The dangers of social media that no one likes to admit Image Credit: Hugo A. Sanchez/©Gulf News

It has become second nature for us to pick up our phones and log on to our social media profiles immediately after waking up.

We mindlessly scroll through hundreds of posts. We comment, we react, we ‘like’ and we ‘share’. Many of us prefer not to think of the disadvantages of social media, because of how dependent we are on it as a form of entertainment — a way to kill boredom.

For many of us, it is an unknown addiction.

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Although we jokingly admit that we can’t get enough of Instagram or Facebook, we sometimes don’t realise how much we need to look through our phones to fulfil the little hole inside us. According to a recent survey by the Royal Society for Public Health in the United Kingdom, social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol.

Just imagine you smoked as much as you checked your feed. Are we truly aware of how many times a day we pick up our phones to look at other people’s perfectly curated online life?

It is an amazing platform

During the mid-2000s social media has had a surge in popularity. It completely changed the way we communicate and share information with one another. Social media has overthrown presidents. It has been the force for many revolutions including ‘Occupy Wall Street’ and the Arab Spring to name a few. We can follow the lives of people that we haven’t physically seen in years. We can be proud of the success of our family members, or appreciate the humour of our summer camp friend from 10 years ago. Social media is a revolutionary tool. But most of the time, we see what we don’t want to see. We see too much.

Effects on mental health

According to a recent survey of almost 1,500 teens and young adults by the Royal Society for Public Health and the Young Health Movement (YHM) in the UK, Instagram is the most damaging social media platform on mental health. The image-sharing platform causes high levels of anxiety and depression. Sometimes, all you do is see people, who may not even be your friends, on holiday or enjoying nights out. They can make you feel like you are missing out, or not doing enough with your life.

These feelings promote a ‘compare and despair’ attitude, where we look at what someone else has and wonder why we can’t be the same. I have to force myself not to look at Instagram or Facebook first thing in the morning, because it usually sets the tone of my day. While I am getting out of bed to go to my day job, influencer Karen is jetting off to London to enjoy a dinner hosted by a famous candle company. It gets to you after a while. You realise that you hair isn’t perfect and your outfit is average and then you’re unhappy.

Social media was created to be a positive outlet. A platform for people to express themselves. It has now become an avenue of negativity. If any celebrity, athlete or political party sends out a tweet that the public doesn’t agree with, they can be taken down with a viciously overwhelming injection of cyberbullying. If you don’t have thick skin, you can easily change who you are and what you stand for, for fear of being criticised by your followers. I sometimes think twice about the photos I post online. I wonder if I’m too narcissistic ... posting yet another photo of myself having a great time with my friends. I wonder if people critique me for enjoying my life a bit too much.

Privacy issues

In an offline world, social communities tend to follow and practise the norms of privacy. You don’t have to share your birthday, address or marital status with the people in your neighbourhood. They don’t need to know your likes and your dislikes and what your breakfast looked like. But when you’re online, if you want to join a social networking site, you have to disclose your personal information in order to be accepted. Once you become an active member of the site, they delve into who you are and what you like. They find out about your habits, your browsing history, where you like to go, what you like to eat and who you interact with the most. You get unsolicited messages from strangers and pokes from long lost acquaintances. In what real life world is poking someone okay? It’s not. But it’s just online. You don’t really feel it.

Dangers for the young and gullible

Some young people have never known a world without social media. Around 91 per cent of 16-24 year olds use the internet for social networking. They use social media now more than ever before. They give away information without thinking or knowing the consequences. They get sucked into a world of online games and dangerous online trends. There have even been cases where suicide games were trending online, that children all encouraged each other to participate in. It can be a dark and unpredictable place.

Although most of us know all these things, we decide that we don’t want to give up on social media after all. We don’t want to be gripped by Fomo, “Fear of missing out”. We scroll through perfectly curated Instagram posts capturing people’s happy moments, and we ask ourselves why we aren’t as happy or fulfilled.

We just need to realise, that it isn’t real. It’s all just for show.