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Social Media’s Impact on Self-Esteem

Whether loved or loathed, social media is now an integral part of the communication landscape of contemporary life. As an internet-based communication avenue, social media has earned immense recognition and popularity in the last two decades. The power of this interactive technology has left long-term effects on users. People express varied views and perspectives of these effects. While some tout social media as a digital solution to curb loneliness, significant research efforts and media accounts have confirmed that it undeniably has the opposite impact, especially damaging people’s self-esteem.

There is no doubt that Facebook and other social media platforms have brought substantial benefits to people in modern society. For instance, they allow people to interact effortlessly, have seamless conversations, share content, information, and ideas promptly, communicate electronically, broaden professional knowledge, and create and maintain social connections (Caron & Light, 2015; Luttrell, 2018). However, the impact of these interactive communication technologies on other social life domains such as self-esteem cannot go unnoticed. Researchers have not fully established a direct causative association between social media use and mental health. Even so, the augmented rates of depression, self-victimizations, anxiety, and other mental health issues among young people spending large amounts of time in social networking are outright indications of the damaging effects of social media on these individuals’ self-esteem.

Essentially, scholars have found evidence to affirm a direct causative relationship between social media and low self-esteem. For instance, Bergagna and Tartaglia (2018) empirically explored the relationship between the amount of time people spend on Facebook and self-esteem and found positive correlations. Other research findings by Jan, Soomro, and Ahmad (2017) indicate that augmented social media usage diminishes people’s self-esteem. Using in-depth interviews with women and men aged between 28 and 73, Silva (2017) statistically found out that 60% of active social media users reported that it has damagingly impacted their self-esteem. A more recent study by Jiang and Ngien (2020) corroborated these earlier findings by affirming that spending more time on Instagram and other social media increases predispositions to low self-esteem. The diminished self-esteem culminates in social anxiety, self-victimization, and blaming others. All these research findings are sufficient proof that using Facebook and other social media has detrimental ramifications for people’s self-esteem.

The mechanisms of how Facebook and other social media affect people’s self-esteem adversely are evident. The bedrock of these mechanisms is social comparisons. Scholars and media specialists have demonstrated consensuses that the more time people spend on Instagram, Facebook, and other social media, the more likely they compare themselves socially. In their study, Bergagna and Tartaglia (2018) established that tendencies towards social comparisons directly mediate relationships between self-esteem and the intensity of Facebook usage. Jan, Soomro, and Ahmad (2017) verified that 88% of people using Facebook engross themselves with social comparisons. Statistically, 98% of them are mostly upward social comparisons. The upward comparisons that people make on Facebook and other social networking platforms drive them towards negative self-evaluations that lower their self-esteem.

Laplante (2022) observes that social media usage amplifies unrealistic online social comparisons among users, culminating in diminished self-esteem and augmented social anxiety. This author adds that these social comparisons can be avenues by which people use what others broadcast online to evaluate their skills, achievements, emotions, and personalities. Similarly, Jiang and Ngien (2020) recently observed that a higher intensity of Facebook and social media usage increases tendencies to engage in social comparisons. Consequently, the extrinsic social approval of the self that people derive from comparing themselves with others on social media drives them to low self-esteem characterized by increased social anxiety. From another outlook, Silva (2017) suggests that social networking only broadcasts positive aspects of people’s lives or what the author dubs the highlight reels. When people get these highlight reels and compare their lives against them, the natural reaction will entail reinforcing poor perceptions of their self-images and self-worth. Besides triggering these perceptions, such social comparisons against other individuals’ highlight reels can stimulate depression, anxiety, and psychotic disorders (Jan, Soomro, & Ahmad, 2017; Silva, 2017). Ultimately, such negative self-evaluations and self-disapprovals and the related underlying psychological distress can breed low self-esteem.

In summary, social media use has ramifications for people’s self-esteem. Users of Facebook, Instagram, and other social networking sites tend to make social comparisons of themselves to others. When doing so, users fail to realize that people portray only positive aspects of their lives, creating the illusion that they are doing better than the users. By triggering comparison with others, social media raises users’ doubts about their self-worth and self-images. These negative self-evaluations are some core causes of low self-esteem.

