BALTIMORE, Md. (WJZ) — Hate it or love it, social media has become a major part of many of our lives. But our reliance on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok can also be a double-edged sword.

On one hand, social media platforms are a great way for people to connect with friends and acquaintances. On the other hand, it can and foster feelings of jealousy and animosity among people who would normally get along.

As a communications expert recently explained to WJZ, young people are especially vulnerable to the effects of social media — for better or worse.

“It plays a role nobody could have possibly imagined 10 years ago,” said Dr. Elliot King, professor of communications at Loyola University Maryland.

Dr. King said recent testimony provided to Congress by a former Facebook employee confirms what social science research has been for some time: that social media can be particularly harmful to children.

“There’s no training that we’re being manipulated by social media platforms that’s known,” King said. “It would be good if we taught kids or adults how they’re being manipulated, so when they’re being manipulated, they can say, ‘Oh, you’re manipulating me.'”

Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee turned whistleblower, compared Facebook to cigarettes, according to CBS News.

“Facebook understands that if they want to continue to grow, they have to find new users,” Haugen testified. “They have to make sure that that next generation is just as engaged on Instagram as the current one, and the way they’ll do that is by making sure that children establish habits before they have good self-regulation.”

As Dr. King pointed out, it’s important to keep in mind that the goal of social media is to keep people engaged. Platforms want users to keep scrolling because ultimately they’re selling your attention to advertisers.

Another thing users should consider, King said, is that consuming images and video of other people’s seemingly perfect lives can affect young people’s self-esteem and body image.

That’s why some parents keep tabs on how their children use social media, or how much time if spent browsing these platforms.

Lisa Kelemen said she’s always monitoring her teenagers’ activity on social media.

“It just seems like social anxiety is on the rise, and it seems like kids are really finding more comfort behind a screen,” Kelemen said. “And so that’s just a real concern for me.”

Peter Adams is a grandparent who believes communication is key when it comes to educating children about social media. That’s been his approach with his 12-year-old grandson.

“If you’re constantly looking at TikTok, Instagram, nothing wrong with Facebook, but you have to know when to cut it on and when to cut it off,” Adams said. “And I think that’s what a lot of our young people don’t realize.”

 

Rachel Menitoff