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.
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.
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.
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.