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After years of hearing about all the perils of social media, there’s finally some good news about how platforms like Facebook and Twitter might actually be good for your mental well being and physical health. Based on a new study from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, there is growing evidence to suggest that a regular social media routine might actually be good for you. That’s exciting news from the medical establishment – sort of waking up one day to find out that drinking a glass of red wine each night is actually good for you, or that dark chocolate is full of heart-healthy antioxidants.
Details of the Harvard study
The Harvard researchers considered three different health-related outcomes – social well being, positive mental health and self-rated health – and then investigated whether or not social media had any impact on them. To do this, they took into account two key variables of social media: how often people used it, and how emotionally invested they were. Some people, for example, might obsessively check social media multiple times throughout the day, while others might only check in a few times per week. And, in terms of emotional investment, some people might be nonchalant about how many likes or followers they get, while others might absolutely get unhinged if their latest Instagram post doesn’t get loads of likes and comments.
What the researchers found was that a regular routine of social media use actually yielded positive results for all three health-related outcomes. That is, as long as people keep a wary emotional distance from social media. People who tremble at the thought of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), or who invest too much time in curating an impossibly perfect life, though, actually experience negative results. In a nutshell, the study suggests that social media, enjoyed in moderation, is actually a good thing. As long as we are careful users, then routine social media use poses no adverse consequences.
Things get a little fuzzier, however, when we start to invest too much in social media. The Harvard researchers mentioned the possibility of a “behavioral intervention” if people are behaving erratically on social media or taking their social media use too seriously. In a worst-case scenario, you might get something like the whole Antonio Brown meltdown, in which social media postings from the NFL star became a silent cry for help. The whole “look at me” culture of social media became such a part of Antonio Brown’s identity, that he lost the ability to relate to people in normal ways.
Common sense and caveats about social media use
In many ways, the call for social media moderation is just plain common sense and not some sort of Ivy League brilliance from researchers at Harvard. Anything can be enjoyed in moderation and not be harmful. That’s what led to the whole “red wine is good for you” thesis – what the researchers suggested was not that drinking an entire bottle of a delightful Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon each night might be good for you, only that a single glass of red wine at meal times seemed to provide unexpected health benefits.
And, of course, there are also some caveats involved here in the social media study. The Harvard researchers found that younger, well-educated and white social media users tended to achieve the most favorable health outcomes. The same benefits did not seem to extend to older users, less educated users, or racial minorities. (Yikes!) It’s sort of like the whole red wine study – the people most likely to enjoy the benefits of a glass of Pinot Noir or Merlot each night are upper-income, well-educated foodies who already are on some form of a healthy Mediterranean diet.
But still, it’s good news that researchers are finally starting to discover the links between health, happiness and social media. Connecting with people online is a great way to overcome isolation or loneliness. And finding a like-minded “tribe” online can help to make you feel better about yourself. But, as in all things, moderation is the key when it comes to social media.