Social media is arguably one of the biggest positive repercussions of the internet. More so, social media has presented people with unprecedented opportunities at professional, business, and personal levels. For instance, social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter not only give companies access to a massive audience but also enable people to interact with considerable ease. However, social media has not been exempted from having negative consequences. The unprecedented ease of access coupled with lax restrictive legislation has made social media a fertile ground for sexual predators and illegal activities. Cases of vices perpetrated through social media such as social engineering and cyber bullying are increasing every day. In particular, now more than ever, specialists and scholars are linking social media with psychological disorders stemming from self-esteem issues. In this regard, the essay aims to elucidate on recent research carried out by various reliable scholars highlighting the link between social media use and self-esteem issues.
Self-esteem, according to Rosenberg (1965), is a key marker of psychological health. Since psychological development is mostly restricted to the first half of human life in the growth curve, self-esteem is consequently most likely to be affected by external and internal factors during adolescence and young adulthood. As such, most research conducted has been restricted to age groups between 11 and 25 years. However, other factors have been identified to support why this age group is most susceptible to self-esteem issues culminating from external factors such as social media. For instance, the amount of time spent on online interaction goes down as age increases with older people having less time browsing social sites mostly because of added responsibilities that come with having steady jobs, children, or life companions. On the other hand, teenagers and people in their young adulthood phase are prone to spend more hours on the internet with most of it being on social networking sites (Baldwin, and Hoffmann, 2002). Consequently, the time factor coupled with the psychological development phase that teenagers and young adults are going through make it particularly justifiable for research on the effects on social media on self-esteem to concentrate on this age bracket.
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In one of the most detailed research experiment, (Bevelander et al., 2013) sought to investigate the correlation between implicit, explicit self-esteem, food consumption, and social media. The study involved one hundred and eighteen subjects who were composed of 62% girls and 38% boys between the ages of 9 and 13. The participants were then asked to play online computer games while interacting with a same-sex peer (confederate) whose eating habits were varied depending on the tested phenomenon. The results of the study indicated that there was a strong correlation between social media interaction and eating habits among the youngsters. Although correlation does not imply causation, youngsters who had low self-esteem (low explicit self-esteem and high intrinsic self-esteem) were found to be easily influenced by their peers through social media interactions as far as their eating habits were concerned. Further, participants who had lower levels of satisfaction or opinion about their bodies tended to be easily influenced when their peers exhibited tendencies of eating less as compared to when they (peers) had healthy eating habits (Bevelander et al., 2013). The study highlights just how much influence social media interactions have over youngsters. Although not explicitly stated, the study inferred that self-esteem, implicit or otherwise greatly contributed to the amount of influence that social media had on the participants. Subjects with self-esteem issues were more likely to be influenced by their social media interactions as opposed to those with healthy self-esteems. However, the study failed to discuss the long-term effects negative social interactions can have on youngsters with both healthy and unhealthy esteem issues.
In another research study, Vogel et al. (2014) examined the influence of Facebook as a social networking site on the self-esteem of participants. The study group compromised of 145 participants of various races with an average age of 19 years. In the first part of the study, participants’ Facebook habits including time and duration of exposure were measured through questionnaires. Subsequently, their self-esteem was evaluated using Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale. The results showed an overwhelming relationship between self-esteem and Facebook use. Subjects who used Facebook a lot exhibited poorer trait self-esteem as opposed to participants who used Facebook less often. That is, either such participants had inflated or poor self-evaluation depending on the type of social comparison they were exposed to on Facebook. Those who interacted with virtual users that they considered being in a lower social class than their exhibited inflated self- evaluation traits while those who were exposed to people of a higher social niche poor self-esteem. In the second part of the study, the researchers sought to find out the effects of comparisons (based on limited exposure to social media information) on self-esteem. Participants were temporarily exposed to information of virtual users that had been manipulated to reflect either a downward or upward social status as compared to the subject in question. Generally, exposure to upward comparison targets resulted in the participants having lower self-evaluation albeit for a limited time (Vogel et al., 2014). Consequently, both phases of the experiment proved that Facebook use has a direct correlation to self-esteem and self-evaluation regardless of whether one is exposed to downward or upward comparison targets.
In what can be considered as an extension of social media, Clay, Vignoles, and Dittmar (2005) investigated the impact of sociocultural factors on the self-esteem and body satisfaction of teenage girls in the United Kingdom. In the study, more than 100 girls between the ages of 11 and sixteen were exposed to magazines depicting models of various body sizes. Girls who were exposed to magazines with thin models or seemingly perfect models exhibited signs of low body satisfaction and low self- esteem. Moreover, this trend was more distinct with older participants than younger ones in contradiction to the psychological growth curve that suggests older girls are better equipped, mentally, to handle external factors affecting their self-esteem. However, according to the research, this is attributed to the increased awareness of sociocultural factors and standards towards physical appearance and subsequent internalization of these standards (Clay, Vignoles, and Dittmar, 2005). Although the research was limited to magazines as a source of external interaction, the study only highlights the severity of the issue. Teenagers, girls or boys, are exponentially more likely to be bombarded with such images depicting ideal body types and physical appearances on social media sites than they are to encounter them in magazines. Consequently, the results of the experiment cannot only be used to depict similar trends where social media is involved but also represent a mere fraction of the real impact of social media on self-esteem.
In conclusion, there is a correlation between the use of social media and self-esteem disorders more so among adolescents and young adults. Although some research suggests that the relationship can be positive whereby introverts or low self-esteem persons can interact with peers and subsequently boost their esteem, the bulk of the research carried out indicates the opposite. Young people are more prone to suffer from poor self-esteem and evaluation traits than they are likely to benefit from the use of social media. As such, social media is bound to remain the single biggest contributor to self-esteem issues among adolescents and young adults unless corrective measures are implemented.
Baldwin, S. A., & Hoffmann, J. P. (2002). The dynamics of self-esteem: A growth-curve analysis. Journal of Youth and Adolescence , 31 (2), 101-113.
Bevelander, K. E., Anschütz, D. J., Creemers, D. H., Kleinjan, M., & Engels, R. C. (2013). The role of explicit and implicit self-esteem in peer modeling of palatable food intake: A study on social media interaction among youngsters. PloS one , 8 (8), e72481.
Clay, D., Vignoles, V. L., & Dittmar, H. (2005). Body image and self ‐ esteem among adolescent girls: Testing the influence of sociocultural factors. Journal of research on adolescence , 15 (4), 451-477.
Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image (Vol. 11, p. 326). Princeton, NJ: Princeton university press.
Vogel, E. A., Rose, J. P., Roberts, L. R., & Eckles, K. (2014). Social comparison, social media, and self-esteem. Psychology of Popular Media Culture , 3 (4), 206-222.