May 16, 2024

7 min read

How to optimize the usage of social media so that it benefits young people?

It is unquestionable that social networks have their advantages and that they were inevitable in the process of digitization and globalization. However, their use greatly affects the quality of life and mental health.

Ivona Narančić

Community Manager

How to optimize the usage of social media so that it benefits young people?

There are currently around 4.5 billion users on social media, and each of them is on average using social media daily for around 145 minutes. The world has changed tremendously since the beginning of the social media era. The fact is that social media helped tremendously people connect worldwide, it helped businesses grow and promote themselves, it can be a great and quick source of information, tool for networking, and so on. But the fact is also that social media has its cons as well. Most of them are related to the quality of life and mental health. 

It is useful to know how social media influences brain chemistry and why it can be so addictive. Before going into this matter it is important to mention that although social media addiction is not categorized as an addiction, in the USA for ex. they have various health clinics and hospitals with programs created to help people who suffer from social media addiction as a compulsive disorder. Similar to gambling or substance addiction, social media can trigger psychological cravings which are the result of dopamine production (the feel-good brain chemical) which happens in response to likes, shares, positive comments, and other positive interactions.

According to a recent Harvard University study, sharing personal information on social networking platforms activates the same brain region associated with addiction, which means that you can feel the same high while posting stuff to social media and when you consume addictive substances, such as cocaine. 

Before we dive deeper into this topic let’s define optimization; it refers to finding the best possible solution to a problem. This article deals with over-consumption of social media, what it does to us and how to optimise it so that it benefits young people.

There are many concerns regarding social media but this article focuses specifically on 4 of them, and then we will talk about possible solutions. First problem related to social media usage are the algorithms, the second problem are fake news, the third is the content we’re consuming via social media, and the forth is the amount of time spent on social media. 

1. Social media uses powerful, yet very biased tools, called algorithms and their main task is to gather information about users’ behavior and the content they’re interested in. Thanks to algorithms social media users often end up in never-ending vicious cycles of personalized content that algorithms are pushing towards us based on content we like. This is called ‘doom scrolling’, and this phenomenon can be dangerous in the sense that it can limit our imagination, our decision-making process, our power of exploration, and narrow down our worldviews and perspective because we’re in the state of an echo chamber. The term echo chamber describes an environment in which an individual is exposed only to information or viewpoints that align with their own.

And exactly this is the reason why so many social media users end up in the illusion that if they’re constantly not using social media they will be missing out, hence the term (FOMO) or fear of missing out. The constant need to stay connected with your community and friends via social media can create the feeling of isolation in case you distance yourself from social media. One starts feeling that he/she is being excluded, missing trends, jokes, invitations etc. According to mental health professionals this all can result in anxieties, depression, feelings of inadequacy and the list goes on. A couple of ways in which we can battle algorithms and the threats they pose is to eliminate suggested feeds when possible as well as to confuse the algorithms for ex.from time to time start showing interest and following content you have 0 interest in, as well as deleting from time to time your search history. 

2. Nowadays information spreads faster than ever and therefore it is crucial to develop the art of critical thinking and not to believe everything we see. We are daily exposed to click baites and fake news and it is super important to know your sources and to be very picky whom you trust. A recent study conducted by MIT scholars has found that false news spreads more rapidly on the social network Twitter than real news does. But how come we fall so easily for fake news? It’s because of the feature of human thinking called cognitive biases. Cognitive biases are mental shortcuts in our thinking processes when we're reasoning, recalling information, or assessing something. They can often result in incorrect conclusions and are present universally; they affect everyone. Several steps that can help you with recognizing fake news: 

Start following consciously credible pages and channels on social media if you are not sure then start fact-checking things you read and hear and make this a habit

Learn the differences for example between news and ads since researches show that young people very often can*t tell the difference between news stories and ads 


3. There is no consensus on how much social media is too much. Research indicates that individuals who exceed 5 hours of daily social media usage are categorized as "addicted." Among teenagers who spend more than five hours each day on social media, the likelihood of exhibiting depressive symptoms is doubled. According to psychologists and psychiatrists if you answer to the following questions with yes then you probably are over-consuming social media and might be addicted as well: 

Is my social media consumption standing in the way of me communicating with real-life people such as my friends and family?

Is it harder for me to focus on everyday activities such as working and studying because of the constant need to check SM?

Am I nervous if I can’t check my SM accounts because of a lack of internet connection or similar reasons?

Am I spending less time doing activities and hobbies I used to enjoy, because of social media?

If your answer to these questions is yes then you could start tracking time spent on social media to become more conscious about your daily or weekly time spent on it. If you estimate that you”re spending too much time on social media start thinking about downloading apps that limit the time you spend on social media, start practicing being away from your phone or laptop, find new hobbies that are not including your phone etc. 

4. We're living in times of influencers who are, for a lot of young people, role models of the 21st century and a very effective tool, so to say, of spreading trends and information. The next point, related somewhat to the previous, is that through social media various lifestyles and beauty standards are being imposed as normal and trends. This can be very harmful for youngsters who have not developed a sense of a healthy body image, self-worth, and so on. 


We mentioned earlier the fear of missing out but there are also other links between depression, anxiety and general mental health with social media. Through social media, of course depending again on algorithms, we are every day bombarded with filtered images of beautiful bodies and faces, of people living luxurious lifestyles and so on. Of course, one starts comparing his/her life and looks with what they see, although you are seeing tremendously manipulated content, which very often has no contact with real life and real things, and people are most of the time sharing only the highlights of their lives but rarely low points. This can lead to erosion of self-esteem, depression etc. With the introduction of various apps social media users started using questionable filters which can dramatically change the shape of your body and face, your height,weight and it’s not possible to trace these with the naked eye. This can easily harm people who already suffer from for ex. eating disorders or body dysmorphia. According to a recent UK study, 90% of women reported using filters or editing their photos to change their appearance. 

When talking about how to control the content you consume on social media, a solution to this threat would be to consciously use social media in the sense that you're aware that every time you are on social media platforms you remind yourself that that is a virtual world, not a real one. Remind yourself of the statistics we mentioned today of how much content you see is fake and is filtered and simply start unfollowing accounts that make you feel less worthy, less beautiful and less smart than you really are. Stop comparing yourself with images that are not real. Love yourself.



*This text is a shortened version of the speech by Ivona Narančić given at the TEDx Sarajevo event on September 23, 2023. You can watch the full speech here



side bannerside bannerside banner
Facebook iconTwitter iconLinkedin icon