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We asked Meridian readers to weigh in on the pitfalls of social media, particularly its power to depress their hearts and spirit. Readers weighed in. You can join in the conversation.

Social media has utterly changed our world, and like splitting the atom, its power cuts both ways.

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So we won’t be bombarded by letters defending social media, let us admit right up front for many it’s been a boon. People are connecting with old friends they haven’t seen in years, they stay in touch with people they otherwise might lose, they raise funds for good causes, they get new ideas. I just connected with a friend whom I only learned on Facebook is suffering from cancer. I would have felt heartsick not to have connected with her during this devastating time, but I would have never known she was sick without social media.

At the same time, powerful tools shift our culture, our thinking, and view of relationships. Writer, Simon Sinek points our just how much. “There was a time when a desktop meant something horizontal and today a desktop means something vertical. It means a computer.” Our whole framework of ideas have shifted.

“It has changed the meaning of relationships as well,” he continues. A friend isn’t someone you check their status. A network is not on linked in. A conversation doesn’t happen on Twitter and a dialogue doesn’t happen on your blog. It’s a human experience. A conversation has reactions and advancing ideas, and it’s not just people taking turns to speak, which is what happens online.”

Something so powerful in re-orienting our thinking and shifting our paradigms deserves some analysis. So, our readers weighed in on how this revolution has impacted their lives—and particularly if social media pains them in any way.

Lyndsey, who is a mental health professional said, “Patients report all the time on the psych unit that Facebook and social media in general impacts their mental health negatively.”

Impact on Teenagers

Nobody seems more susceptible to the negative impacts than the young. Many studies like the one conducted at Florida State University in 2014 have found that frequent social media usage negative impacted adolescent girls’ sense of worth. Readers tended to agree.

Shari:

My oldest daughter would be in her room lying down in her bed in the fetal position because she wasn’t pretty or skinny enough, all due to Facebook posts of girls from school! We didn’t let her have Facebook, but she got friends passwords and viewed Facebook from theirs. It was terrible for years and has taken her years to be somewhat settled that she has value. Most of what she compared herself to were super skinny girls with sexy photos that she used to term “artistic” photos to justify why she viewed them.

Stacey, also a health care professional said:

It’s so hard for kids/teens now to have social media be part of their lives. In my line of work we see a lot of kids who are victims to cyber bullying or see activities others are doing that they were not invited to. In my opinion, it adds to the pressures for teens to fit in. 

One comment I heard a client say was that her dad took away her phone and by doing that took away her childhood.

Catherine shared a success story:

I thought this observation from my niece who is a high school senior was interesting. She said last year she had a group of friends who decided when they got together they would leave all their phones (except for one in case of emergency) in the car or at someone’s house. That way they wouldn’t be on their phones and they would focus on each other. She said those friends are still her very closest friends.

She has a group of friends this year who haven’t chosen to make the same decision, they are often on their phones when they are together, and she said those relationships just aren’t as strong. This is less about comparison and more about just being present. But I think they are connected. Those who are present learn to be more content with who they are and get to know those around them for who they are. Not who they portray themselves to be through a filtered lens. Like Facebook or Instagram.

Cherie:

Kids are willing to say very unkind things because they can anonymously. Of course, it brings someone down.

Substitute for Friends 

Many readers suggested that Facebook gives us the illusion we have many friends and a social network, but ultimately isolates us from the real people in our lives. We don’t have conversations. We don’t see each other’s eyes or experience their warmth. We don’t advance ideas. Instead we have the illusion that we know this little bit about a lot of people and they are our important relationships and we have somehow connected.

I laughed the first time I saw a couple walk into a restaurant, sit across from each other, and pull out their cell phones, becoming glued on the white light before them and ignoring each other. Now it happens so often, I hardly notice it anymore.

Anonymous wrote:

So much of depression comes from a lack of connection. Social media fools us into thinking we are connected in a meaningful way when we are not. We keep posting, keep liking, keep sharing with the belief we can build the support system we need. However, for the majority of people, it makes them feel more disconnected and they don’t even realize it.  

Julie said:

Social media isn’t real. Someone can have 200,000 followers and it doesn’t mean their life is happy or successful or that they have real friends. We have to keep social media in perspective because it can become your whole life. The number of followers you have doesn’t correlate to your real friendships. Social media puts blinders on you.

Lady:

People who are unhappy definitely get depressed. It’s an unreal world. No one talks back or looks in your eyes or holds your hand. It appears as if others are doing well and are happy and together. It’s a make believe world

Insta_gramms said:

Social media especially Facebook, seems to take much time in trade to real personal friendship. The fake emojis or the real smiles, laughter, and fun by people interacting together? I choose the latter.  

Sherrine said:

There’s the “approval” addition as well – how many “likes” did I get? One looks to others for their online self worth. 

Romay:

That’s really true! I’ve seen this with some of younger girls in my family. They post something and feel validated by likes or get sad if someone hasn’t responded. It is a false sense of being popular or not. I think perhaps there is a bigger risk for younger people or those who don’t have a good sense of self already established. 

