Social media undoubtedly holds many positives. With a click of the finger and a swipe of the thumb, you can connect with billions of people across the world, engage in some intellectual conversation in the comments section, and even share photos of your brunch.
However, as more and more people are pointing out, being hooked up to the flashing universe of information isn’t always good for our psychological well-being. A new piece of research from the University at Buffalo in New York has suggested that use of social media can spark strong feelings of social exclusion. In turn, this can promote negative emotions and reduce complex cognitive thought.
Most importantly for the billion-dollar tech companies who run the platforms, it also makes users more susceptible to advertising messages.
“Social exclusion, even something that might seem trivial, is one of the most powerful sanctions people can use on others and it can have damaging psychological effects,” Michael Stefanone, associate professor of communication at the University at Buffalo, said in a statement.
“If users are busy self-regulating because of what they read on Facebook there’s evidence that doing so reduces a level of intelligent thought, which can make them more open to persuasive messaging.
“Facebook’s entire business model is built on advertising. It’s nothing but an advertising machine,” Stefanone continued. “Given Facebook’s annual ad revenue, I think it’s a conversation worth having, that regular, benign and common use of this platform can lead to short-term inhibition of intelligent thought.”
As reported in the journal Social Science Computer Review, the researchers gathered almost 200 individuals and put them in a scenario designed to mimic typical interactions on Facebook. They put one group in a hypothetical online conversation where good friends had shared information that excluded them, while another group wasn’t presented with any social exclusion information.
No surprises, the socially excluded group experienced greater negative emotions than the control group. The researchers also noted that they tended to focus more on their social networks, thereby making them even more susceptible to advertisements on social media.
“I think the most important thing we all have to remember is to think carefully about our relationship with these corporations and these social networking platforms,” added Stefanone.
“They do not have our best interests in mind.”
Indeed, this is certainly not the first study to highlight some of the unsavory psychological effects of social media. Equally, other studies have found no such negative effects for some individuals. Either way, it’s important to remember that people’s lives probably aren’t as rosy as they appear on social media, so try not to get too much FOMO. As the mantra goes, “nobody is posting about their failures.”