Digital Dilemma: Understanding the Effects of Social Media on Young Canadians

Digital Dilemma: Understanding the Effects of Social Media on Young Canadians

Affordable smart devices and internet access are some of the factors encouraging the widespread use of social media worldwide.

There are billions of social media users, and Canada has one of the world’s most connected populations. In 2022, the country had over 34.47 million social media users, making the social penetration rate 89 percent.

The widespread adoption of social media since the early 2000s has led to significant societal changes. In Canada, parents, teachers, and young people have noticed social media’s positive and negative effects in their daily lives.

In this post, we’ll discuss the effects of social media on young people and how one can better manage its adverse effects.

Key Takeaways

  • A large chunk of the Canadian youth population is on social media.
  • Social media can strengthen connections and encourage in-person action.
  • Social media can also enable unhealthy habits and cause relationship tensions.
  • Healthy social media habits are essential for responsible platform usage.

Understanding Social Media

Social media used to be much simpler, with fewer users and factors at play. However, the social media landscape of the early 2000s seems like a different planet than how social media works today.

The technology and communities behind social media platforms have changed a lot through the years. Keep reading to learn more about the history and mechanisms behind your favourite social media sites.

The evolution of social media

Public social media started as a place for friends and family to connect. One of the first social media sites to blow up was MySpace, originally created as a music-sharing site. 

Today’s most popular social media sites also got their start in the early-to-mid 2000s. Facebook started as Facemash in 2003, Twitter was launched in 2006, and Instagram made its debut in 2010.

In those early days, social media posts usually comprised people talking about their days and commenting on each other’s posts.

Eventually, brands and businesses saw these platforms as excellent marketing tools. Nowadays, social media has adapted to these business needs. Brands can advertise themselves on social media platforms, execute marketing campaigns, and monetize their social media presence.

How social media works

Social media platforms work and grow through their user base. Users create profiles, where they can post their content. They can also “friend” or “follow” other users and interact with one another.

Many social media sites feature a home feed, where users can see posts from people or pages they follow. Users can scroll through these feeds or visit other users’ profiles to see their posts.

As technologies advanced, these platforms developed algorithms that help improve the user experience. These algorithms decide what kinds of content to push toward users.

Types of social media

Social media sites cater to various audiences and interests. However, with some overlap, they often fall into one of the following categories:

  • Social networks. This type prioritizes sharing content, thoughts, and opinions with other users. Examples include Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
  • Media networks. This type focuses on audiovisual content and allows users to like, comment, and share posts. Examples include YouTube, Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat.
  • Review networks. These networks are platforms for evaluating products and services. Examples include Yelp and TripAdvisor.
  • Discussion networks. These networks provide a platform for users to have in-depth discussions on various topics. Examples include Reddit and Quora.

The Benefits of Social Media for Young Canadians

Social media has become so ingrained in the lives of young Canadians that people have noticed its significant effects. Like any technology, social media has its benefits and advantages. After all, people wouldn’t continue using these platforms if they didn’t get some form of enjoyment or benefit from them.

Here are some key advantages young Canadians experience through social media sites.

Strengthens friendships

Friendships are a vital part of teenagers’ and young adults’ lives. These relationships often become as significant as their relationships with their families. Moreover, if a child doesn’t have a good family relationship, their friendships often fill this need.

Social media helps facilitate the formation of friendships and other types of relationships. The features you find on social media sites allow people to connect. Teenagers and young people can message, comment, and follow people with whom they relate.

Young people can use social media to develop existing friendships. It allows them to connect with and talk to their friends even when they’re not physically together. It also provides opportunities to meet and befriend new people, opening doors for long-distance friendships.

Provides access to information

While social media content usually consists of opinions and personal experiences, many reliable sources are also active on different social media platforms. 

Several news outlets, journalists, scientists, politicians, and other experts have social media accounts that they use to post about current events and special topics. Teenagers and other young people can easily follow these accounts and access the information experts share.

Social media sites have also become alternative search engines for many users. Sure, you can head to Google to learn about a topic. However, many young people use the TikTok or Instagram search features to find creators that fall within their interests.