Comparing Ourselves to Others

What is mentioned most often in studies and also by Meridian readers is that Facebook and other social media can be destructive for those who are vulnerable to comparing themselves to others. People often say that what they see on Facebook is someone else’s best moments that they in turn compare to their worst and most every day moments. It is the movie trailer; the highlights reel, whereas life for most of us is that old time railroad ride with lots of slow chugging and smoke in your face.

Some are completely invulnerable to this social comparison. They can just delight in the good times their friends are sharing. That is where we’d like to be, but people admit that isn’t always the case.

MMobbs: 

I believe the tendency to post something worthy of attention can accommodate unreal comparisons. My most consistent relationships in Facebook or other social media are the ones that I have a genuine, personal relationship with, family and friends I actually know and experience things together in real life. They extend beyond the news-feeds.

Cherie:

How do you combat the “perfect” images/lives when that is all you see!!! Being told that it is all unreal and fake doesn’t work, even for us older women (who are OK with who we are personally) see the perfectly decorated homes and clean kitchens and think, “I need to pull it all together.” It is definitely a stumbling block for us all. Comparison is the thief of all joy.

Eddie:

I think that if we are not careful with social media, we can create false expectations on what “beauty “ means and what something “good” enough is. If we don’t watch out we might start living in a fake world surrounded by people who don’t care how we really feel. We must remember our purpose on earth and what we can become as children of God.

Linda:

Yeah, I’ve had a hard time with seeing posts about people or their kids doing what I didn’t get to do – high school dances, missions, getting married, having babies, and now people my age-ish are posting about grandchildren :(((. It’s really hard. 

The posts from other singles are even hard. My family hasn’t been as inclusive with me as maybe they could be and as my nieces and nephews have gotten older they have had less interest in me and as they have started families of their own they haven’t had time to keep in touch.

Julie: 

It is really easy to feel like life is passing you by. Even though the people posting pictures of their kids might be under water emotionally or financially, you only see in other people what you lack. You don’t see their problems, especially in social media. Even if you do, it is some kind of comical way. A friend who writes that it’s #cerealfordinner didn’t chronicle the worst parts of her day, she only chronicled something that people would laugh at.  

Denise: (a healthcare professional) 

I have many clients in my psychotherapy practice that have commented that comparing themselves to their friend’s lives contribute to their depression, especially women. Even after discussing the fact that most people post only the good stuff in their lives, many people spend so much time focusing on other’s lives that they neglect their own.  

Then I have moms who feel so guilty for all the time they spend on social media that they neglect their kids, housework and other responsibilities, but yet can’t tear themselves away from it. It truly is an addiction and becomes an obsession for some.

I have other clients that follow and believe every political post they see on FB and come to session depressed or agitated and ruminate about what they’ve read for hours. It’s sad really. FB has so much potential for good, yet for some people, it’s a reminder of what they don’t have, how beautiful everyone else’s lives are, how messed up the world is, or promotes feelings of jealousy and discontent.

 Included? Not Included?

Before social media, you didn’t know if a group of friends did something and excluded you. Now their photos are posted on social media having a good time together and it’s hard not to notice that you weren’t invited, leaving some people wondering what’s wrong with them that an invitation wasn’t sent their way.

This can be particularly painful for teenagers, who may find that they are on the outside looking in on social groups they would choose to be a part of. But it’s also true for adults as well—particularly if they see many from their own ward participating in a social outing to which they weren’t invited.

Cherie:

My heart aches for the youth and young adults of today. To know instantly if you weren’t invited to a party, or if your friends went to the mall without you. All the same pressures we had as YW only in your face 24/7.

Sue:

Facebook is so hard. People planning things and not inviting me. Being left out! That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The meanness and loneliness is unbearable. I don’t go on Facebook unless absolutely needed.

Julie: 

When someone posts an activity where I went with others, I always cringe, because if someone is struggling in the ward finding friends, the photo demonstrating that they weren’t invited is painful. I saw a group of 12 girls who went out to eat together from our ward and posted photos. I wondered, why wasn’t I invited? Why didn’t I make the cut?

Conflict and Division

Social media has become the place where people make their political stands—and in a time where the public has become increasingly divided and angry, that high emotion shows up on Facebook and social media. We have entered a world of name-calling and demonizing anyone who doesn’t see things just as you do.

You might never know your sister or friend felt so differently than you do about issues, but now it is out there for all to see. If your political leanings are not quite the same, you are not just a calm holder of a differing viewpoint. You are, instead, the worst human being and the words that describe you begin with hateful or bigot or racist and move on down from there.

People are abandoning their Facebook pages as an unsafe place to be.

