The use of social media is highly prevalent among college students, which raises continuous public concerns regarding its implications on social interactions. Therefore, understanding the neural underpinnings of social media sheds light on the diverse impact of social media on its user, both positively and negatively (Abbas et al., 2019). College students use different social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube, and TikTok, among other popular social media platforms. At any given time, over one billion registered users globally are active on social media, whereby nearly three-quarters of them are adolescents and young adults in college (Al-Rahmi & Zeki, 2017). Even though social media use is quite beneficial for college students, as it helps them connect, interact, and network with friends, colleagues, and potential employers/business partners, it has a wide range of negative implications on its users (Ansari & Khan, 2020). Peer pressure may cause both negative and positive consequences on college-going students.
The research study investigates how social media causes negative pressure among college students, leading most to a life of misery and pain instead of the benefits mentioned above. The study’s findings are significant because they will expose the negativity of social media use among college students and inform the suitable approaches to use to contain these social pressures. The researcher will achieve this by synthesizing various literature materials on the implications of social media on college students, testing the following hypothesis as the null and alternative hypotheses.
H1: Social media causes peer pressure among college students.
H0: Social media does not cause peer pressure among college students.
Peer pressure refers to the internal or external force or influence in an individual to do something or act in a particular manner to feel accepted and valued by friends (Boyle et al., 2017). Peer pressure is a common feature among members of the same group, usually triggered by the social nature of human beings, which makes their desire to belong to specific groups, cliques, or cycles in society (Fox & Bird, 2017). Furthermore, belonging to a particular group or social clique brings about a sense of satisfaction for the individual, whether the group they join is good or bad. However, peer pressure is bad because it may result in either positive or negative outcomes because most people cannot cope with peer pressure (Hogue & Mills, 2019). Coping well with peer pressure requires one to get the right balance between being oneself and belonging or fitting in with a group. The prevalence of social media has enhanced the level of peer pressure college students encounter, considering the high numbers of students using social media platforms.
Peer Pressure and Decision-Making
Abbas et al. (2019) peer pressure has pushed teenagers for generations with the need to conform to their surroundings and fit in with their colleagues, friends, and classmates. The rapid rise of social media and its prevalent usage among college-going students has only made things more volatile by making the students more exposed to online peer pressure and pressure from their social worlds. Al-Rahmi & Zeki (2017) shared similar findings, stating that college students are most likely to fall under the pressure of their peers or coercion by their friends in the hopes that it would earn them some social price. However, these perceptions are far from the truth, as most of the decisions they make while attempting to fit into these groups and cliques are poor and may leave them scarred for life. Ansari & Khan (2020) corroborated the above claims, stating that most college students have made poor decisions in joining the wrong company, doing bad things, and even getting a criminal record because of the poor choices attributed to peer pressure.
Boyle et al. (2017) noted that peer pressure created through social media significantly influences college students. This is pointed out from the fact that social groups are more common on social media platforms compared to the social world, as they get exposed to content from other college students from different parts of the world, not necessarily confined to content from their school. Fox & Bird (2017) supported the above claims, stating that, like other social groups, social media groups also demand those wishing to join them to perform some activities or undergo a specific process to show their commitment or passion for joining the group. However, most of these ‘ritual’ or ‘initiation’ processes are not always good and push college students into breaking the law to get the approval of their peers. Hogue & Mills (2019) further noted that aside from having to fulfill some crazy demands from their peers to belong, social media also creates peer pressure among college students through the comparative perspective.
Keles, McCrae & Grealish (2020) noted that most social media users use their platforms to create content about themselves or those around them. In most cases, college students post pictures about themselves and the fun activities and achievements that they’ve had, such as good grades, good girlfriends or boyfriends, expensive shopping, exquisite lunch dates or dinner, and luxury holidays, among others. Talaue et al. (2018) shared similar findings, stating that such posts create pressure among their fellow coursemates in college, especially those that have not achieved or accomplished similar heights as them. Students with a high level of comparison perspectives will be badly affected by such posts, pushing them to make poor decisions to fit in. Walker et al. (2021) identified this as the indirect form of peer pressure where an individual pushes themself to belong to a particular group even without the other group stipulating the conditions that they must fulfill to join the group.
