Three billion people, around 40% of the world’s population, use online social media – and we’re spending an average of two hours every day sharing, liking, tweeting and updating on these platforms, according to some reports. That breaks down to around half a million tweets and Snapchat photos shared every minute.
With social media playing such a big part in our lives, could we be sacrificing our mental health and well-being as well as our time? What does the evidence actually suggest?
Since social media is relatively new to us, conclusive findings are limited. The research that does exist mainly relies on self-reporting, which can often be flawed, and the majority of studies focus on Facebook. That said, this is a fast-growing area of research, and clues are beginning to emerge. The findings of some of the science so far:
People use social media to vent about everything from customer service to politics, but the downside to this is that our feeds often resemble an endless stream of stress. In 2015, researchers at the Pew Research Center based in Washington DC sought to find out if social media induces more stress than it relieves.
人们使用社交媒体用来抱怨对客服的不满、政治等各种事情，但是这种做法的一个弊病就是：这些抱怨文就像是一条永无止尽的压力长河。2015年，华盛顿皮尤研究中心（Pew Research Center）的研究人员试图弄清社交媒体带来的压力是否比它释放的压力更多。
In the survey of 1,800 people, women reported being more stressed than men. Twitter was found to be a “significant contributor” because it increased their awareness of other people’s stress.
But Twitter also acted as a coping mechanism – and the more women used it, the less stressed they were. The same effect wasn’t found for men, whom the researchers said had a more distant relationship with social media. Overall, the researchers concluded that social media use was linked to “modestly lower levels” of stress.
In 2014, researchers in Austria found that participants reported lower moods after using Facebook for 20 minutes compared to those who just browsed the internet. The study suggested that people felt that way because they saw it as a waste of time.
A good or bad mood may also spread between people on social media, according to researchers from the University of California, who assessed the emotional content of over a billion status updates from more than 100 million Facebook users between 2009 and 2012.
Bad weather increased the number of negative posts by 1%, and the researchers found that one negative post by someone in a rainy city influenced another 1.3 negative posts by friends living in dry cities. The better news is that happy posts had a stronger influence; each one inspired 1.75 more happy posts. Whether a happy post translates to a genuine boost in mood, however, remains unclear.
Researchers have looked at general anxiety provoked by social media, characterised by feelings of restlessness and worry, and trouble sleeping and concentrating. A study published in the journal Computers and Human Behaviour found that people who report using seven or more social media platforms were more than three times as likely as people using 0-2 platforms to have high levels of general anxiety symptoms.
研究人员对社交媒体引起的一般焦虑进行了研究，这些焦虑的主要特征是烦躁、担忧的情绪，以及睡眠障碍和注意力下降。期刊《计算机与人类行为》（Computers and Human Behaviour）发表的一项研究发现使用7个以上社交媒体平台的人，一般焦虑症状比使用0至2个平台的人严重三倍。
That said, it’s unclear if and how social media causes anxiety. Researchers from Babes-Bolyai University in Romania reviewed existing research on the relationship between social anxiety and social networking in 2016, and said the results were mixed. They concluded that more research needs to be done.
While some studies have found a link between depression and social media use, there is emerging research into how social media can actually be a force for good.
Two studies involving more than 700 students found that depressive symptoms, such as low mood and feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, were linked to the quality of online interactions. Researchers found higher levels of depressive symptoms among those who reported having more negative interactions.
A similar study conducted in 2016 involving 1,700 people found a threefold risk of depression and anxiety among people who used the most social media platforms. Reasons for this, they suggested, include cyber-bullying, having a distorted view of other people’s lives, and feeling like time spent on social media is a waste.
However, as BBC Future will explore this month in our #LikeMinded season, scientists are also looking at how social media can be used to diagnose depression, which could help people receive treatment earlier. Researchers for Microsoft surveyed 476 people and analysed their Twitter profiles for depressive language, linguistic style, engagement and emotion. From this, they developed a classifier that can accurately predict depression before it causes symptoms in seven out of 10 cases.
Researchers from Harvard and Vermont Universities analysed 166 people’s Instagram photos to create a similar tool last year with the same success rate.
Humans used to spend their evenings in darkness, but now we’re surrounded by artificial lighting all day and night. Research has found that this can inhibit the body’s production of the hormone melatonin, which facilitates sleep – and blue light, which is emitted by smartphone and laptop screens, is said to be the worst culprit. In other words, if you lie on the pillow at night checking Facebook and Twitter, you’re headed for restless slumber.
