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COLUMN: Social media doesn’t just affect young people

Studies have examined effects of social media use in Canada

There’s a growing level of concern about the effects of social media use among young people.

In Ontario, four large school boards are suing social media giants Meta Platforms Inc., Snap Inc. and ByteDance. These platforms operate Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. Those behind the action say the social media companies have knowingly created products that are addictive and marketed to children.

“The influence of social media on today’s youth at school cannot be denied,” said Colleen Russell-Rawlins, director of education with the Toronto District School Board. “It leads to pervasive problems such as distraction, social withdrawal, cyberbullying, a rapid escalation of aggression, and mental health challenges. Therefore, it is imperative that we take steps to ensure the well-being of our youth.”

In a 2018 survey conducted by Statistics Canada, one in five Canadians reported losing sleep and being less physically active because of their social media use. This figure rose to 47 per cent of those between the ages of 15 and 19.

There are also negative feelings following the use of social media. These are most common among those 30 and younger, with 20 per cent feeling depressed or anxious when using social media. Between 18 and 24 per cent of those under 35 reported they have felt jealous of others on social media.

The Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario has addressed issues surrounding what it terms problematic internet use.

“For some people, frequent use of social network sites can lead to patterns that can be compulsive and have negative impacts,” the organization said in a recent report.

The Canadian Paediatric Society has also spoken out about social media use among young people.

“Evidence gaps exist on the long-term impacts of social media use and overuse due to novel technologies, but there are enough red flags to warrant action,” the society said in late 2023.

The concern for the well-being of young people is important, but the problems associated with social media use do not disappear as people age. The mental health issues surrounding social media affect people of all ages.

The Statistics Canada study showed 28 per cent of those between 20 and 24, and between 16 and 21 per cent of those 25 to 49 lost sleep and were less physically active because of social media use. These are lower percentages than the figure for younger social media users, but the numbers are still significant.

The study on depression showed that among those users aged 30 and 49, between 12 and 15 per cent have felt depressed or anxious when using social media. While this is lower than the number for younger users, it shows there are people of many ages who are negatively affected by social media.

Information released in March, 2024 showed Canadians of all ages spent an average of six hours 35 minutes a day on the internet. Of that, just over two hours was spent on social media. The social media component alone translates to more than 14 hours in a week, or more than 31 days in a year.

All this addresses issues surrounding social media platforms and the way they are used. The effect of the content posted on social media is a separate but related topic.

Some are identifying problems with their social media use and are taking steps to address this issue.

Internet and Technology Addicts Anonymous was formed in June, 2017 after the original members recognized they had a severe problem with compulsive internet and technology use. While the organization does not have in-person meetings in Canada, there are many online meetings available, in numerous languages.

This shows a recognition that issues surrounding social media are serious and are not confined to just one age demographic.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

John Arendt

About the Author: John Arendt

John Arendt has worked as a journalist for more than 30 years. He has a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Journalism degree from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute.
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