Social media has become a force that surrounds us, unites us, and keeps us connected. We have the world in our hands, and can instantly know what is going on in places that are thousands of miles away. However, it is impossible to overlook the dangers of social media, which ultimately poses the threat of addiction, cyber bullying, and low self esteem. And when pairing these threats with an already fragile teenage population, these possibilities for threats become more real in our urbanized and technology based world. The overall rise in participation among social media sites has increased dramatically with the increase of availability of these applications. Social media undoubtedly influences our politics, business, and socialization with others, however, it is up to each individual to determine their stance on the issue of social sites, and to protect themselves from falling victim to those who attack others through media.
The influence of social media directly depends upon the usage of the teenage population, a population that has become familiar with the dangers of social media, and have experienced the dangers of an unpredictable and indirect form of socialization. It is undeniable that social media has become a necessity to today’s teenage population, with 75 percent of teenagers in America currently having profiles on social networking sites (Ramasubbu), it is inevitable that the social media presence is everywhere. Social networking has caused social connections to flourish, along with learning technical skills, but it has also become a danger to the self esteem of teenage populations. Cyberbullying has become an epidemic, and despite the laws banning its existence, its presence is still very real and often unreported, making it still a very common occurrence. Bullies have been around forever, but technology has given people a new and indirect method of putting someone down without confrontation, or in some cases even maintaining anonymity. This allows bullying to become more impersonal, and it can be difficult to prove or determine a bullying tone through text messages or social media posts. Not only this, but since the teenage population is so reluctant to report cyberbullying, it is almost impossible to track how often it truly occurs. But recent studies about cyberbullying rates have found that about 1 in 4 teens have been the victims of cyberbullying, and about 1 in 6 admit to having cyberbullied someone. In some studies, more than half of the teens surveyed said that they’ve experienced abuse through social and digital media. Severe, long-term, or frequent cyber bullying can leave both victims and bullies at greater risk for anxiety, depression, and other stress-related disorders. In some rare but highly publicized cases, some kids have turned to suicide. Experts say that kids who are bullied — and the bullies themselves — are at a higher risk for suicidal thoughts, attempts, and completed suicides. The punishment for cyberbullies can include being suspended from school or kicked off of sports teams, however certain types of cyberbullying can be considered crimes and violating this law is considered a misdemeanor (http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/cyberbullying.html#). Despite this, many students feel as though a school that punishes a student for cyberbullying would indicate that the school is overstepping and exceeding their authority, since most commonly cyberbullying occurs outside of school and not within school hours. In some cases, schools are sued by bullies for limiting a student’s right to free speech. Not only this, but suicide rates have increased due to the availability of social media networks, while 20% of kids cyberbullied think about suicide, and 1 in 10 attempt it. Social networks have become a new base for bullies to be able to continue their oppression of others, leaving a victim feeling attacked, even in their own home. This constant cruelty is taking an extreme toll on the mental health and outlook of the youth population, leading to unresolvable damage.
The unrealistic portrayals of the “ideal image” that are all over social media have shown to put a strain on the confidence of teenagers, who find themselves comparing their looks or lifestyle to those of others, which leads to insecurity and a sense of unfulfillment. The struggle to portray a “self image” online has become something that many teenagers have found themselves dedicating their time to, in order to impress their peers. An Australian experiment was conducted by Jasmine Fardouly on young women, and researchers found that on average, women spend about 2 hours a day on Facebook, comparing themselves to the famous women that are shown through media. Most people don’t recognize the impact that social media can have on a person’s self image, and self esteem. It has become easy for teens to get wrapped up in the idea of portraying their lives to be better, due to the insecurity that their lives are not as great as others. This has become a major problem in the our world. Teens have become addicted to proving themselves to their “friends” on social networks, and the expectations for self image are drastically higher than what they should be. Things like these are unhealthy for anyone to believe, and it causes strong feelings of jealousy. People often feel threatened by another person’s success or feel jealous when someone else is doing better than them. Then they begin to compare their lives to ones they see online, and feel like they are not satisfied with the quality of life that they have, which leads to insecurity. The University of Salford in the UK did a study last year on social media’s effects on self-esteem and anxiety, and reported that 50% of their 298 participants said that their “use of social networks like Facebook and Twitter makes their lives worse”. This ultimately draws attention away from people enjoying their own lives and recognizing the good things about their lives.
Although there are many people who bash the use of social media, some people also make the point that social media can actually boost self esteem, most commonly when people are praised and complimented for achievements, or even their looks. Anyone enjoys receiving compliments from others, and it is proven that by receiving just one positive comment on a social media post can dramatically improve the self esteem of an individual. Positive reinforcement in the form as comments on social media, tends to make people feel like other people are recognizing how well they are doing, or how good they look, which overall, causes a boost in self esteem. The University of Pittsburgh and the Columbia Business School, conducted an experiment and found that users who are “focused on close friends tend to experience an increase in self-esteem when browsing social networks and after wards display less self-control” (Soltero). The AOL Body Image Survey revealed that teenage girls showed something unexpected — 65% of the girls agreed that seeing their selfies on social media actually boosts their confidence, and 40% of all teens say that social media helps to “present my best face to the world (Dahl).” Not only this, but social media also gives us the power to keep in touch with others, and make us feel close to those who are far. Out of all benefits of social media, the strongest would be the connections that social media can maintain. When using social media, the cyberbullying epidemic can be avoided if the user simply focuses on those who really matter in their lives — close friends and family. The dangers of social media usually occur when you are surrounded online by people you feel you have to compete with or impress, but can simply be avoided by giving less importance to those who aren’t crucial in your life.
Victims of cyberbullying have learned to benefit others from their past experiences, and have united to inform others of the signs of this problem, as well as ways to resolve problems or conflicts that occur on these social media platforms. Although the damage to many has already been done in regards to cyberbullying, the strongest resolution for this problem would be awareness and prevention. Although social media allows freedom of expression, the ways in which people express themselves has become an issue that many teenagers are facing and addressing to ensure the safety and security of everyone who uses it. However when used correctly, social media has showed benefits in increasing our communication skills as well as abilities for self expression. It is up to the individual to use the social media websites safely and responsibility, as well as the necessity of reporting a case of cyberbullying.