Last year, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh asked 1,700 18- to 30-year-olds about their social media and sleeping habits. They found a link with sleep disturbances – and concluded blue light had a part to play. How often they logged on, rather than time spent on social media sites, was a higher predictor of disturbed sleep, suggesting “an obsessive ‘checking’”, the researchers said.
去年，匹兹堡大学（University of Pittsburgh）的研究人员调查了1700位从18岁至30岁人士的社交媒体使用习惯和睡眠习惯。他们发现社交媒体和睡眠障碍之间存在关联，并作出结论：蓝光在这中间发挥了作用。和使用社交媒体的时间相比，登录这些网站的次数是睡眠障碍更重要的预兆。研究者说，睡眠障碍者会沉迷于"查看"。
The researchers say this could be caused by physiological arousal before sleep, and the bright lights of our devices can delay circadian rhythms. But they couldn’t clarify whether social media causes disturbed sleep, or if those who have disturbed sleep spend more time on social media.
Despite the argument from a few researchers that tweeting may be harder to resist than cigarettes and alcohol, social media addiction isn’t included in the latest diagnostic manual for mental health disorders.
That said, social media is changing faster than scientists can keep up with, so various groups are trying to study compulsive behaviours related to its use – for example, scientists from the Netherlands have invented their own scale to identify possible addiction.
And if social media addiction does exist, it would be a type of internet addiction – and that is a classified disorder. In 2011, Daria Kuss and Mark Griffiths from Nottingham Trent University in the UK have analysed 43 previous studies on the matter, and conclude that social media addiction is a mental health problem that “may” require professional treatment. They found that excessive usage was linked to relationship problems, worse academic achievement and less participation in offline communities, and found that those who could be more vulnerable to a social media addiction include those dependent on alcohol, the highly extroverted, and those who use social media to compensate for fewer ties in real life.
如果社交媒体确实会成瘾，那它就是网瘾的一种——就可以归为一种障碍。英国诺丁汉特伦特大学（Nottingham Trent University）的达里亚·库斯（Daria Kuss）和马克·格里菲斯（Mark Griffiths）在2011年分析了43个以前的研究成果，作出结论称，社交媒体成瘾是一种"有可能"需要专业治疗的心理健康问题。他们发现过度使用社交媒体与人际关系问题、学业成绩下降、线下社会活动参与减少有关。他们还发现依赖酒精者、高度外向者以及利用社交媒体来弥补现实生活中人际关系缺失的人比较容易对社交媒体成瘾。
Women’s magazines and their use of underweight and Photoshopped models have been long maligned for stirring self-esteem issues among young women. But now, social media, with its filters and lighting and clever angles, is taking over as a primary concern among some campaigning groups and charities.
Social media sites make more than half of users feel inadequate, according to a survey of 1,500 people by disability charity Scope, and half of 18- to 34-year-olds say it makes them feel unattractive.
A 2016 study by researchers at Penn State University suggested that viewing other people’s selfies lowered self-esteem, because users compare themselves to photos of people looking their happiest. Research from the University of Strathclyde, Ohio University and University of Iowa also found that women compare themselves negatively to selfies of other women.
2016年宾夕法尼亚州立大学（Penn State University）的一项研究表明，查看其他人的自拍照会伤害人的自尊心，因为用户会把照片里快乐的人与自己比较。斯特拉斯克莱德大学（University of Strathclyde）、俄亥俄大学（Ohio University）和爱荷华大学（University of Iowa）的研究也发现女性会把自己和其他女性的自拍照相比较，并产生负面的看法。
But it’s not just selfies that have the potential to dent self-esteem. A study of 1,000 Swedish Facebook users found that women who spent more time on Facebook reported feeling less happy and confident. The researchers concluded: “When Facebook users compare their own lives with others’ seemingly more successful careers and happy relationships, they may feel that their own lives are less successful in comparison.”
But one small study hinted that viewing your own profile, not others, might offer ego boosts. Researchers at Cornell University in New York put 63 students into different groups. Some sat with a mirror placed against a computer screen, for instance, while others sat in front of their own Facebook profile.
Facebook had a positive effect on self-esteem compared to other activities that boost self-awareness. Mirrors and photos, the researchers explained, make us compare ourselves to social standards, whereas looking at our own Facebook profiles might boost self-esteem because it is easier to control how we’re presented to the world.
In a study from 2013, researchers texted 79 participants five times a day for 14 days, asking them how they felt and how much they’d used Facebook since the last text. The more time people spent on the site, the worse they felt later on, and the more their life satisfaction declined over time.
But other research has found, that for some people, social media can help boost their well-being. Marketing researchers Jonah Berger and Eva Buechel found that people who are emotionally unstable are more likely to post about their emotions, which can help them receive support and bounce back after negative experiences.