Learning about one topic often leads to a chain reaction of informative content. Social media algorithms often recommend similar topics to users to increase engagement. Learning about one topic could lead to a deeper rabbit hole, which can improve young people’s understanding of certain subjects.

Encourages social involvement

You can consider this benefit an extension of the previous one we discussed. When young people become more informed and interested in current events, they’re more likely to participate in social movements and community efforts.

Many political movements have gained traction and momentum through online activity. Organizers and activists have used social media to gain people’s attention, especially about injustices certain groups may be experiencing. 

Social media has been an influential tool for educating people about their community and encouraging them to take real-life action. Aside from protests and marches, social media is also helpful for shelters, soup kitchens, and other community aid organizations to attract volunteers.

Provides authentic support

The adolescence phase can be difficult. Hormones and changing environments can make it difficult for young people to cope with the challenges of everyday life. It can be hard for many young people to get the support they need.

Many young people struggle with mental health problems, questions of gender and sexuality, and other personal challenges. Ideally, one’s family should offer the necessary support to make sense of these struggles. However, not all adults can sensitively deal with these issues. 

For this reason, many young people turn to their online friends and communities for social support, especially if they can’t approach their parents or other adults. They discover that they’re not alone, as many online communities exist for nearly every interest imaginable. 

These communities are often a mixed bag. However, many young people find genuine support and camaraderie within social media communities, which can ease their loneliness.

Encourages self-expression

Self-expression and communication are essential parts of a young person’s development. Social media allows young people to express themselves in different ways, like writing, singing, dancing, speaking, or other art forms.

You could see many examples of this self-expression during the pandemic. Since the lockdowns gave people time off from school and work, people embraced different hobbies and ways of self-expression.

Young people could express their talents, thoughts, and experiences through social media and gain a following. They could get positive feedback and engagement and build peer relationships by expressing themselves online, which can help young people build confidence and hone their skills.

The Negative Impacts of Social Media on Young Canadians

While social media platforms offer several benefits and advantages to young Canadians, they also have drawbacks. Many experts, organizations, and individuals have observed the harmful effects of social media on young people and society.

Understanding the harms of social media can help parents, guardians, and young people effectively manage their usage. Here are some of social media’s most notable negative impacts on young Canadians.

Exposure to inappropriate content

Social media sites often have content moderation teams that help minimize and control the presence of inappropriate and harmful content on their platforms. 

However, despite these efforts, some inappropriate content can still slip through the cracks. Many malicious parties that distribute inappropriate content may also find ways to bypass these restrictions.

For this reason, it can be incredibly easy for young people, even minors, to access content that’s inappropriate for their age group. Viewing such materials could confuse children and teens and cause developmental issues.

Exposure to malicious actors

Social media can be a good place for young people to find like-minded people close to their age group and interests. However, these communities can also be vulnerable to predators and malicious actors.

Predators could use social media to talk to young people and exploit their vulnerabilities. There have been many reports of grooming and harassment of minors through different social media platforms.

In London, Ontario, there have been hundreds of reports of predators luring children through the social media app Snapchat. Adults have used the app to engage in inappropriate conversations with minors, including soliciting intimate photos, videos, and even physical acts.

Sleep deprivation

Sleep is an integral part of every person’s day. It’s particularly important for teenagers and young people to get enough sleep to support their physical development.

However, due to social media’s addictive nature, many people end up losing sleep because they’re scrolling through their social media apps before bed. Young people have a fear of missing out, and browsing their social media accounts all the time has become second nature.

They would rather sacrifice sex, the ability to have children and five years of their lives than lose access to social media. This information came from a recent study published in the International Journal of Social Media and Online Communities.

While it’s easy to recover from one sleepless night, long-term sleep deprivation can negatively affect one’s health. It profoundly reduces the quality of your sleep and can increase the likelihood of developing sleep disorders.

Cyberbullying

In a perfect world, people are kind and respectful of each other, even in online spaces. Unfortunately, not everyone shares the same values.

People can be mean and cruel, even more so if they have anonymity. Social media allows people to hide behind anonymous identities. While it can help protect one’s personal information, people can also use it to inflict harm and bully people.

