The Benefits and Hazards (Psychologically) of Social Media

During these stressful times, Facebook and other social media have become all-too-accessible pastimes. It’s easy to get caught up in the breathless nonsense, myth and unsubstantiated proclamations that seems to dominate Facebook – especially now.  In a recent article and study, Martin Graff, Ph.D., asks, “Do you crave Facebook likes?” People tell me all the time: “The attention I get from social media is important to me,” or, “I consider someone to be popular based on the number of ‘likes’ they get in social media.”  If you use social media, do you consider these statements to be accurate descriptions of you, or are you not concerned or influenced by such things?

I believe it’s not really about social media itself. Psychology and self-esteem were relevant before social media, and they will still be relevant when and if social media eventually passes away and is replaced by some other technology.

People use social media in different ways. If you need validation for yourself, then you will likely depend more on social media for that validation than you otherwise would. Social media does not cause your lack of self-validation; it can, however, serve as an excuse, delay or distraction, sort of like a drug, from the fact that you don’t validate yourself in the first place.

Validation is more of an emotionally held conviction than anything deliberate and conscious, and it’s closely related to self-esteem. Self-esteem is basically a sense that you are fundamentally fit for life and existence, and that you deserve the honestly earned fruits of your labor. Validation differs slightly in that it refers more to the method by which you know things, combined with your personal confidence in using that method. If you have self-esteem, then you feel confident about knowing reality through the reasoning, thinking and sensory processes of your mind. “My observations have merit. My reasoning process is plausible and trustworthy.” You don’t necessarily say this to yourself, but you feel it on a deep level.

It’s not just a matter of trusting your own reasoning. It’s a matter of trusting reasoning as such. Reason is man’s tool of survival. It’s how people know things. Every invention I value or admire — my clothing, my computer, my running water, my car — came about because of someone’s reasoning and thinking, applied to productive action. When you trust reasoning as such, the psychological stage is set to trust your own reasoning.

Children who are neither taught the value and power of reason, nor provided with the skills to reason for themselves will not develop a strong sense of self-esteem as adults, unless they find other ways to acquire it on their own. As a result, they will tend to look elsewhere for validation of reality. In extreme cases, they might fall prey to cults or substance abuse. Or, perhaps less extreme though on the same faulty principle, they will be prone to what “significant others” say is true or right. They might care first and foremost about the opinions of their peers, their town, the culture, “society” or a supernatural entity, secular or entertainment “authorities.” Whatever combination of others it involves, it has little or nothing to do with their own validation/evaluation of truth and reality.

Social media, in such a context, can therefore become a crutch. It can become a way to replace or compensate for authentic, confident self-validation. “Oh, look,” is the unexpressed feeling. “I have lots of friends on Facebook. Lots of people like my picture, or what I’m doing. I must be on the right track.” To someone with authentic self-esteem, it would never occur to them to think or feel this way.

Intellectually self-sufficient individuals do not need this kind of validation. They might enjoy some of it, or they might eschew it altogether; but they do not require it in order to feel good about themselves. Why? Because they have full confidence in their own reasoning, judging, evaluating and critically thinking minds to know what’s true – with or without the approval of others. At most, social media is simply a way of connecting with other people, rather than a psychological crutch for those who desperately crave validation.