- Social Media: Its Use, Overuse and Academic Impact

Social Media: Its Use, Overuse and Academic Impact

By David Griffin

The ever-growing presence of social media in our lives is undeniable. Platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter enable immediate and constant interaction between users spanning time zones, countries and cultures. Our usage of these platforms has also grown considerably, particularly for those in younger age groups. Between 2005 and 2015, for example, social media usage in those aged 18 to 29 years increased from 12% to 90%.

This growth in use is down to a range of factors. In the Global North, most of us now carry a smartphone and are privileged with near constant access to the internet. This facilitates our evolving relationship with, and dependence on, social media. What was once predominantly used for ‘social interaction’ is what many of us now rely on as a primary source of news, opinion and current affairs. Platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo provide seeming infinite content, covering everything from entertainment to education, politics to philosophy. This content is provided with encouragement to socially interact with other users, through commenting, sharing and ‘liking’.

Inevitably, increased use and dependence has positive and negative effects. A recent study at an Indian medical college, sought to quantify these effects in terms of impact on student academic performance (Bhandarkar et al., 2021). They asked 400 undergraduate medical students in their second, third and fourth years to complete a questionnaire. This questionnaire covered participants’ academic performance, duration and purpose of their social media usage and self-reporting of their reliance on or addiction to social media. In their definition of social media, the researchers included all applications which enabled conversation, commenting and the sharing of information between users, including texting and instant messaging.

The results of this study were fascinating. Forty-two percent of students reported daily social media usage of 1-3 hours. For almost a third of participants, however, this usage was in the range of 3-5 hours. When usage was examined in tandem with academic performance, a weak but significant negative correlation was found. This suggests that the more time students spend engaging with social media, the more negatively their grades are affected. This may be unsurprising. Similar studies have found social media dependence to be associated with reduced quality of sleep and increased academic procrastination, leading to academic stress in learners (Azizi et al., 2019). Another interesting finding from this study was that time spent on social media was strongly positively correlated with addiction to it, using a validated psychometric scale. While this finding alone fails to determine cause and effect, it is worrying for those students potentially affected by addiction.

However, it must be stressed that not all social media usage should be deemed wholly negative. As previously outlined, applications such as YouTube and Vimeo contain vast educational resources. This was reiterated by this study, with 67% of participants reporting social media use at least in part for educational purposes. When we consider that modern day students prefer online and interactive learning to traditional lectures (Hopkins et al., 2018), this makes sense.

This work by Bhandarkar et al. (2021) concludes by recommending academic institutions should inform their student bodies of the positive and negative effects of social media. While educators have little ability to remove social media from the lives of their students, they can provide them with tools to inform their usage. This may enable learners to take advantage of the benefits of social media, while avoiding the dangers of overuse and dependence.

FAQ

Q: How do students perceive the impact of social media on their academic performance and personal well-being?

A: Students' perceptions of the impact of social media on their academic performance and personal well-being are varied. Some students may view social media as a valuable tool for learning and socialising, enhancing their knowledge and providing a platform for peer support. They might appreciate the access to educational content and the ability to connect with classmates and educators, which can enrich their academic experience. On the other hand, there are students who may feel overwhelmed by the constant flow of information and the pressure to maintain a social presence online, leading to distractions and increased stress levels. The concept of student voice is crucial in this context, as it involves listening to and valuing the opinions and experiences of students themselves. By incorporating student voice into research and discussions about social media use, educators and policymakers can gain a deeper understanding of its benefits and drawbacks from the perspective of those directly affected.

Q: Are there specific types of social media content that have a more pronounced positive or negative effect on students' learning and mental health?

A: Yes, the type of social media content can significantly influence its impact on students' learning and mental health. Educational content, such as tutorial videos, academic discussions, and interactive learning modules, can positively affect learning by providing students with additional resources to understand complex subjects. These resources can cater to different student needs and make education more accessible. However, content that promotes unrealistic expectations, such as those related to body image, lifestyle, and success, can have a negative impact on mental health, leading to issues like anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Content that leads to cyberbullying or exposes students to harmful communities can also adversely affect mental health. Understanding the nature of these impacts requires a nuanced approach, possibly incorporating text analysis to examine the themes and sentiments expressed in social media content and their correlations with student well-being and academic outcomes.

Q: How can text analysis techniques be used to better understand the nature of student interactions on social media platforms and its effects on their academic life?

A: Text analysis techniques can be incredibly useful for exploring the nature of student interactions on social media and their effects on academic life. By analysing the language, sentiment, and topics of conversation in students' posts, comments, and messages, researchers can identify patterns and trends that shed light on how students use social media for academic purposes and how it affects their learning and well-being. For example, sentiment analysis could reveal the overall emotional tone of discussions related to schoolwork, potentially identifying areas where students feel stressed or confident. Topic modeling could uncover the most common subjects of discussion, highlighting what students are most interested in or concerned about. This approach can provide educators and policymakers with valuable insights into the role of social media in education, informing strategies to support positive use and mitigate negative effects. Incorporating student voice through these analyses ensures that students' experiences and perspectives are central to understanding and addressing the impacts of social media on academic life.

References:

Azizi SM, Soroush A, Khatony A (2019) The relationship between social networking addiction and academic performance in Iranian students of medical sciences: a cross-sectional study. BMC Psychol. 7(1):28.
DOI: 10.1186/s40359-019-0305-0

Bhandarkar AM, Pandey AK, Nayak R, Pujary K, Kumar A (2021) Impact of social media on the academic performance of undergraduate medical students. Med J. Armed Forces India 77(1):S37-S41.
DOI: 10.1016/j.mjafi.2020.10.021

Hopkins L, Hampton BS, Abbott JF, Buery-Joyner SD, Craig BL et al. (2018) To the point: medical education, technology, and the millennial learner. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 218(2):188e192.
DOI: 10.1016/j.ajog.2017.06.001

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