Stereotypes: Sources and Resistance to Change

Discourses about stereotypes are nothing new in mainstream media and research contexts. Stereotypes have persisted for years in the domains of diversity characteristics such as age, gender, ethnicity, race, and sexual orientation. Stereotypes can be positive in that they uphold positive attributions to certain groups. However, they are habitually negative, evinced by characterizations and generalizations that belittle certain target groups. Irrespective of the nature of stereotypes, two interesting questions worth considering relate to the genesis of stereotypes and why they persist or are resistant to change. Responses to these questions are certainly debatable, revealing interesting thoughts about where stereotypes come from and factors underlying their endurance.

Some researchers and media participants have attempted to examine the origins of stereotypes and rendered intriguing findings. For instance, Brink and Nel (2015) investigated the origins, conceptualizations, and definitions of stereotypes within a South African workplace context. When discussing the genesis of stereotypes, these scholars identified multiple epistemological stances elucidating the sources of stereotypes. The first standpoint is that stereotypes can originate from the globalization of mainstream media. Advertisements, movies, and television shows covered in mass media contain an overflow of stereotypes, thus serving as one principal source of stereotypes learnable by people (Brink & Nel, 2015). In many cases, these elements of the media propagate stereotypical images and representations as a daily occurrence. The outcome is prejudice and discrimination towards out-groups, which stimulate emotional and often negative feelings against such groups.

While Brink and Nel (2015) admit that mainstream media is a source of stereotypes, they are keen to acknowledge that contemporary media do not create stereotyping directly. As per these authors, the media play a facilitative role in generating and maintaining stereotypes. This observation could imply that stereotypes do not have a definite source, but rather they emerge as outcomes of a recycling mechanism. Robertson (2020) recently alluded to this notion of recycled stereotypes by affirming that new stereotypes are seldom created. Rather, stereotypes usually become assimilated into society, and subordinate groups recycle or reuse them to describe newly formed subordinate groups.

The second epistemological standpoint regarding the genesis of stereotypes presented by Brink and Nel (2015) is the concept of attribute assignment through learning. Here, individuals in different settings assign traits indirectly learned or acquired from influential agents to certain groups and individuals, leading to stereotyping. For example, parents, who are influential and principal sources of information, can teach and reinforce stereotypical notions and beliefs to their children. These children assign such attributes to certain groups of schoolmates. Thirdly, Brink and Nel (2015) ascribe the genesis of stereotypes to the social learning theory. As per this theory, people learn to stereotype out-groups based on their direct experiences with specific groups or learning from influential members. If not reprimanded for stereotyping out-groups, these persons continue to engage in stereotyping until it becomes a reinforced practice. Eagly, a Northwestern University professor of psychology, uses the social role theory to provide a similar account. She suggests that occupational roles in everyday life can reinforce gender-based stereotyping (Eagly, 2015). Other sources of stereotypes include discrepancies in social role distribution among men and women and historical attributions associated with institutions such as slavery (Hentschel, Heilman, &, Peus, 2019; Taylor et al., 2019). So, stereotypes have many origins.

Three arguments suffice as justifications for why stereotypes are so resistant to change. Firstly, stereotypes persist because those engaging in stereotyping never experience its negative consequences directly and indirectly. Targets of stereotypes are the ones who feel the direct impact of indignities emanating from assumptions about one’s superficial attributes, the associated prejudice and discrimination, and the threat of being confirmed a stereotype (Boso, 2017). Secondly, stereotypes are resistant to change because of perceivers’ information-processing advantage. Rosennab (2019) argues that the human brain is preprogrammed to categorize and confirm one’s understanding of the world for survival. With this preprogramming, people find someone fitting a particular stereotype and confirm the stereotype, making it become deeply entrenched in their minds. Lastly, stereotypes persist because mainstream media reinforces them, Brink and Nel (2015) suggest. As people continue to watch television, movies, ads, and games that propagate stereotyping on mass media, they become accustomed to stereotyping as a social norm. Consequently, doing away with stereotypes and the associated prejudice and discrimination becomes difficult. Ultimately, stereotypes prevail, breeding more social injustices.

In a nutshell, stereotypes come from media globalization, effects of recycling assimilated typecasts, social learning, attribute assignment, and discrepant role distributions. Once they emerge, stereotypes are resistant to change because of brain preprogramming and media reinforcement. Perceivers also propagate stereotypes because they do not feel the consequences intrinsically.


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Boso, L. A. (2017). Dignity, inequality, and stereotypes. Washington Law Review, 92 (3), 1119-1183.

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Laplante, L. (2022). How social media can crush your self-esteem. The Conversation. The Conversation Africa, Inc.

Luttrell, R. (2018). Social media: How to engage, share, and connect. Rowman & Littlefield.

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