Weinstein (2018) stated that because of the peer pressure that students get from social media use, some of them end up faking a life on social media, which is different from their real lives so that they too appear to be accomplished on social media even when they are doing very poorly. Abbas et al. (2019) shared similar findings, arguing that there was a lot of fake life on social media, which had permeated into real life, whereby people packaged and presented themselves to be doing very well and successful in life was not their actual status. This is primarily attributed to the massive pressure they encounter through social media platforms. Al-Rahmi & Zeki (2017) noted that some go an extra mile of obtaining what they must to get the social recognition and belonging they desire through inappropriate means, simply because of the peer pressure arising from social media platforms. In most cases, they involve themselves in illegal or immoral activities that would guarantee them quick money without much struggle.
Implications of Peer Pressure
Ansari & Khan (2020) stated that many college students are willing to put their health and safety at risk to achieve the gratification from their peers that they too deserve or have what it takes to belong to their social circles. In most cases, the risks taken have far-reaching implications on their health and well-being, both during their college years and through their future. Boyle et al. (2017) argued that some of the pressures these college students experience include shoplifting, drinking alcohol, trying drugs, and making mature decisions not meant for teenagers, such as being a parent before gaining financial stability/security. Fox & Bird (2017) noted that these decisions have long-lasting implications, such as becoming an alcoholic in the future simply because one was forced to drink alcohol by their peers, or being addicted to drugs because they were forced to taste by their peers, or struggling with family planning challenges because one became a parent unprepared.
Hogue & Mills (2019) stated that teenagers who are adversely affected by peer pressure from their friends are commonly insecure, less confident, and want to have the approval of others before they can make a decision that has an impact on their lives. In most cases, the decisions made aim at pleasing others, as opposed to making good for themselves. Keles, McCrae & Grealish (2020) supported the above findings, arguing that giving in to peer pressure provides teens more control over their social life and a feeling of belongingness or fitting in. some go as far as doing cosmetic surgeries to achieve the physical appeal and beauty that their peers demand to initiate them into their social circles. Talaue et al. (2018) noted that teen peer pressure combined with social media becomes particularly harmful because there is no control over the limit or extent of exposure and vulnerability a college student encounters through online platforms.
Walker et al. (2021) established that peer pressure to use alcohol and drugs was perceived as typical only in social gatherings and school settings. Still, social media created a system that encourages college students to imbibe narcotics and substance abuse by seeing the activities of their friends and colleagues posted online. Weinstein (2018) also noted that social media triggers feelings of social anxiety and unrest for most college students, which can push them into making poor decisions if not checked, as the adolescents seek to gain more control over their social status and acceptance of their peers. In most cases, the peers influenced the growth of problematic behaviors among the youth. Hogue & Mills (2019) noted that when a peer wanted to join a group, he/she had to act or behave in a manner approved of members of the group, whereby some of the behavioral expectations were bad or misleading, such as a group routine to smoke cigarettes, to drink alcohol, to use drugs or banned substances, or engage in crimes. In this regard, a college student will have to learn and practice bad behaviors just to belong in a peer group.
Positive Peer Pressure
Abbas et al. (2019) argued that much as social media is blamed for creating negative peer pressure among college students, there are cases where social media creates positive peer pressure among these vulnerable groups. However, this is mainly dependent on the crowd or group that one associates themself with, as a good crowd exposes individuals to good behaviors and encourages positive habits. Al-Rahmi & Zeki (2017) noted that some peers could provide exposure to healthy lifestyles and act as role models to their colleagues on how to lead a positive life. Positive effects of peer pressure include a sense of belonging, support, increased self-esteem, increased self-confidence, enhanced sense of self, and introduction to positive interests and hobbies. Ansari & Khan (2020) added that the key to finding positive peer pressure depended on the social groups that college students chose to identify themselves with, and as such, selecting groups that cared about their well-being and social health ensured positive outcomes in terms of controlling the impact of social pressure.