但是，其他研究发现，对一些人来说，社交媒体有助于促进他们的生活幸福。市场调研员乔纳·贝尔格（Jonah Berger）和埃娃·布谢尔（Eva Buechel）发现，情绪不稳定的人发文描述自己情绪的可能性较大，这可能会帮助他们获得支持，从负面体验中解脱出来。
Overall, social media’s effects on well-being are ambiguous, according to a paper written last year by researchers from the Netherlands. However, they suggested there is clearer evidence for the impact on one group of people: social media has a more negative effect on the well-being of those who are more socially isolated.
If you’ve ever been talking to a friend who’s pulled their phone out to scroll through Instagram, you might have wondered what social media is doing to relationships.
Even the mere presence of a phone can interfere with our interactions, particularly when we’re talking about something meaningful, according to one small study. Researchers writing in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships tasked 34 pairs of strangers with having a 10-minute conversation about an interesting event that had happened to them recently. Each pair sat in private booths, and half had a mobile phone on the top of their table.
根据一项小范围研究，即使旁边放了一部手机，也可能会影响到人与人的互动，尤其是当他们正在讨论意义重大的事情时。在《社会和个人关系期刊》（Journal of Social and Personal Relationships）上发表文章的研究人员让34对陌生人聊天10分钟，讲述自己最近遇到的一件有趣的事。每一对都坐在单独的隔间里，其中一半的桌子上放了一部手机。
Those with a phone in eyeshot were less positive when recalling their interaction afterwards, had less meaningful conversations and reported feeling less close to their partner than the others, who had a notebook on top of the table instead.
Romantic relationships aren’t immune, either. Researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada surveyed 300 people aged 17-24 in 2009 about any jealousy they felt when on Facebook, asking questions such as, ‘How likely are you to become jealous after your partner has added an unknown member of the opposite sex?’.
情感关系也未能幸免。加拿大圭尔夫大学（University of Guelph）的研究人员在2009年调查了300位17-24岁的人，主题是他们在Facebook上是否感到过嫉妒。提出的问题例如："如果你的伴侣加了不认识的异性好友，你有多大的可能性会感到嫉妒？"
Women spent much more time on Facebook then men, and experienced significantly more jealousy when doing so. The researchers concluded they “felt the Facebook environment created these feelings and enhanced concerns about the quality of their relationship”.
In a study involving 600 adults, roughly a third said social media made them feel negative emotions – mainly frustration – and envy was the main cause. This was triggered by comparing their lives to others’, and the biggest culprit was other people’s travel photos. Feeling envious caused an “envy spiral”, where people react to envy by adding to their profiles more of the same sort of content that made them jealous in the first place.
However, envy isn’t necessarily a destructive emotion – it can often make us work harder, according to researchers from Michigan University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. They asked 380 students to look at “envy-eliciting” photos and texts from Facebook and Twitter, including posts about buying expensive goods, travelling and getting engaged. But the type of envy the researchers found is “benign envy”, which they say is more likely to make a person work harder.
密歇根大学和威斯康星大学密尔沃基分校（University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee）的研究人员认为，羡慕并不一定是一种破坏性情绪——它也常常促使我们努力学习。他们让380名学生看Facebook和推特上"引人羡慕"的照片和文字，包括购买昂贵商品、旅游和订婚的贴文。但是研究者发现，这种羡慕是良性的，更有可能让人努力学习。
A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine last year surveyed 7,000 19- to 32-year-olds and found that those who spend the most time on social media were twice as likely to report experiencing social isolation, which can include a lack of a sense of social belonging, engagement with others and fulfilling relationships.
《美国预防药物期刊》（American Journal of Preventive Medicine）去年发表的一项研究调查了7000位19至32岁的人，发现在社交媒体上花时间最多的人，感受到社会隔绝的可能性高两倍，包括缺乏社会归属感，缺乏与他人的互动和充实的人际关系。
Spending more time on social media, the researchers said, could displace face-to-face interaction, and can also make people feel excluded.
“Exposure to such highly idealised representations of peers’ lives may elicit feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier and more successful lives, which may increase perceived social isolation.”
It’s clear that in many areas, not enough is known yet to draw many strong conclusions. However, the evidence does point one way: social media affects people differently, depending on pre-existing conditions and personality traits.
As with food, gambling and many other temptations of the modern age, excessive use for some individuals is probably inadvisable. But at the same time, it would be wrong to say social media is a universally bad thing, because clearly it brings myriad benefits to our lives.