This is the second of two articles about the positives and negatives of social media.

In the first article about the positive effects of social media, we looked at all of the positives of social media as a mature technological product in 2021. In this article, we will discuss some of the unfortunate negatives of social media and how online sites can hurt and spread misinformation and even provoke hatred.

These articles are coupled with the podcast The Future of Social Media: What’s Normal Anyway? with Communication full-time faculty member Nicole Rothenay. The skills, competencies, and knowledge expressed in this article and the podcast are directly tied to the all-online degrees of Associate of Arts in Communication and the Bachelor of Arts in Communication. In addition, specific courses such as COMM211 Social Media and Society are designed to examine and help mitigate the negatives and complexities of social media.

Social Media Can Negatively Impact People’s Mental Health

Mental health is a difficult topic. There are so many reasons why people have good or bad mental health, their approaches to life and reasons why they do certain things. Even in the resource- and knowledge-rich world we live in, mental health is difficult, complex and contradictory. How we treat it, react to it and try to help those who struggle with mental health issues are of major importance to society.

One way online sites negatively affect people is FoMO, or fear of missing out. Now, FoMO is not as simple as “Person A” uses social media and gets depressed while “Person B” will be fine.

Among the findings of a 2020 study about FoMO and social media, was that “two people with the same social media engagement may be affected quite differently: one might have few negative feelings about seeing their friends’ activities while the other might find it upsetting.”

In addition, one of the most impactful sections of the study states, “The researchers suggest that those who want to reduce their feelings of FoMO should try addressing their negative self-perceptions such as practicing better self-compassion by viewing personal setbacks as opportunities for growth, taking steps to reduce loneliness and shifting focus away from the distant experiences of others.”

Social media by itself is not the problem. But if you have negative self-perceptions or are prone to depression, then online sites might make everything worse.

It Is Not Necessary for Businesses to Be on Every Online Site

In today’s business environment, everyone is required to be online. Large and small companies, individuals, and governments are all on social media to help sell their goods, communicate ideas, and to network with others.

Enough time has passed since the explosion of online sites for people and organizations to understand that they do not have to be everywhere all the time; they can just focus on the sites and platforms that work best for them. However, having a social media presence, especially one that is active, takes time and costs money to create.

All businesses must consider their return on investment (ROI). Many businesses expect a high rate of return and little investment for huge profits. For others, making a small profit is acceptable as long as there is some profit.

For many businesses, investing in social media has been a confusing endeavor because establishing and staffing online accounts does not automatically equate to revenue growth. In addition, narratives are often difficult to control; negative reviews can be both honest or completely fictional. And the constant frustration of dealing with online trolls makes account management extraordinarily difficult.

That being said, social media management should focus on four “controllable” aspects: customer service, customer insights, public relations and branding. However, if the financial arm of a company wants a formula for the ROI on any one of these four aspects, it will be very difficult to prove its worth. And that can cause constant confusion about value within a company, perhaps leading to instability among its employees and especially within the department most responsible for social media: marketing, communications, or public relations.

Another Negative Aspect of Social Media: It Is Constantly Changing

Another negative aspect of social media is that it is constantly changing. If you have been on Facebook or Twitter for a decade or more, you have had to deal with constantly changing policies and processes that occur often with little or no explanation. This can make operating an account difficult if you must deal with changes or reach out to individuals or groups.

In addition to constantly changing sites and platforms, it is difficult to stand out in the very crowded social media landscape. According to Visual Objects, there are five common challenges for small businesses:

  • Generating high-quality leads
  • Gaining new followers
  • Increasing engagement with posts
  • Posting content consistently
  • Creating content

Generating high-quality leads is the goal of every business online. Gaining new followers is the goal of every social media account. Increasing engagement is the goal of every post. Posting consistent content is the goal of every organization, especially high-quality content designed to attract clicks, likes and follow-ups. Each of these activities takes time and money, and the reality is that not every endeavor will produce a stellar ROI.

Another Negative of Social Media: Political Opinions Can Be Expressed Openly

One of the most obvious negatives of online sites is that some people freely express their political opinions with no desire to filter what they say. Although freedom of speech to say whatever you want is a fundamental right, these sites have created a vortex of terrible behavior with little regard for consequences. In addition, the depth of knowledge that some people bring to any given issue is often so shallow that they are just repeating the talking points of others and getting emotional about it.

In a 2016 Pew study, 58% of Republicans and 60% of Democrats found it stressful to talk about politics on social media sites with people with whom they disagree. This makes sense because on social media you may not know whom you are talking to or how they will react. In addition, according to a more recent Pew Research Center study, 65% of adults, 78% of Republicans/Lean Republicans, and 53% of Democrats/Lean Democrats agree that social media negatively affects the way things are going in the country.

Talking about politics is difficult. When you talk politics online, these discussions can become more emotional, unstable, and possibly contentious because anyone can post their thoughts anonymously with little regard to civility or truthfulness.

Social media has matured as a product. A lot has changed when it comes to how social media sites operate since their inception in 1997. And with this maturity has come various problems and issues over usage.

As with anything we use, we all must be aware of when, where, why and how frequently we use social media. Those who find themselves exhibiting addictive behaviors with social media should seek help to curb and manage such behavior.

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