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Social Media and its Effects

This guide provides suggested resources and other information for beginning research on the topic of social media.

What is Social Media?

Social Media is any number of services on the Internet that enable users to create and share information, ideas, videos, personal messages, or to participate in social networking.

Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary

There are 7.7 billion people in the world, with at least 3.5 billion of us online. This means social media platforms are used by one-in-three people in the world, and more than two-thirds of all internet users. Social media has changed the world. The rapid and vast adoption of these technologies is changing how we find partners, how we access information from the news, and how we organize to demand political change. 

Our World in Data

Additional Information

The use of social media is associated with an increased prevalence of many negative emotions and mental-health issues. For example, research shows that there is a strong association between social-media use and depression, so that those who use social media more are more likely to suffer from depression. Similarly, increased social-media use is also associated with other negative factors, such as low self-esteem.

Furthermore, research on the dangers of social media shows that its use is associated with various other issues. For example:

  • Using social media can increase feelings of anxiety.
  • Using social media can increase feelings of envy.
  • Using social media can cause emotional exhaustion.
  • Using social media can increase stress levels.
  • Using social media can cause sleep issues and reduce sleep quality.
  • Using social media can get in the way of important obligations, such as schoolwork.
  • Using social media can lead to various health problems as a result of the mental strain that people experience while using it.

In addition to these psychological dangers, there are additional types of dangers that are associated with social media. Such dangers include issues that are relatively general, such as exposure to misinformation and violation of one's privacy, as well as dangers that play a role in specific situations, such as cyberbullying and stalking.


What is Your Online Identity?

When you are using the Internet, your online identity is the sum of your characteristics and interactions. Because you interact differently with each website you visit, each of those websites will have a different picture of who you are and what you do. Sometimes the different representations of you are referred to as partial identities, because none of them has the full and true picture of who you are. 

Your online identity is not the same as your real-world identity because the characteristics you represent online differ from the characteristics you represent in the physical world. Every website you interact with has its own idea of your identity because each one you visit sees you and your characteristics differently. For example, Amazon has established a partial identity for you based on the products you buy, whether it’s you at the keyboard or someone else using your account. Yahoo! Finance has established a partial identity for you based on the stocks you are following, whether you actually own those stocks or not. Neither one has your full identity, even if they were to put together your partial identities. The result is that you have one true identity and many partial identities. Some of the information associated with a partial identity is under your control; other information may be out of your control or even completely invisible to you. Regardless of what you can and cannot control, they all contribute to “who you are and what you do.”

Internet Society

Protecting Your Online Identity

The internet is forever. Be careful what you’re posting and sharing, and with whom and what you are associating. To someone who doesn’t know you, your social media persona becomes a direct projection of who you might be and can create your online reputation.

Please keep this advice in mind when sharing online:

  • Understand the default privacy settings on the social networking sites you use and how to change them to match your comfort level.
  • Limit or disable the location settings on photos and videos you post to social networking sites.
  • Don’t post photos or videos of inappropriate or illegal activities.
  • Avoid joining online groups where you don’t know all the members or what causes they support.
  • Find out who can access the information you are posting online, who controls and owns the information, and what is shared with a third party.
  • Keep your personal information private. Question whether it’s necessary—it usually isn’t—to share sensitive information such as your birthday, mailing address, phone number, e-mail, mother’s maiden name, sexual orientation, or Social Security number. Consider making up alternate answers to those questions that only you would know.
  • Don’t “check in” to every place you visit. That information could be used to identify you in a vulnerable location.

UCLA Information Security Office




Studies are now showing that social media use can lead to depression, low self-esteem, body image issues, anxiety, social isolation, and the list goes on. It can even perpetuate eating disorders and self-harm behaviors.On the flip side, social media can bring communities together and can be an engaging platform to meet new friends however the balance can be easily skewed.

Should you take a social media break? Social media breaks can be good for our mental health and social life.

Here are some tips and tricks to help you break away from social media:

*Put your phone down and out of reach.

*Set limits by tracking your social media time.

*Turn off notifications and set virtual boundaries.

*Set "phone free zones."

*Schedule "social media free days."

*Delete social media apps from your phone.

*Respond offline.

