Since graduating university, Paul has worked as a bookseller, librarian, and educator. Born in the UK, he now lives in Florida.
The use of social media for personal and business purposes is now so widespread and popular, there is a tendency to ignore the negatives of networking and instead focus entirely on the positives.
There are some distinct downsides to the use of social media, however, including social, psychological and criminal issues. Users can be defrauded, mislead, or just end up wasting lots of time without any positive outcomes. Young users may fail to learn certain real life skills if they rely too much on social networking.
20 Negatives of Using Social Media
- Scams and Deception
- Privacy Issues
- Over-promotion and Spam
- Incorrect Information
- Echo Chamber
- Information Overload
- Time Waster
- Bullying, Stalking, and Harassment
- Terrorism and Hate Groups
- Social Disconnect and Depression
- Low Self-Esteem
- Superficial Friends
- Unwelcome Friend Requests
- Data Safety
- Political Manipulation
- Cheating Tool
- Copyright Issues
- Permanent Problems
- Sexual Issues
- Disproportionate Power
I examine each of the downsides in more detail below.
When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears.
— Zadie Smith
1. Scams and Deception
Social networking sites are now commonly used for criminal and other malevolence through conning users. Criminal gangs and/or individuals trick users into giving up their personal information, or bank details. This data is then used to steal, make money, or commit other crimes. Computer viruses can also be spread via social media, disguised as innocent messages, or posts.
2. Privacy Issues
There are major privacy issues associated with social networking. It is not always clear who is able to read your profile and personal information. An embarrassing photo of you drunk at a party might be seen by friends or relatives, or unguarded comments made about your job might be seen by your employer. Many major sites have also been shown to be insecure, when it comes to looking after personal information and financial details.
3. Over-promotion and Spam
Commercial over-promotion and unwanted advertising can be a constant problem. In the care to make money, social media sites can allow themselves to become over-commercialized. Other users can also create spam, which is increasingly automatically generated and posted via "bots". Individuals or businesses constantly attempt to befriend users purely for pushing products and services.
4. Incorrect Information
The phenomenon of "fake news" has become a major issue in recent times, with much of the "factual" information on social media turning out to be incorrect or misleading. Sometimes it is just badly sourced, but there can be more sinister intentions at work. Rather than increasing human knowledge, social media has boosted the amount of bogus facts that people believe.
5. Echo Chamber
Social media sites can operate like "echo chambers", reinforcing currently held prejudices or opinions and not presenting the user with ideas which may challenge or disagree with their world view. Algorithms analyse users and give them posts that fit with their current views. Users share posts with like-minded people. Rather than bringing people together, social media has a tendency to increase social divisions, rather than heal them.
6. Information Overload
There is a sense of "information for information's sake". The user is exposed to vast amounts of data and news, but there is very little depth or learning generated. People are overwhelmed by information and gains are minimal. Overloaded by information, rather than reading long articles, people increasingly just scan short clips of info in the form of memes, images, short videos, or other brief posts.
There's a danger in the internet and social media. The notion that information is enough, that more and more information is enough, that you don't have to think, you just have to get more information - gets very dangerous.
— Edward de Bono
7. Time Waster
Social media can also be a tremendous time waster. Whether it is at work, or during personal time, people can sometimes eat up many hours of time on social networking sites without deriving any obvious benefits. It's not just everyday things like household chores that can get neglected, career opportunities, academic achievement, and even physical health may suffer.
8. Bullying, Stalking, and Harrassment
These sites are often a dream come true for bullies, stalkers, and harassers of all types. It can be possible for unscrupulous people to work out a user’s contact details, location and movements from social networking sites, or send them threatening messages anonymously. People can be bullied not just with words, but with embarrassing photographs and other media too.
9. Terrorism and Hate Groups
Social media is used by terrorist and hate groups to spread their propaganda, recruit new membership, and direct sympathizers. Whether it's Islamic extremists trying to draw people towards their cause, Black separatists or Neo-Nazi groups stirring up racial divisions, social media can be fertile territory for fostering hate.
10. Social Disconnect and Depression
10. Some psychologists have voiced concerns that increasingly social networking is replacing real life relationships with negative results. Children and young people are especially vulnerable, as they may never fully develop social skills, if they rely purely on social networking on their computer. Social media may also contribute towards mental health problems like depression.
11. Low Self-Esteem
Using social media can lead to a focus on the achievements of others, and making unfavorable comparisons with one's own life. Although it can appear that everybody else has a perfect life, while your own is flawed, it's often the case that "successful" people keep their own problems and failures private. Nonetheless, studies have shown that excessive use of social media can lead to anxiety and low self esteem.
12. Superficial Friends
Social media encourages an unhealthy emphasis on having large numbers of superficial relationships. Yes, you may have over 500 friends, but how many of them actually matter in the real world? There are good reasons to focus on real life relationships: a handful of true friends are usually better than hundreds of virtual ones.
