ORLANDO — While many blame heavy social media use for today’s mental health crisis among adolescents, a new study finds that evidence pointing to time spent on Facebook or Snapchat isn’t linked to a higher risk of loneliness, social anxiety, or other disorders.
Instead, the authors believe critics should focus more on the manner in which platforms are used.
Researchers at the University of Central Florida surveyed 467 young adults on a variety of online attitudes and behaviors, including how important they considered social media, the amount of time they spent on their favorite platforms daily, and the general ways in which they used networking sites.
Respondents were also asked to assess their current mental health state, the extent to which they felt social anxiety, how they got along with their parents, and the amount of social support they felt they had.
No matter the extent to which an adolescent used social media, the researchers found little correlation between that time spent and the incidence of various mental health issues, such as loneliness, decreased empathy, social anxiety, and suicidal ideation.
“We do not deny the potential for some online behaviors to be associated with mental health problems, rather we propose that research focus on the behavior of individuals rather than assume media is the root cause of all socio-personal problems,” explains lead author Chloe Berryman in a press release.
Berryman notes that the pandemonium surrounding social media use has largely resembled the “moral panic” seen in the past with various other new media forms, including video games and rock music.
With this being said, Berryman acknowledges that certain behaviors on social media may warrant concern.
In specific, she highlights the phenomenon of “vaguebooking,” in which users share ambiguous, alarming posts that are solely meant to capture the attention of others.
“Vaguebooking was slightly predictive of suicidal ideation, suggesting this particular behavior could be a warning sign for serious issues,” Berryman says. “It is therefore possible that some forms of social media use may function as a ‘cry for help’ among individuals with pre-existing mental health problems.”
Still, “results from this study suggest that, with the exception of vaguebooking, concerns regarding social media use may be misplaced,” she concludes. “Our results are generally consistent with other studies which suggests that how people use social media is more critical than the actual time they spend online with regards to their mental health.”
The full study was published Nov. 1 in the journal Psychiatric Quarterly.