Charlene: 

There is also another way that FB makes me feel depressed. Seeing my friends constantly bashing things I hold dear. Especially people who I used to share common beliefs with. It hurts to hear how enlightened they are now and how base I am for following like a minion. Live your life but please don’t attack mine! I just came on FB to see pictures of someone’s new baby and my nieces birthday party not to read your 57 page rant on how Joseph Smith did or didn’t do xyz…

Louwho:

Facebook is what you make it depending on who and what you follow. During the elections it can get really bad and cause problems, even between friends. You have to pick and choose carefully the people and causes you follow to make it the experience you want it to be!

Cathy:

I think Facebook has done some harm in our county by creating an “us vs. them” mentality. It has contributed to more polarization 

People want to be on the “best” side and will go as far as reposting inaccurate or misleading information. It’s frustrating. It’s not just politics. People are lobbing hateful statements toward the church as well. Sometimes labels like “inactive” or even “righteous ” are used as insults. We’re all on this planet together. We’re all children of God. I world LOVE to see us recognize the good that’s out there. (And focus on our collective humanity)

Lynda

I think Facebook is an interesting tool that’s neither good nor bad. I think it tends to amplify people’s private feelings about themselves in a way that’s different than anything else I’ve seen. We grab memes that echo inner thoughts and share them without regard to who it might hurt.

In a “normal” public setting we generally wouldn’t be so rash. The more people do this in the FB world, the more they start to do it in the real world. The anonymity of the Internet seems to make people more willing to engage in conflict. Even when we “know” the person we interact with, without the immediate response of face to face reaction, we may be more forthcoming (for positive or negative) than we normally would be. 

JoLynne:

The election was hard, since I have friends on both ends of the political spectrum and it’s been exhausting, dealing with emotion that keeps going and going.

The Tool that Cuts Both Directions

These social media tools have rocked our world, but readers believed that like any powerful possibility, what we do with it is what matters most. This article has been an invitation to think about both how we use social media and what we create for it. We are all now content creators. We now have a mighty microphone. What will our impact be?

Many readers offered their insights.

RoMay

I honestly don’t think Facebook is the issue – I think it is just a very focused test tube for each person to see what their own challenges are. I know when I was on some pain medication that really made me depressed – I was much more negative and critical and didn’t like to see people on vacation because I wanted that too – it was my frame of mind. It is a really good measure for people though – if they are open to looking closely at their own reactions to things. 

One example: when I was on my mission we were allowed some church music to listen to. One zone meeting, our AP got up and said that there had been some challenges with a few missionaries not being obedient, and our mission president was asking us to send all of our music home. You could hear reactions around the room. He paused for a few moments. Then he said, “actually, we aren’t being asked to send our music home. Our topic today is about submissiveness.” He asked us to look into our hearts to analyze our personal response. Was it willingness to follow our inspired leaders? Was it rebellious? Was it frustrated or irritated or angry or judgmental towards those who weren’t obedient? 

If people will look into their own hearts, and see if they are critical, or judgmental, or if they compare themselves – Facebook can be a wonderful focused way to get a good idea about how we think. And it can help get us back on track, to being happy for those who are celebrating, to have empathy for those who are struggling, to reach out to those who need help, to support the good, and to speak out and encourage. 

Kim

With any technology comes good and bad, so it’s important to keep its use appropriate and balanced. As far as comparing, that’s more to do with the person than looking at FB posts. A person inclined to compare, with or without depression, could feel badly about their circumstances when looking at others more fortunate than themselves on FB, blogs, other social media, or media in general.

Now I’m speaking mostly about adults. Children and teens are a different story. They are still developing and are so impressionable. Technology and social media needs to be closely monitored, as well as their emotions and mental health, and open discussions with parents or other trusted adults for guidance on appropriate usage and how FB or other social media might effect them. Keep in mind most teens aren’t using FB much. 

Uneva

I choose not to take offense when others attack my view point, but I let it run off like water off a duck’s back.


I could choose to be depressed when I see a lavish home detailed in a post, which my pocketbook wouldn’t stretch to buy, even in my wildest imaginings. Instead, I look at life realistically, feel grateful for the little material wealth God has blessed me with, and look for ways I can share my rich bounty of happiness with those I come in contact with.

Austin:

Of the things that really do foster happiness and fulfillment, facebook isn’t offering much. It doesn’t present productive challenges to overcome. It doesn’t lend itself to time spent outdoors or physical activity. It doesn’t offer faith affirming experiences, because it isn’t offering “any” experiences, besides a dim glow and tapping thumbs. As “connected” as social networks are, those connections are only virtual. Time spent with virtual connections come at the expense of anyone who might actually be with you in person, enjoying your face-to-face presence. The constant barrage of invariably sensational, bad news will do nothing to lift your spirits. Outrage spreads faster than gratitude, and the reactions that spread win. 

In short, Facebook isn’t in the business of happiness. That’s not what it’s designed for. What it is very carefully designed to do, by some of the world’s most brilliant engineers, is consume our time, so Facebook can sell our time to advertisers.
It should come as no surprise when we end up losing our time and gaining no happiness in return.