Role of Parents and Guardians
Boyle et al. (2017) stated that many college students had made poor decisions that destroyed their entire lives because of the peer pressure they encountered through various social media platforms. In this regard, parents and guardians still play a critical role in guiding students on how best to deal with peer pressure from social media so that they don’t make the wrong decisions. Fox & Bird (2017) supported the above claims, stating that the biggest challenge that most college students encounter is to find a group of peers who encourage them to make sound decisions and form healthy habits, as it is usually the first time for them to live independently and far from their homes. Hogue & Mills (2019) added that parents and guardians should not assume that simply because their college students are now mature enough to live in the school with their peers, they no longer need the guidance and correction that they used to provide when they were still studying from home (Keles, McCrae & Grealish, 2020). The trend should continue to encourage them to learn how to discern between good and bad company, good and bad influence, such that they end up choosing the right social groups that guarantee positive peer pressure instead of negative peer pressure.
The synthesis of the literature review materials revealed supported the thesis statement by indicating how social media causes peer pressure among college students. Findings from different scholars indicated that peer pressure was a common development among college students. This was a phase in their lives when they learned to be independent of the influence or guidance of their parents and guardians. Most moved to study far away from their homes. The college students had to make independent decisions regarding their social lives, such as the friends and company that they had to keep while in college. In this regard, they encountered peer pressure to interact with or seek to belong to specific groups within their social circles. The prevalence of social media platforms by college students further exacerbated peer pressure among these college students through online platforms. Therefore, the findings from the literature review confirm the null hypothesis that social media causes peer pressure among college students, thereby disregarding the alternate hypothesis that social media does not cause peer pressure among college students. Further research is required to weigh in on these literature review findings and confirm the accuracy of the hypothesis as applied to college-going students.
Abbas, J., Aman, J., Nurunnabi, M., & Bano, S. (2019). The impact of social media on learning behavior for sustainable education: Evidence of students from selected universities in Pakistan. Sustainability, 11(6), 1683.
Al-Rahmi, W. M., & Zeki, A. M. (2017). A model of using social media for collaborative learning to enhance learners’ performance on learning. Journal of King Saud University-Computer and Information Sciences, 29(4), 526-535.
Ansari, J. A. N., & Khan, N. A. (2020). Exploring the role of social media in collaborative learning the new domain of learning. Smart Learning Environments, 7(1), 1-16.
Boyle, S. C., Earle, A. M., LaBrie, J. W., & Ballou, K. (2017). Facebook dethroned: Revealing the more likely social media destinations for college students’ depictions of underage drinking. Addictive behaviors, 65, 63-67.
Fox, A., & Bird, T. (2017). The challenge to professionals of using social media: Teachers in England negotiating personal-professional identities. Education and Information Technologies, 22(2), 647-675.
Hogue, J. V., & Mills, J. S. (2019). The effects of active social media engagement with peers on body image in young women. Body image, 28, 1-5.
Keles, B., McCrae, N., & Grealish, A. (2020). A systematic review: the influence of social media on depression, anxiety and psychological distress in adolescents. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 25(1), 79-93.
Talaue, G. M., AlSaad, A., AlRushaidan, N., AlHugail, A., & AlFahhad, S. (2018). The impact of social media on academic performance of selected college students. International Journal of Advanced Information Technology, 8(4/5), 27-35.
Walker, C. E., Krumhuber, E. G., Dayan, S., & Furnham, A. (2021). Effects of social media use on desire for cosmetic surgery among young women. Current Psychology, 40(7), 3355-3364.
Weinstein, E. (2018). The social media see-saw: Positive and negative influences on adolescents’ affective well-being. New Media & Society, 20(10), 3597-3623.