Leanne Yule writes about how social media has its benefits as well as drawbacks, especially when it comes to communicating during Covid.
Social media and I have always had an on again / off again relationship. Every year or so, I go through a phase where I read new scientific research confirming how bad social media is for us, or I listen to some stranger who uses buzzwords like “growth mindset” swear that disconnecting from social media hugely improved their life, and I make the “smart” decision to delete all of the social media apps on my phone. By the next week, I end up spending double the amount of time that I normally would on social media catching up on what I’ve missed.
During normal times, I didn’t find my social media usage to be overly problematic. Yet, when the UK entered its first lockdown, my time spent on social media tripled. I was always bored and needed the mindless scrolling through my Instagram and Facebook feeds to keep me entertained and distracted from the isolation I, like many others, faced. Being thousands of miles away from home, social media gave me comfort in knowing that I wasn’t alone in my feelings of loneliness and isolation. I found inspiration for how to keep myself occupied, resulting in an unholy amount of banana bread being baked and endless virtual movie nights with friends.
I even reconnected with old friends on social media, using the pandemic as an easy conversation starter. During a particularly dark time, I installed TikTok and would stay up late practicing dances and watching the strangely addictive, often cringey videos. At a time when things seemed to be moving so slowly, it was a nice change of pace to flick through videos that were only a few seconds long. TikTok’s innovative algorithm introduced me to the world of cottagecore, allowing me to imagine a future, post-pandemic me living in the middle of a forest, waking up at sunrise to forage for mushrooms, bake bread and feed my pet chickens. In the awful situation we’re in, social media has offered many a welcome escape and is an important way of keeping us occupied and connected. It is a pretty necessary presence in our lives now, to keep us in touch with friends and family who we can no longer legally meet up with in person.
However, while social media can make us feel less lonely, it can also make us feel more alone and sadder than ever. It’s way too easy to get lost in the toxic parts of social media, like those that perpetuate an unrealistic body image and those that draw us into divisive communities. With multiple studies having found a strong link between heavy social media usage and an increased risk for things like depression, anxiety and loneliness, it’s really important that we’re aware of how much we use social media and how it affects us. No one should be shamed for spending lots of time on social media or for not using it at all. It’s made to be addictive – which makes it all the more important that we regulate our usage.
It’s not only important to regulate how much time we spend on social media but also which social media sites we use. Personally, having struggled with body image issues for years, I find Instagram to be particularly toxic with its highly edited photos, so I try not to use it too often. I also found that using TikTok has really damaged my attention span and has caused me to procrastinate more than I normally would (which was already a lot). Facebook is filled with upsetting opinions, and I find myself sitting for hours angrily reading comments, which negatively impacts my view of the world we live in. YouTube is a treasure-trove of free videos of such a wide variety that you can watch for fun or for learning, but that’s also why it can become as addicting as any other site – believe me, I’ve spent my fair share of hours bingeing miniature cooking videos for hamster meals.
There’s no real need for us to completely stop using social media, especially now when we’re all likely feeling extremely isolated and bored. But it’s also for this reason that we should be especially careful of the impact that social media has on us in a time when our mental health is already suffering. There shouldn’t be any need to feel bad for blocking or unfollowing people whose posts make you feel worse about yourself or whose political opinions upset you. Mindful social media usage can ensure that we reap the benefits of social media platforms without the possibly damaging side effects.