Cyberbullying is a serious and common problem on social media, especially among young people. It’s the practice of using computers, smart devices, and the internet to hurt, threaten, mock, embarrass, or mistreat someone online.

This type of bullying, even if it’s not done in person, can be as damaging as in-person harassment. People have suffered mental health issues and hurt themselves because of cyberbullying.

Not only is cyberbullying hurtful, but it can also have legal consequences. Cyberbullying victims could seek legal assistance to hold their harassers accountable.

Privacy issues

Privacy and data security have become significant concerns for social media users, including young Canadians. A recent Canadian survey found that 88 percent of respondents were concerned about the information social networking sites collect from users.

News of data breaches has become common. Many are aware that social networks and other websites sell people’s data to advertisers. Having one’s data fall into the wrong hands could lead to potential vulnerabilities.

Identity theft

Privacy vulnerabilities could lead to identity theft, and people could use the information available on your social media accounts to impersonate you.

While some identity theft cases involve harmless pranks, others are more serious. Malicious actors can steal your identity and damage your reputation. If they get their hands on sensitive information, like your address or banking data, you could face financial consequences.

Poor self-esteem

Unhealthy social media use can affect one’s mental health and self-esteem. These effects could be especially pronounced on teenagers and young people still figuring out their identities. At these formative stages, they could be more sensitive to criticism and comparison.

People on social media, especially celebrities and influencers, often present curated, perfect lives, which can cause insecurities and social comparison. Young people can be particularly impressionable and might feel pressured to conform.

It can be easy to compare one’s lifestyle to that of social media influencers and celebrities, who might set unrealistic expectations of what life is supposed to be like. Poor self-esteem can cover a variety of issues, such as body image issues, depressive symptoms, and poor life satisfaction. 

Social Media and Society

Aside from its direct effects on young Canadians, social media has broadly affected society in general. While its use has palpable effects on one’s personal life, it has also become a stronger force influencing social and political movements worldwide.

A Pew Research study found that Canadians are on the fence about whether social media has positively or negatively influenced democracy. Here are some ways social media has affected how governments and societies operate in recent years:

Better information vs. misinformation

One of the benefits of social media that we previously discussed is that it provides better access to information. Experts and different personalities can weigh in and provide different perspectives on specific events and issues.

While accurate and timely information can be readily available on social media, misinformation often accompanies it as well. For every reliable source you find, it’s also easy to find ones that misrepresent the facts or publish outright lies.

Misinformation on social media has become a prevalent phenomenon worldwide. Misinformation and disinformation campaigns have influenced and polarized people’s opinions, fostering mistrust toward various groups.

Many Canadians have the same observation. The Pew Research study found that 86 percent of Canadians say that internet and social media access has made people easier to manipulate with misinformation and rumours.

Political activity

Social media is a double-edged sword. It can be an excellent place to obtain information and develop one’s political opinions, which can lead to on-ground action.

However, not all political activity is positive, especially as social media activity and misinformation have led to more political divisions. People have become more politically polarized, especially in online spaces.

While social media can effectively shed light on marginalized groups and community issues, it has also become an avenue for spreading hate. 

Social media algorithms often incentivize engagement, and users would be more likely to see content that sparks conversation, whether productive or not.

Parental and Educational Interventions

Social media can be incredibly helpful in fostering connections and encouraging positive practices in young people. However, it can cause harm and addictive tendencies when left unchecked.

Parents, educators, and other institutions need to implement and encourage programs and practices that help develop healthy habits and improve youth mental health. Here are some ways parents, guardians, and educators can do that:

Parental involvement

Many young people pick up their habits at home. One’s upbringing can influence how a person behaves in adolescence and adulthood. For this reason, parental involvement is a significant factor when encouraging healthy social media use in young people.

It can be easier to set rules and enact punishments when your kids break them. However, this method won’t be very effective and might foster mistrust between parents and children.

Instead, listen to your kids and develop a good relationship with them. Often, young people use social media to have fun and escape stress. These platforms might offer them a place to express the type of thoughts that they might not be comfortable discussing in person.

