WASHINGTON (WNEW) — With over 73 percent of online adults now using a social networking site, social media has dramatically impacted the world in both positive and negative ways. It has left many people to wonder how and if social media can mentally affect people.
Lemoyne College professor of psychology Krystine Batcho believes that social media has made changes for the better and also not so great for society.
“Overall we’ve benefited greatly from social media as a society,” Batcho said. “But I think there are a lot of fears of what’s happening that we’ve made interactions with other people too impersonal and a distancing phenomena is taking place.”
Batcho explained that what a person does in cyberspace is quite different than what someone can do face-to-face in an actual conversation.
“Cyber-bullying is a great example of how social media communication differs from face-to-face,” Batcho, who has been a licensed psychologist in New York state for over 30 years, stated. “Studies suggest that it takes place in a more extreme way over social media because the authors feel no responsibility.”
In recent years, there have been several instances where teens and adults have committed suicide because of being bullied over social media by their peers, Batcho added.
“They probably wouldn’t engage in bullying activity if they were face- to-face because of the consequences if they were caught in person by authority figures,” she said. “There’s a lot of ambiguity with social media, especially with the next generation developing social media skills.”
In addition to cyber-bullying via social media, Batcho noted that social media usage by teens and younger kids sparks a greater fear for some in society.
“The greater fear of what’s perhaps taking place is that kids are not learning how to behave in a face-to-face conversation,” Batcho explained. “What could be happening in cyberspace may not translate to real life. What you do you in cyberspace is quite different than what you do face-to-face and kids may be losing those important social skills.”
Michael S. Broder, Ph.D., who is a renowned psychologist and bestselling author, agrees with Batcho.
“I think that with kids, it’s a lot easier to communicate certain things online than it is to in person,” Broder said. “Easier, I mean kids who have a problem relating socially have found a way to avoid learning those skills and I don’t think that’s a good thing at all.”
Broder, who is the author of Stage Climbing: The Shortest Path to Your Highest Potential, added that using social media can have numerous negative outcomes that can affect a person’s mental health.
“The bullying, the things that happen that have unintended consequences, sexting in conversations over social media, and sending nude pictures around, are all things that are permanent once online,” Broder explained. “It’s sent all over the place and these are things that can haunt you 20 to 30 years later. That’s the downside of it and I don’t think there has to be regulations, but parental supervision. Kids don’t seem to think long term when they do those kinds of things.”
Broder, an expert in cognitive behavioral therapy, shared that he has seen several situations where social media has mentally affected people, including some of his adult patients.
“I’ve certainly seen situations where people have had adverse effects when things that they posted and thought that they were going to be seen by just their community of friends, somehow winds up getting more main stream than that it,” Broder said. “It can happen easily and I’ve seen people have real regrets about it.
“I had somebody tell me once in a session, that they really thought Facebook was a good thing, but she thinks they should outlaw it because it cost her her reputation at work,” he added.
According to a Pew Research study, 63 percent of Facebook users visit the site at least once a day with 40 percent doing so multiple times throughout the day. The study also found that roughly 71 percent of online adults are Facebook users as of December 2013.
Batcho feels that there’s no doubt social media, including sites like Facebook, can mentally affect some people.
“There’s no doubt that when social media is used in place of real connections, that it can mentally cause a number of things to happen to them,” she stated. “Many people are talking about an addiction to social media and that people have become dependent on it. It has brought on anxiety and has made some people feel nervous or worried when they can’t access it.”
She added that when people start to view social media relationships in place of or better than real life experiences it could be used as an escape from reality.
“The greater the social media use over time, the life satisfaction decreases,” Batcho asserted. “I think why we have conflicting evidence at the moment is because we have to analyze the dynamics taking place. So for one person, social media could be very beneficial, but for another it could have a very negative impact on them. You have to think about what is motivating the internet experiences people are having in the first place to predict whether they will benefit or not on the relationship.”
Batcho explained that psychologically, real-life interactions and social media interactions do not meet the same needs when compared.
“Real life interactions add a whole extra layer to how people benefit with relationships for other people than cyber ones,” Batcho said.
Both Batcho and Broder agree that social media has more positive benefits for society than negatives citing how news is communicated globally through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and also that people can connect with others across the globe.
“Social media has allowed us to reach far beyond the ordinary fear,” Batcho said. “You can suddenly make social connections with people all over the world, people who share different world views, religions, values, and politics. I think the benefits trump the dangers or risks.”