13. Unwelcome Friend Requests
It's common to receive requests from people that you don't want to be online friends with. It's good to keep some people at a distance, even if you like them. Employers and coworkers can be awkward, because you may not want them to know all about your personal life. Ex-partners, people you knew at school or college, estranged relatives can also be unwelcome. It's often difficult to reject their friend requests without them knowing.
Social media websites are no longer performing an envisaged function of creating a positive communication link among friends, family and professionals. It is a veritable battleground, where insults fly from the human quiver, damaging lives, destroying self-esteem and a person's sense of self-worth.
— Anthony Carmona
14. Data Safety
Your personal details, posts, and media may not me safe and secure. Unscrupulous organizations may steal your information by nefarious means for use in fraud or theft. The social media company itself may sell the data, or allow access to it without your knowledge. Other organizations, such as political groups, may use your information without your direct consent, sometimes in a directly malevolent way (see below).
15. Political Manipulation
Social media can be used by unscrupulous organizations to try and manipulate public opinion in underhand ways. Authoritarian governments have put much energy into swaying elections in democratic countries using social media as a tool to spread false and misleading to create fear, doubt, and confusion. As this has happened in the past, it is likely to continue in the future.
16. Cheating Tool
Social media can be used by children to cheat on their homework or school assignments, either through copying information or collaborating with others online. College students can find other people online to write their essays for them. Fake documentation, such as educational certificates and qualification, can be purchased online to be used to get jobs.
17. Copyright Issues
Unauthorized sharing online can lead to artists, musicians, and businesses missing out on potential earnings and royalties from their work. It has become almost impossible to control certain types of intellectual property. Photographs, for example, are regularly posted online without the owner's permission. While social media is not the only places where this happens, it is where copyrighted material is most spread.
Once something is posted on the internet, it is very difficult and often impossible to delete or recall it. A drunken photo may result in a job interview failure five years later. A loose comment could come back to haunt you and be used in divorce proceedings. Legal troubles or social indiscretions can now have profound implications that you may never escape, because there is no way of wiping them.
These days young kids don't have any place to form an epic adventure. It's more often in front of the TV screen or a laptop. That's very hard on them. They're being taught daily unsocial skills. Facebook is an unsocial skill. It's so sad.
— John Lydon
19. Sexual Issues
Children and young people can be exposed to unsuitable material of a sexual nature. Social media can also provide a platform for teenagers and others send nude or semi-nude photos to each other - this can result in criminal proceedings, or the images being stolen by unscrupulous pornography websites. Pedophiles and other sexual predators can use social media to access vulnerable users.
20. Disproportionate Power
The big social media companies hold a tremendous amount of power and it's effectively concentrated in the hands of just a handful of people. Their power is not just financial, they can also influence the lives of millions through their policies, including which posts they promote, how they manage personal data, and which users they decide to ban. Unlike politicians, these corporate leaders cannot be voted out of office by the public.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: What alternatives are there to using social media?
Answer: Many psychological studies show that socializing face to face has more positive effects on mental health than communicating online. Social media casts a wide net, but socializing in person or even over the phone has more depth, as subtleties of expression as well as emotions can be better expressed. Socializing in person doesn't necessarily have to involve eating and drinking. Joining a sports club can enable the benefits of physical exercise, as well as social contact. Learning a new skill by attending a class can increase knowledge and aptitude, as well as providing a means of developing relationships.
© 2017 Paul Goodman
MONSTER.Moomoo78 on April 07, 2019:
I haven't joined social media other than messages and I pick my friends very carefully and make sure they don't vape (against the law at my age). I don't want to bother with all that along with the fact that I would have to have 3 times as much screen time than I do now but my mom would allow it, then again I just cant take the time to do it.
Fin from Barstow on March 31, 2019:
Well some important points you make. I tried to get rid of social media, but it is so ubiquitous today that I find it necessary to have at least a couple of sites to use professionally. For example, my fb page has a few friends, but I don't do anything personal on it.
With linkedin, it becomes almost necessary as a way to network.
Jason B Truth from United States of America on September 10, 2018:
Paul? You make a lot of interesting points in your article. I think that Google's abuse of its monopoly over most of the Internet has worsened all the problems that you just described. Google has demonetized and even has gone as far as suspending YouTubers' accounts indefinitely for no legitimate reason. At the same time, they allow other Internet users to get away with just about everything. Yet this same corporate colossus seems to be legally untouchable. The Internet needs some kind of cyber czar who will put an end to all these problems.
divakar3368 from Maldives on April 30, 2017:
Super article.....clearly stated the downsides...
Pam Morris from Atlanta Georgia on April 30, 2017:
Great article and very informative