A good parent/guardian-child relationship can make it easier for parents to encourage healthier social media habits in their children. Furthermore, you can encourage them to pursue habits and interests to help reduce harmful social media use.

Integrating digital literacy education

Social media has become an integral part of daily life. For this reason, it’s high time schools and other institutions acknowledge its importance and educate young people and adults on healthy online and social media habits.

Schools and teachers can implement digital literacy courses or seminars for students. This education can also extend to adults, as nearly everyone across all age groups can have a social media account.

Aside from digital literacy education, schools and institutions dealing with young people can offer psychiatry or mental health care services. These programs can help address the possible mental health impacts of social media use.

The Canadian government is also investing $5.5 million to fund the creation of the Canadian Digital Media Research Network, which will aim to strengthen Canadians’ media literacy and information resilience.

How To Manage the Negative Effects of Social Media

Guidance and adult intervention can help young people control their social media use and ensure safety. However, it’s essential to adopt healthy social media habits as well. 

Here are some habits young Canadians and adults could try to incorporate into their daily lives to mitigate the adverse effects of social media. Developing these habits won’t happen overnight, but incorporating them into your routine can help improve your well-being.

Be mindful of your habits

Mindfulness means being aware of your habits. Before you can make any meaningful changes to your social media use, you must know your current patterns.

You’re likely already aware of your habits, but some hard data could help spur you into action. 

Many smartphones have a built-in screen time detector. This tool monitors how much time you spend on your cell phone. It can also indicate the apps you spend the most time using.

To facilitate mindfulness of your social media habits, you can also ask yourself these questions:

  • How often do you use social media?
  • What do you do on social media?
  • How much time do you spend on social media?
  • How do you feel when using social media?

Understanding your actions and gauging your physical and emotional responses can paint a better picture of your social media habits.

Limit your access

If you spend excessive time on social media apps, it might be time to limit your access. 

There are several ways to do this, such as:

  • Setting time limits on internet use and social media apps on your phone
  • Leaving your phone in a different room when concentrating on other activities
  • Avoiding electronic devices upon waking up and before going to bed
  • Having an accountability buddy to check on you and your social media use

Curate your following/friends list

The accounts you follow on social media can significantly impact how you feel. Social media can induce feelings of low self-esteem and inadequacy. It can also stir up feelings of hurt, discomfort, or anger.

While exposing yourself to different opinions can help you develop your perspective, conversations on social media can get hostile. 

If you feel stressed, anxious, insecure, or uncomfortable browsing social media, it might be time to purge your friends or following list. Instead, you can follow people who inspire, encourage, and add value to your life. 

Avoid scrolling upon waking up and before going to bed

Getting bombarded with information and stimuli as you’re trying to get up or wind down can be detrimental. While you can use your phone to set your alarms, it can be unhealthy to start and end the day with a barrage of notifications, news reports, and social media posts.

You can try activities, like meditation, journaling, and exercise to set a positive tone for your day or unwind before sleep.

Think before you post

While social media can be a great platform for self-expression, it’s also essential to monitor your posts. Sharing too much of your life online could lead to privacy issues and leave you vulnerable to doxxing or identity theft.

Consider legal assistance

While using social media can be entertaining, it can sometimes be a cruel place. If you’ve experienced harassment, cyberbullying, identity theft, or other forms of harm, consider getting legal assistance.

Victims of social media data breaches could even consider filing a class action lawsuit. Speaking with a lawyer can help you navigate relevant laws and protect your rights.

Pro Tip

Exploring new hobbies or spending time in nature can help you adopt healthier habits and reduce your social media usage.

Adopt and Maintain Healthy Social Media Habits

Social media has become a significant force in today’s digital space. It can help young people in several ways, such as improving their relationships and encouraging self-expression. 

However, it can also be a source of stress and potential harm, like privacy breaches, cyberbullying, and online harassment. 

If you or someone you know has fallen victim to harassment or other online crimes, seek legal assistance immediately. Diamond and Diamond Lawyers can help you navigate the necessary legal processes and support you in getting the justice you deserve.

Get legal assistance and compensation. Call Diamond Law today for a free consultation.

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