We often hear about the ways social media breeds unhealthy habits, like addictive scrolling, jealousy, and self-comparison. In fact, a recent study found that out of five popular social media platforms, Instagram, where people display the best parts of their lives front and center, ranks as the worst for people’s mental health.
Still, we shouldn’t ignore the benefits of social media on our emotional wellbeing. Social media isn’t inherently bad for mental health, and it can be positive and uplifting if used in the right way.
1. Social media deepens your sense of community
Sure, scrolling through social media should never take the place of personal interaction with the people in your neighborhood, at your work, or at your school.
But there are other communities that you don’t engage with everyday, and with which you rarely have the opportunity to engage in-person. These are communities that you build in addition to the ones you’re part of at home. Often, they’re communities you didn’t even know existed, communities of people who share your interests and hobbies and who live all over the country and all over the world.
You might, for example, uncover a global community of backpackers through sites like Couchsurfing and strengthen that community based on your shared interests and through your online connections with them on social media. You might find people who relate to this hobby, who can talk with you and give you advice, and whom you wouldn’t be able to otherwise access in-person.
Or you might be new at a university and join a social media group that’s specifically for new admits. When you feel lost and isolated in a new place, you can find a source of comfort in engaging online with people who are navigating the same problems you are.
We can see this in ever-popular chat apps like Line and WhatsApp. The group chats that these platforms facilitate aren’t merely about making texting more convenient. More importantly, they’re about maintaining relationships with the communities we’re a part of and the people we love.
2. Social media builds personal empowerment
While there’s lots of talk about social media lowering one’s self-esteem, it can also have the opposite effect if used correctly.
When you get involved in an online community, you’re not just developing a network of friends. You’re also engaging with hobbies you love, cultivating your own interests, and shaping your sense of identity, in part, around those hobbies and interests. You create an identity for yourself that grows out of your experience in a community–whether you’re a Star Wars lover or an arts and crafts guru.
Social media platforms can also build personal empowerment by helping you form a network of people who lie outside your family or immediate community but who nonetheless support you in your interests and passions. URIJI, for example, is a platform that lets people share their goals and life projects through images and video, allowing them to use social media to explore the experiences that define them as individuals. It also lets their followers offer donations and words of encouragement, providing users with a supportive digital community.
Because social media allows people to explore their own interests while engaging with their digital communities, it can help boost self-esteem and make people feel encouraged in the pursuit of their goals, whether they’re fitness goals, travel goals, or something else.
3. Social media keeps you in touch with relatives and old friends
Surveys have shown that nearly two thirds of social media users primarily use the digital platforms to keep in touch with family and friends. Social media provides us with updates on the lives of our loved ones back home, filling in the gaps between our infrequent visits. We can see how much our brother’s kids have grown, or we can hear about our friend’s recent trip abroad.
Chat apps have made staying in touch even easier, since they allow us to text and make phone calls without a data plan. The principle of staying in touch is even built into the design of apps like Tinyblu, which sends reminders to users when they go too long without contacting their friends.
Platforms that don’t necessarily involve direct conversation still go deeper than just mindless scrolling. Even the biggest social media platforms are less about stalking and more about keeping up with the ever-evolving lives of the people we care about. We better understand what our friend’s life is like in New York, for example, when we get visuals of her day-to-day activity on Snapchat. This is stuff that we just don’t get over the phone, and it makes us feel a little less disconnected from so far away.
4. Social media keeps you engaged in causes you care about
The purpose of social media, of course, isn’t just to stay updated with friends. It’s also to stay updated with causes and organizations you care about.
Keeping up with the work of your favorite volunteer organizations, for example, can boost your optimism about the causes you believe in. Following the progress of organizations that are important to you helps you stay up-to-date with causes you care about, whether they’re climate change, disaster relief, or something else.
Tracking organizations on social media is also more convenient and efficient than separately visiting each of their websites or reading each of their newsletters. On top of that, mainstream platforms like Twitter and Facebook drive publicity for your favorite causes, spreading the word about important current events.
5. Social media lets you spread joy
Often, when scrolling through a news site, we’re bombarded with information about global tragedies and local crime–and we’re given little information about worldwide acts of compassion or the kindness of strangers.
Social media sites, though, have proven good vehicles for disseminating more positive information. In fact, unlike on news sites, most of the stuff we read on social media–whether they’re updates from friends or shared posts–is uplifting and, often, humorous.
While anything–social media included–can be used in unhealthy ways, our obsession with social media is more good than bad. We use social media to stay updated with all the good stuff going on in the world and to add humor to long days at work and early morning bus rides. We use social media to stay in touch with family and friends, and to strengthen our sense of community. And we use social media to empower ourselves as we engage with our passions. All this keeps us a little more optimistic.