Is Social Media Helpful or Harmful in 2023?
Social media platforms have expanded dramatically, especially since the pandemic, and can be used for so many of our daily activities: keeping in touch with loved ones, watching live streams, reading the news, accessing e-commerce shops, following celebrities or influencers, learning a new skill, or meeting new people.
However, research reveals that what we think is helpful or harmless social media usage has turned into an addiction for around 210 million people worldwide, and studies suggest that this will only get worse.
Social media platforms produce the same neural circuitry as recreational drugs like alcohol, nicotine and cannabis. Whilst retweets and likes can affect the brain’s reward area and trigger the same kind of chemical reaction as addictive Class A drugs such as cocaine. This may explain why humans on social media are called “users”, rather than customers or consumers.
Gaining access to social media is beyond easy as it takes just a couple of seconds to set up a free account and there are over 125 social media platforms worldwide, with WhatsApp being the “favourite” for 16- through to to 64-year-olds (July 2023), followed by Instagram and Facebook.
As we prepare for the landline switch off in 2025, social media could become even more prominent in our everyday lives.
(Image Source: Data Reportal)
So, here is a breakdown of our “favourite” social media platforms, when they launched, how well they are doing so far this year in terms of monthly active users, and the impact they have on mental health and wellbeing.
If you’ve never used this app, it is an instant messaging, voice and video calling platform owned by American technology giants Meta Platforms, released in 2009.
WhatsApp now has at least 2 billion monthly active users worldwide—both for professional and personal use—and over 100 billion messages are sent daily through the app. It prides itself on being completely private, with all information encrypted.
Instagram is a photo and video-sharing social media platform also owned by Californian-based Meta Platforms. On 6 October 2010, the Instagram iOS app was released, and 25,000 people signed up on the first day.
The Android version came in April 2012, followed by a desktop version in November 2012, a Fire OS app in June 2014, and a Windows 10 app in October 2016.
Instagram now has 1.628 billion users, which means 32.2% of people aged 13 and above – excluding those in China, where the app is still blocked – use Instagram today.
However, a 2021 Forbes article highlighted the the long-confirmed, negative and harmful effects of Instagram:
- Body dissatisfaction, appearance anxiety, lower self-esteem and depression.
- Internalised thin-ideal mindset and body surveillance.
- Increased risk for eating disorders.
- Increased desire for cosmetic surgery.
- More exposure to and engagement in self-harm behaviour among vulnerable kids.
Facebook is a social media and networking platform owned by Meta Platforms. Facebook was created in 2004. However, membership was limited to Harvard and other North American university students until 2006, when anyone over the age of 13 was able to register.
It soon became the most downloaded mobile app of the 2010s, and now there are over 3 billion monthly active users, making it the world’s most used social media platform.
Unlike Instagram, a recent University of Oxford study found no evidence to suggest that using Facebook is detrimental to wellbeing.
Professor Andrew Przybylski, who co-led the research, said: “We examined the best available data carefully – and found they did not support the idea that Facebook membership is related to harm, quite the opposite. In fact, our analysis indicates Facebook is possibly related to positive well-being.”
WeChat is a Chinese instant messaging, social media and mobile payment app developed and owned by Tencent Holdings, formerly Weixin.
Weixin initially launched on 21 January 2011, but user adoption was slow until May when the app introduced a Walkie-talkie-like voice messaging feature. By 2012, there were 100 million users, and Weixin rebranded as WeChat for international audiences.
(Image Source: BankMyCell)
TikTok is a video hosting platform owned by ByteDance. Users can post public or private videos ranging from 3 seconds to 10 minutes.
TikTok was launched in September 2016 and became the third-fastest growing brand of 2020, after Zoom and Peacock, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
(Image Source: Marketing Charts)
Despite being much newer, the video hosting platform now has 1 billion monthly active users, passing Twitter, Telegram, Reddit, Pinterest, and Snapchat.
However, parents are concerned about their child’s usage time and the app’s dangerous challenges, resulting in TikTok being the most blocked app on Qustodio – a parental control platform that allows parents to manage their children’s social media use.
Brands are also dominating the TikToksphere in 2023. As TikTok shop opens up, the social app has become a zone for all things e-commerce. However, as our addiction to platform commerce grows, so do the debts following. In fact, more than 1 million people in the UK alone will be in debt in 2023, with many turning to online loan providers such as Kallyss for help.
Douyin is the TikTok app, also owned by ByteDance, for those in mainland China where it is banned. It was initially launched as A.me in September 2016 before rebranding to Douyin in December 2016.
Within one year, Douyin had 100 million users; in 2023, this number is up to 730 million monthly active users.
Twitter was a social media platform that, as of 2023, changed its brand name to X after Twitter Inc merged with X Holdings and became part of X Corp.
Twitter was launched in July 2006, and now there are 564 million users, meaning that roughly 4.6% of all the people on Earth use Twitter. This number is much smaller than Facebook and Instagram.
Snapchat was initially launched, by Snap Inc, as a person-to-person photo-sharing app but has since evolved into an instant messaging and video chat service.
Snapchat launched in September 2011 and soon became popular with the younger generation. On average, more than five billion Snaps are sent every day.
In 2023, Snapchat has 750 million monthly active users, most of which are in India, followed by the United States and Pakistan.
(Image Source: Oberlo)
However, despite Snapchat being a popular way to keep in touch with friends and family, the disappearing messages feature makes it easy for children and young adults to share compromising photos or engage in cyberbullying. The Snapmap feature, which shares a user’s physical location, is also a negative for a user’s privacy.
What Can We Expect Next?
As technology evolves, so do the social platforms dominating the online world. As we become more connected digitally, our social connections in the physical world are beginning to dwindle.
12.1% of adults have been diagnosed with social anxiety in 2023, which continues to rise year on year.
The question we must ask ourselves is, as the online world becomes more connected, could society become more disconnected than ever before?
There was once a time when letters and landline phone calls were the only way to communicate with friends, family or businesses. Now 60.6% of the world’s population is active on social media, with 173 million new users registering in the 12 months before July 2023.