Some 45 percent of respondents say they are online “almost constantly”, according to the latest Pew Research Center poll, in a pastime that could become the most crucial question of our time even though there is no clear consensus about the real impact.
Among teens the impact of these platforms has a neither positive nor negative effect for at least 45 percent of those questioned. At least a third (31 percent) believe social media has had a mostly positive impact, while 24 percent think it has been mostly negative.
One of the negative effects on people their age, noted by 27 percent, is that social media has led to more bullying and feeding of a rumor mill. “People can say whatever they want with anonymity and I think that has a negative impact,” said one boy aged 15.
Some 17 percent of the respondents feel that such platforms harm relationships and result in less meaningful human interactions, while roughly the same number believe that social media distorts reality and gives teens an unrealistic view of other people’s lives (15 percent), or that teens spend too much time on social media (14 percent).
“It makes it harder for people to socialize in real life, because they become accustomed to not interacting with people in person,” said a girl, aged 15. “It provides a fake image of someone’s life. It sometimes makes me feel that their life is perfect when it is not,” another said.
There is compelling evidence that being online has had profound effects on the lives of young people – making some of them quite unhappy.
Sadly, many are not spending so much time online because it makes them happy. Most data suggest that it does not.
The Monitoring the Future survey, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and designed to be nationally representative, has asked 12th-graders in the US more than 1 000 questions every year since 1975 and queried eighth- and 10th-graders since 1991.
The survey wanted to know from teens how happy they are and also how much of their leisure time they spend on various activities, including offline activities away from a screen such as in-person social interaction and exercise, and, in recent years, screen activities such as using social media, texting, and browsing the web.
The results are unambiguous: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, while those who spend more time than average on off-screen activities are more likely to be happy.
And there are no exceptions either: All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all off-screen activities are linked to more happiness.
Eighth-graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who devote less time to social media.
Recent research suggests that screen time, in particular social-media use, does indeed cause unhappiness. One study asked college students with a Facebook page to complete short surveys on their phone over the course of two weeks. They reported that the more they use Facebook, the unhappier they felt.
But it could also mean that the algorithms used by media giants to lure teens online with certain content, are making them unhappy.