How Social Media is Stealing From You

Takeaway: Social media use is linked to being more anxious and more depressed. It’s also a time sink that keeps you from doing the things that would actually make you happy.

First thing’s first: I’m not advocating that you completely cut out all social media use at all. I want to make that clear from the beginning so that you don’t just reject what you’re about to read out of hand. I’m actually going to show you an example system that you could use to stay on social media and not have to deal with the side effects quite as much below.

With that having been said, social media is stealing from you in the literal sense of the word. You have to decide for yourself what you’re going to do about it.

How is Social Media Stealing From You?

The basic idea is that social media platforms make money from advertising. The more you use them, the more ads you see and the more money they make. They are literally taking time away from you, making you more anxious, making you more depressed, making you less productive and profiting from it. They’re stealing time, money, happiness and mental well-being away from you and converting it into a big, fat profit.

(Not to mention they then sell your data to other companies that advertise to you even better to compound the effect, but I’m not going to get up on that particular soap box.)

If this makes you feel violated in a very fundamental way, that’s because you are being violated in a very fundamental way.

The Issue of Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and depression are two of the most common issues people face right now in the mental sphere, and they are often seen together. If you want a quick way to lower the impact of each of those on your life, then cutting way back on your social media use is a good way to do it:

A study published online in Computers in Human Behavior on December 10, 2016, found that the use of multiple social media platforms is more strongly associated with depression and anxiety among young adults than time spent online.

These findings come from a national survey of 1,787 young adults that asked about their use of 11 popular social media platforms: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine, and LinkedIn.

The analysis showed that people who reported using the most platforms (seven to 11) had more than three times the risk of depression and anxiety (odds ratio of 3.08 and 3.27, respectively) than people who used the least amount (zero to 2 platforms).

These increased odds held true even after adjusting for the total time spent on social media and other factors such as race, gender, relationship status, education, and income. (Source: Psychiatry Online)

This last line is actually the most important in making sure you don’t misinterpret the study. It wasn’t about the time spent on social media so much as it was about the number of platforms being used in this particular study.

When you have several social media platforms that you’re active with, it’s easy to get caught in a place where you’re jumping from one to the other constantly inside of a relatively short period of time. This suggests that a solution would be geared towards using fewer platforms with a higher level of depth. This pings right on the principle of depth over breadth that I harp on so much.

Why is Using Multiple Platforms a Problem?

So if they know that using social media platforms is an issue, then why is it an issue. The Director of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health Brian Primack, M.D., Ph.D., gave his opinion here:

One possible mechanism is that people who use many different platforms end up multitasking, such as frequently switching between applications or engaging in social media on multiple devices. Studies have found that multitasking is related to poorer attention, cognition, and mood. (Source: Psychiatry Online)

This type of multitasking makes you dumb as well, as in lowered IQ points, so that’s something to consider as well.

A Reasonable Solution

If you want to be active on social media, but you want fewer bad effects, then you could focus on one platform only and have that platform automatically post across to other platforms as well. If you use Instagram to post pictures, you can have those automatically post to other platforms like Facebook and Twitter as well, as a simple example. This would limit you to one platform that you’re active on as long as you don’t actually go and check the others, which would presumably avoid the issues described above.

You can also avoid wasting time in your day in general by avoiding “scrolling” mindlessly through your feeds, but that’s another topic for another time.