Everyone Can Learn From How Marginalized Communities Use Social Media
Why I think social media can be good for your mental health if you curate your communities
An increase in the use of social media directly corresponds to a decrease in overall mental health and well-being, according to a number of studies conducted in the past 10 years. This seems to be particularly true for teens. One study from 2013 suggests Facebook may erode subjective well-being, or moment-to-moment happiness and overall life satisfaction. Another from 2017 studied looked at the relationship between social isolation and social media use and found that young adults who spent significant amounts of time on any of 11 well-known social media sites — including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat — had far higher feelings of social isolation than those who visited the sites fewer than nine times per week. A third found a rise in mental health issues that directly corresponded with a sudden spike of social media, but only in young adults and adolescents.
According to these studies, we’d all be healthier if we deleted those social media apps. We’ve seen those people on our timelines—the ones who have the perfect job and the incredible relationships and spend all their time traveling. We’ve all had those moments of wondering why our life doesn’t look like that, of considering what we are doing wrong and how we can change it so our profile looks more like theirs. Why not just remove the apps altogether and avoid that exacerbation of our mental health challenges and any corresponding decrease in our overall life satisfaction?
One argument against this comes from within a set of communities that rarely surface in these studies of the impact of social media on mental health. Queer communities, communities of people with disabilities, and dislocated communities are all groups of folks for whom social media can be a support system when there are no others, whether or not an online friend is also a “real life” friend. These communities use social media to share wins, ask for support, and help folks feel included in networks. There are several lessons we can all learn from them.