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Does Social Media HAVE to be Toxic?

Updated: Apr 7, 2021

You may have noticed that Instagram recently removed the number of likes from people's posts so that only the creator themself can see how many likes he/she receives. This means that the audience can't view how many likes other people receive.

Instagram itself tweeted that this was a mistake, and that they had unintentionally removed likes from everyone's accounts, but they received mixed feedback on the subject. Some people were very pleased with this decision, while others were extremely upset.

One user tweeted "so instagram got rid of likes and i think that was one of the most humanitarian moves they could have made. a world where kids grow up measuring their lives by likes never sat well with me."

Personally, I love the choice to remove them. As a child, I would pay way too close attention to the amount of likes my posts got in comparison to other friends of mine. I would get frustrated and consume myself in the idea of wanting to get "more likes." When you break it down, likes are actually a pretty dumb way of measuring self worth- but our world has been conditioned to believe that they are very important. As I've gotten older I stopped caring as much about how other people's posts were performing in comparison to my own, but that came with a lot of self growth that other kids may not be as lucky to have.

I asked on a recent Instagram story "How does social media make you feel about yourself?"

75% of people responded say how it gave them negative emotions, including:

  • Old

  • TRASH. Always comparing myself to others.

  • It really depends on the platform but not very pretty that's for sure lol

  • sometimes awful

  • poor

but 25% of people responded that it made them feel good about themselves, including:

  • I love it- it motivates me to be more creative and to always strive to be the best version of myself

  • makes me feel motivated, because I follow good things for my mind/life

So, why do people have different responses to social media, how does it affect our mindset, and what can we do to increase the number of positive responses and decrease the negative?

The reaction that your brain has when you get a new follower, like, or comment on social media is the same reaction that one receives when they eat the food they crave, get social interaction, or exercise. Your brain releases dopamine- the feel-good neurotransmitter, and it contributes to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction as a part of the reward system.

Social media is psychologically addicting, and can be related very closely to gambling. In a study conducted by Pew Research Center, we heard “When the outcome is unpredictable, the behavior is more likely to repeat,” Sperling says. “Think of a slot machine: if game players knew they never were going to get money by playing the game, then they never would play. The idea of a potential future reward keeps the machines in use. The same goes for social media sites. One does not know how many likes a picture will get, who will ‘like’ the picture, and when the picture will receive likes. The unknown outcome and the possibility of a desired outcome can keep users engaged with the sites."

We understand that social media is addicting, and that over 69% of adults and 81% of teens are registered on a single social media platform- but what causes us to have positive or negative reactions from it?

One user commented that it really depends on who you decide to follow.

"I like to follow business accounts that post motivational quotes and facts about entrepreneurship" he said. "With my feed full of motivating stories and quotes, it's so much easier for me to leave the app feeling inspired instead of leaving feeling like I'm not good enough."

Another user explained how she did the same thing. "My feed used to be full of instagram models who I wanted to take fashion inspiration from. But I stopped using them for fashion inspo, and leaned more towards comparing myself. I stared unfollowing these accounts because the comparison game became too much for me. Ever since, I have been more confident because I'm not shoving unrealistic expectations down my throat all the time."

The lucky thing is- we CAN decide who to follow or not to follow. So by filtering our feeds and focusing on positive influences, we are more likely to stop the comparison game and fill our heads with positivity.

One user pointed out how "It's not looking at other girls that makes me feel bad about my appearance. It's the unrealistic expectations. Nowadays, everyone is getting surgeries to alter their bodies, or using face-tune and other filters to create an image who even THEMSELVES can't relate to. It's all become a game."

Personally, I can look in the mirror and feel confident in myself. It's the minute I look at someone else that the confidence declines. I started blocking people who made me insecure- YES I KNOW THAT SOUNDS CRAZY BUT HEAR ME OUT. Famous celebrities are not going to notice or care that I blocked them, and it has nothing to do with them personally. But I would find myself consistently going to their pages to stare at them and make myself feel bad about my appearance. Why keep doing that? Most of their pages were public so unfollowing wasn't going to help, so I did the next best thing. And it has helped me to focus more on my own self improvement FOR myself rather than trying to "fix myself" to be like them.

The negative impacts of social media have became very obvious as our generation continues to grow up with the need to compare or fight. But social media positivity IS A THING- it's just sheltered by the negative most of the time. Social media has the power to do amazing things- but we are using it all wrong. Pictures of ourselves aren't going to motivate, educate, or encourage others. What if we started posting... differently?

Imagine how social media would begin influencing the next generation positively if we taught our children how to use it to uplift and educate themselves rather than a place to compare or fight?

Here are just a few ways we can change our daily social media habits to alter the next generation of comparison and shift it to education and encouragement.

1. Inspire Healthy Lifestyle Changes

Announcing a goal via social media and regularly posting about it promotes accountability to others, creating positive reinforcement from friends and stimulating an online “social support system” which may lead the aspirant to form or join other communities dedicated to similar pursuits. This is a classic case of “positive emotional contagion.”

Research has shown that sharing a goal publicly not only promotes accountability but helps one stay focused, and dramatically increases one’s chance of success, whether it be weight loss or sobriety for recovering addicts/alcoholics.

2. Grow your business

Social media is a great tool to grow your business. Used in the right way, social networks open up new engagement opportunities, in turn creating new customers, strengthening bonds with existing ones, and helping your business establish its brand voice. Let's consider some of the major ways in which social media can be a valuable small business tool.

3. Spread awareness / educate

Raising awareness on social media can help send a message, get attention, and open the door to people talking about the issue. At first glance, it might not seem like much, but when you sift through the rants and circulating memes, you soon realize the true power of correlation.

Social media is a powerful tool. Let's stop using it for hatred. No more cancel culture. No more comparison. Let's use it for positivity and to make a difference. Beat the culture.


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