Psychology Today



Social media is a big part of many teens' lives. A 2018 Pew Research Center survey of nearly 750 13- to 17-year-olds found that 45% are online almost constantly and 97% use a social media platform, such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat.

But what impact does social media use have on teens?


Social media allows teens to create online identities, communicate with others and build social networks. These networks can provide teens with valuable support, especially helping those who experience exclusion or have disabilities or chronic illnesses.

Teens also use social media for entertainment and self-expression. And the platforms can expose teens to current events, allow them to interact across geographic barriers and teach them about a variety of subjects, including healthy behaviors. Social media that's humorous or distracting or provides a meaningful connection to peers and a wide social network might even help teens avoid depression.


However, social media use can also negatively affect teens, distracting them, disrupting their sleep, and exposing them to bullying, rumor spreading, unrealistic views of other people's lives and peer pressure.

The risks might be related to how much social media teens use. A 2019 study of more than 6,500 12- to 15-year-olds in the U.S. found that those who spent more than three hours a day using social media might be at heightened risk for mental health problems. Another 2019 study of more than 12,000 13- to 16-year-olds in England found that using social media more than three times a day predicted poor mental health and well-being in teens.

Other studies also have observed links between high levels of social media use and depression or anxiety symptoms. A 2016 study of more than 450 teens found that greater social media use, nighttime social media use and emotional investment in social media — such as feeling upset when prevented from logging on — were each linked with worse sleep quality and higher levels of anxiety and depression.

How teens use social media also might determine its impact. A 2015 study found that social comparison and feedback seeking by teens using social media and cell phones was linked with depressive symptoms. In addition, a small 2013 study found that older adolescents who used social media passively, such as by just viewing others' photos, reported declines in life satisfaction. Those who used social media to interact with others or post their own content didn't experience these declines.

Mayo Clinic


Some of the stuff we see on social media (and on news sites) is misinformation. Why is there so much misinformation on social media? We all probably contribute. When people encounter misleading information on social media or in news, they may believe and decide to share that information. Their friends see the misinformation, and they share it too.

Misinformation develops a life of its own, infecting social media. But if misinformation is like a virus infecting social media, are there ways to inoculate ourselves? Are there Internet antibiotics to eliminate the contagion of misinformation?

The real problem is the spread of misinformation. Yes, there are people intentionally planting and promoting lies. But each of us may be an unwitting agent. Each time we decide to share a piece of misinformation, we contribute to the spread. And people are constantly sharing misinformation. More than likely, you will see the same false news several times in your social media, as many of your friends decide to share that information. The repetition of false information will make that information feel truer. If the misinformation starts to feel true, you may decide to share.

Thus you become an unwitting agent of the people trying to spread misinformation and disinformation. We all think we are careful critical thinkers. Everyone believes that other people are vulnerable to fake news. We are confident that we wouldn’t do this. Unfortunately, none of us are immune to this virus. We can all spread misinformation.

We all need to be more careful and limit the effects of misinformation. Be more evaluative before sharing news information on social media. If people are asked to evaluate the information they are about to share, then they may be less likely to share misinformation.

Keep sharing the cat videos. Like and share pictures of life events from friends and family. But we have to be thoughtful before sharing news that we stumble across. Some of that news will be misinformation.

Psychology Today

The negative effects of social media on teens and tweens can be obvious for parents and educators, but there are rarely discussions about the positive impact of social media. From creating a more dynamic college resume to building communication skills, social media creates plenty of positive opportunities for students. So, instead of focusing solely on the negative impact social media can have, try to highlight the ways your children can use social media for good.

Here, ten experts to share their opinions about the positive impact of social media 

1. Younger students can feel empowered by teaching older relatives how to use technology.

2. Social media can be used to create a positive digital footprint and search results.

3. Social media provides parents an opportunity for open communication.

4. Social media can help students learn essential job skills.

5. Social media can lead to more communication.

6. Students can use technology to form study groups.

7. Social media provides a platform to showcase technological savvy and creativity.

8. Social media offers students a way to stay in touch with friends if they move.

9. Students can leverage social media to promote their civic engagement.

10. Students can utilize social media to spread social awareness and kindness.

11. Students can learn new things from social media.


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