Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of social media has increased and made a huge effect on our daily lives and mental health.
Origins of Social Media
When you think of social media, you may think of apps like Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, TikTok, and Facebook. These are apps that were created recently in the 2000s. Teenagers and children these days grow up with this technology, consuming it frequently. We never really take the time to wonder what influenced those popular social media apps and what came before them.
One of the first recognized social media platforms was SixDegrees. It was created in 1997 by a man named Andrew Weinreich. There were other digital communication websites such as CompuServe, American Online, and Prodigy; however, they weren’t considered as social media platforms. They consisted of emailing, bulletin board messaging, and real-time chatting. SixDegrees was different from them. The website allowed you to create your own profile, check out other profiles, add friends, send messages, and organize groups. At the time, there were 1 million active users, so it had quite the attention. Friendster soon came after in 2002 and had a similar concept to Six Degrees. You could write your own status updates and show off your current mood to friends. It was like a little virtual community. This website sparked in popularity a year later, gaining over 3 million users. Then in 2003, one of the most well-known social media platforms was created: MySpace. With over 25 million active users at the time, MySpace conquered the U.S. It was “a place for friends” and it allowed you to create customizable profiles. You could decorate your profile and add music to it.
Social media continues to develop, adding cool yet convenient new features as time goes by. We can now post content for our friends to see, livestream, video call, post stories, follow other people, and so much more.
Benefits & Downsides
Many are aware of social media due to its popularity all over the world. They are often used for entertainment and communicating with friends, family, and colleagues, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although there are many benefits to social media, there are also some downsides.
First off, social media is a helpful tool for communication. You do not need to send letters that would take days or weeks to get through like the old days. Instead, you can message people in real-time. In addition to that, you can create posts for your friends and family to see, whether it be a status update or picture, so they can check up on how you are doing without needing to message you. This was especially helpful for East Haven High School teacher John Devany. “I think social media was extremely beneficial,” he stated. “Not only for my son, but for my family and friends and colleagues during the pandemic because it provided a platform for everyone to stay connected.” Devany shared that on his mother’s 88th birthday, which was during the pandemic, all of her 6 children and 13 grandchildren were able to celebrate it by going on a Zoom call. “I think it was a very positive thing that we couldn’t have done without social media,” said Devany.
Social media also helps people keep up with local and national news if they don’t watch T.V. It’s easy to spread information online since millions of people use it. Social media allows you to be informed of what is going on in the world as well as keeping up with trends. Moreover, it is a great outlet for talented people like artists and musicians to express themselves and gain recognition. Those talented people can inspire others all across the platform, having them feel motivated and set their own goals. Finding jobs is also much easier. Before, looking through newspapers or the Occupational Outlook Handbook was the go-to. Now you can access websites such as Indeed and LinkedIn to look for jobs and create a profile for employers to contact you.
Unfortunately, social media does have its downsides. Yes, it helps us keep up-to-date with the news, but they are often clickbait and biased. For example, Twitter has a 140 character limit when posting. Not only does it keep users from being uninformed due to lack of information, it leads to misinformation. And since there are hundreds of millions of users online, there ought to be some that believe everything they see on the internet, reposting it, and spreading more misinformation. It is like a game of telephone.
Cyberbullying is also extremely common, even back when social media started becoming a thing. It is easier to comment harsh, nasty things behind a screen because you are not face-to-face with the person. This action causes great harm to the person receiving the cyberbullying, deteriorating their mental health to an all time low. Leaving a mean comment may seem like nothing, and you may forget about it the next day, but the person receiving it will remember it forever.
Social Media Usage
The use of social media has increased majorly throughout the years. Mostly teenagers and adults, also known as Gen Z, dominate social media platforms. According to Pew Research Center, 90% of Americans ages 18-29 use at least one social media site as of 2019. People ages 65 and up are the ones that use social media less.
Source: Pew Research Center, surveys conducted from 2005 - 2019.
It is no surprise that Gen Z overtook social media by far. They lived in the era of technological development after all. Sadly, the feeling of isolation is unavoidable. During the pandemic, we’ve all been inside. The isolation caused people to go on their phones a lot more, feeling unmotivated and depressed. The usage of social media caused harm, yet managed to also help us.
An EHHS student sums up, “There are people who use social media for good. There are people who use it for harm. As long as people make the most of social media, and what it has to offer, I think it is a good service that anybody can use without too much harm.”