You’re at your desk with a fresh cup of coffee, ready to get cracking on the long–and fascinating, as your teacher put it–physics worksheet. Oh, and it’s due bright and early the next day—you’ve got a long night ahead of you. But then your phone lights up, and the notifications roll in. You could put the phone away until you finish (you told yourself you would!), but how much harm is a few minutes?

45 minutes later, you’re deep into figuring out how your horoscope corresponds with every friend on Snapchat. 

Welcome to the age of social media. 

Likely, you’ve learned, to some extent, about how social media can harm mental health, focus, wellbeing, quality of life, sleep, etc. Perhaps you’ve taken it in but thought, I’ll be fine. Most of us tend to engage in this kind of thinking from time to time. Sometimes we believe ourselves to be the outlier. This is textbook self-exceptionalism. As humans, we often consider ourselves to be kinder, more rational, or smarter than most.

Well, other than the handful of super-humans out there–Usain Bolt qualifies?–most of us are not. But this is great news! It means we’re all in the same boat. We’re all susceptible to social media’s consequences. 

Social media has addictive properties

Understanding–scientifically–how social media works is a great way to become a more informed consumer. The reality is, social media has the potential to suck you in and make you a chronic consumer. In fact, over several years, researchers have found that social media may have addictive properties similar to drugs.

Social media basically acts like a PEZ dispenser, except instead of feeding sugar, it feeds dopamine. Just like with sugar, once you get it, you only want more. And when you don’t have it, you may go through some sort of a “crash,” or withdrawal. 

In a 2019 study on the relationship between social networking addiction and academic performance, researchers found that students who were addicted to social networking had significantly lower academic performances. 

Similarly, findings from a 2015 study demonstrated that both the amount of time spent on social media and the extent to which one is addicted have negative impacts on academic performance. 

Although we have the ability to turn off notifications or the device, social pressure still nudges us. No one likes feeling out of the loop. Plus, we love to be a part of something, which social media provides: eternal community.

And you can’t ignore the bandwagon effect, how we strive to conform to what everyone else is doing in social situations. This effect is particularly prevalent for adolescent students, who are more influenceable than others. Research shows that most people change their perception to conform with the rest of the group–and this effect decreases with age. 

Social media use and academic performance are significantly related

Science Daily conducted a meta analysis of several studies focusing on the effects of social media on academic performance, finding that: 

  1. Students who regularly use Instagram while studying tend to perform slightly worse than students who don’t use social media while studying. 
  2. Pupils who often log into social media and spend lots of time using social media have very slightly lower grades than those who aren’t avid social media users. 

Time and time again, research has shown that humans aren’t that great at balancing multiple tasks, although we often assume ourselves to be fantastic multitaskers!  

In a study from 2021, researchers looked at the effects of social media among university students, finding that out of 300 students, 97% engaged in social media, with only 1% using it for educational reasons. Additionally, 57% of them were addicted! This provides a glimpse at not only the sheer volume of social media consumption, but its powerful effects. 

Social media affects sleep and, in turn, academic performance

It’s impossible to avoid the fact that as social media prevalence has increased, we’ve changed–we’ve become a high-paced, high-stress society. We always have access to channels of communication, which, yes, has tons of benefits. For instance, we are blessed with long distance communication, emergency phone calls, large-scale team meetings, among other positives.

But at the same time, we’re getting burnt out, because “downtime” for many people is never truly downtime. Also, it can be tough to get that high-quality sleep we crave and need, especially with the constant notifications. 

Research shows that there is a direct link between social media usage and sleep deprivation. For many, it’s the norm to engage in social media before bed—this can be harmful in several ways. 

First, social media is distracting and can push bedtime back. Second, the bluescreen light negatively affects how we sleep. Sleep Health Journal found that exposure to blue screens in the evening can have consequences such as morning grogginess, daytime dysfunction, and decreased sleep quality. 

And I’m sure you can guess how this further affects academic performance. Students can easily develop a cycle where they engage in extreme social media usage, have poor quality sleep, and then have poorer academic performance.

It’s not all bad news!

While this can seem dreary and daunting–I’m sure plenty of researchers would say social media is taking us down a dangerous path–it’s not all bad. Science Daily’s meta-analysis mentioned above points to a silver lining.

The research showed that:

  1. Those who use social media mainly to communicate about academic/school-related topics tend to have marginally better grades than those who use social media for non academic-related matters.
  2. Students who are especially active on social media don’t spend less time studying.

So, these results tell us what?

Well, first of all, social media is not innately harmful! The first finding says just that–these students were using social media “intensively,” and did not have lower academic performances. So from that, we can see that a) social media isn’t always bad for students and that b) when used for school-related issues, it usually isn’t harmful. 

The second finding is key to understanding how to moderate your social media use. If you exercise self-control to allocate your time to studying when you need to study, and reserve browsing social media for other times, you can still excel academically!

How can social media improve academic performance?

Evidently, there’s potential danger in the rise of social media, but there’s also overlooked student benefits. Furthermore, during this weird time where lots of students are still learning remotely, understanding how to use social media to our advantage is important. 

A 2020 empirical study that examined how social media may regulate collaborative learning provides us with some useful takeaways. 

First, the researchers found that collaborative learning through social mediums leads to high levels of interactions between students. This includes sharing knowledge and ideas, which may be through forums and discussion posts. Additionally, they found that conversations with teachers through social media lead to a high degree of student engagement.    

They also noted that student engagement is positively correlated with academic performance. Generally, there was a significant and positive relationship between online knowledge sharing and student engagement. 

From this, we can recognize that when utilizing collaborative learning on social mediums, students can improve their academic performance. 

Windsor University provides more information on how social media can be beneficial to students, such as:

  • Improving practical skills through informational videos
  • Helping students with research projects by offering data and survey results
  • Providing students with valid and reliable sources and data that helps them complete assignments and prepare for lessons

Informative learning and moderation is key

Since social media and technology aren’t going anywhere, let’s take in all the facts the science, and take action. You don’t have to starve yourself of social media. Instead, you can practice exercising moderation and learn new ways to craft your schedule. 

We can celebrate social media’s positive and, hopefully, guard ourselves against its negative effects. 


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