real positives for life without social media.

2. Is Social Media Hurting Your Mental Health? Bailey Parnell

To begin with, Bailey explores the internal monologue of a typical social media scroll. It is an internal conversation we have that is not often talked about. Most people are totally unaware it is actually happening. She has been working on a Masters project on this subject and works with a lot of young people.

The goal of her talk is to show the unintended consequences social medial is having on your mental health. She shows what is creating unnecessary stress every day, what it is doing to you and how you can craft a better experience for you online.

Bailey talked about a holiday that she had that all media and social media was disconnected. It had been four years since she was last disconnected. Being without social media was a new experience again. She experienced phantom vibrations and got to realize how closely social media had taken over every part of her waking life. She was never switched off. It took four days to finally be comfortable without her phone.

From this experience, she started thinking about what social media was doing to her and her peers. Removing social media caused stress, anxiety and withdrawal symptoms.

In her research, she found that the three main diagnoses on university campuses were:-

  1. Anxiety

  2. Depression

  3. Stress

There have been many studies that have linked high use of social media with these three - anxiety, depression and stress. The scary thing is that high social media use is very common amongst so many people. 90% of 18-20-year-olds are on social media, spending an average of 2 hours a day actively using social media sites. Anything that takes up so much of our time we need to critically examine. It will have long term effects on us.

There are four key stressors, that if left unchecked can become full-blown mental health issues (there are more!):-

1. Highlight Reel - This is a collection of the best and brightest moments of someone's life. The problem is that we become insecure because we compare our "behind the scenes" with everyone else's highlight reel. (Steven Furtick) We are comparing ourselves with all our contacts every day.

2. Social Currency - This is what we use to contribute value to ourselves. The likes and dislikes are a gauge on what other people think about us and cause us to either feel good or not appreciated. She referred to the "Economy of Attention". Each piece of attention adds or reduces to what we think about ourselves. When shopping for clothes or other things this process is ok, but with social media, WE are the product! We also allow others attribute value to us. Even worse, this is online for the whole world to see! We can become obsessed with this.

3. Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) - This is a social anxiety that you will miss an event, relationship or opportunity. One study said seven out of ten students would get rid of their social networking accounts if it was not for fear of being left out of the loop.

4. Online Harassment - For some people, going online is a terrifying experience. It is not just your self worth you were worried about but your actual safety. Forty per cent of online adults have experienced online harassment. Seventy-three per cent have witnessed it. It is much worse if you are a woman, a person of colour or different in some way. When we have many micro-moments of negative postings or feedback it becomes a macro problem.

Some common stressors -

  • Notifications are present and need to be checked. This need eventually becomes an addiction.

  • With every like we get a shot of the feel-good chemical called dopamine. So to feel good we check our "likes". We actually become anxious if we do not have access to our account. This is so much like an addiction to a drug!

  • Our social media use is unchecked - we do not notice how it is overtaking our life.

Research has found that Years 7-12 students who spent over 2 hours a day on social media reported higher depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

The major problem is social media can be good and is not going anywhere. She says for most, not using social media not an option, but you can use it safely. Social media is neither good nor bad but is a tool that we can use to tell stories and communicate with one another. What social media brings out is the dark side of people. This dark side is what we need to focus on. This means coming up with preventative and coping strategies.

There are four steps to social media wellness:-

1. Recognizing the problem - Being aware of the issues behind social media is critical. You will be able to recognise the effects when they happen to you.

2. Audit your social media diet - This involves being mindful of what goes into your mind just as you monitor what you eat. Ask yourself:-

  • Did that Facebook scroll make me feel better or worse off?

  • How many times to I check likes?

  • Why am I responding this way to that photo?

  • Am I happy with the results of me being on social media today?

3. Create a better online experience - Purge people on your timeline that are not allowing you to have a positive experience online. (eg: Celebrities that make you feel inferior) You do not have to follow your friends. Sometimes the friends we have online are actually toxic when connecting with them via social media. Stop yourself being caught in a passive-aggressive war on who is the best.

4. Model good behaviour - Treat the people online as you would treat them as they were in the room next to you. Use it to encourage, build people up and for positive outcomes for those you interact with.

Finally, decide if social media is hurting your mental health. It does not need to. It can actually lift you are and cause you to feel better. Fill your time with inspiration, motivation and laughs.

3. What you are missing while being a digital zombie | Patrik Wincent

I would encourage you to watch this and see how Patrik missed a major event in his son's life because the attraction of social media was greater than experiencing what was happening with his son who was right in front of him. This experience was missed and can never be replaced. Is your social media experience taking away from the relationships and people who are right in front of you?

What Does God Say?

It is important to come back to the Bible and explore what God is saying about this topic. (The Passion Translation) Read these as you do a personal audit on your social media use and ask God how He wants to change your use of social media so it is not only a positive part of your life, you use it to build others up.

Seven Bible verses to meditate on:-

1.  So keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honourable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind. And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always. Philippians 4:8

2. Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes. Romans 12:2

3.  You are to love the Lord Yahweh, your God, with every passion of your heart, with all the energy of your being, with every thought that is within you, and with all your strength. This is the great and supreme commandment.31 And the second is this: ‘You must love your neighbour in the same way you love yourself.’ You will never find a greater commandment than these.” Mark 12:30-31.

4. It’s true that our freedom allows us to do anything, but that doesn’t mean that everything we do is good for us. I’m free to do as I choose, but I choose to never be enslaved to anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12

5. So stop fooling yourselves! Evil companions will corrupt good morals and character. 1 Corinthians 15:33

6. Confess and acknowledge how you have offended one another and then pray for one another to be instantly healed, for tremendous power is released through the passionate, heartfelt prayer of a godly believer! James 5:16

7. And never let ugly or hateful words come from your mouth, but instead let your words become beautiful gifts that encourage others; do this by speaking words of grace to help them. Ephesians 4:29

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