Addressing long-standing misconceptions about social media impacts on users: Are they always harmful to mental well-being?

Blogpost written by Maksim Danchuk and Dang Ngoc Truc Quynh

Key points

  • Social media not only has positive effects such as inspiration but also can produce negative impacts like social comparison and envy on their users‘ well-being.
  • The relationship between social use and users’ well-being is complex and long-term.
  • Passive use of social media can have diverse and individualized effects.
  • Some advice is suggested to solve those problems

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok are very popular among people all over the world. They are used more than 2,5 hours a day on average and this number is increasing rapidly [1]. Social media can help to get useful information and have a good time. Some people even earn money, make friends, and receive the latest news and relevant knowledge with social media. So, they are becoming considered as a daily ritual or fuel for the whole day by some users. But do they have only a good impact on their users in today’s interconnected world?

Previous multiple studies in the 2010s revealed some negative impacts on the well-being of teenagers and youngsters, including such key issues as envy and social comparison, which means thinking about others in relation to themselves. This, in turn, causes envy. However, the studies have shown some positive outcomes like inspiration from social media use as well. Both active and passive use of social media were covered. Active use includes adding content while passive use is just watching content. So, researchers started questioning whether the effects of passive social media use are as harsh as it was thought to be and whether “active” versus “passive” use is a good term to explain well-being effects.

New study findings

Social comparison and envy caused by social media don’t only negatively affect users’ well-being, but also positively give them motivation to become better. For example, a social media user can see another person’s success and set it to be their target to develop themselves with new skills and knowledge. Moreover, the new research suggests that the effects caused by the passive use of social media are very diverse and personalized. For example, surveys have found that only 10-20% of Dutch youngsters feel the negative impact caused by the passive use of social media while the rest of the users feel the same or better [2].


The new study has investigated that associations between social media usage and well-being are complex and long-term. Some research has shown the negative impacts on users by continual use of social media such as depression. While others haven’t observed that. Thus, the new research claims about the complex interplay between user experience across different time lapses.

Moreover, according to social media companies, social comparison has a varied and specified nature. For example, a study with Facebook users from different countries states that social comparison is more frequent among younger users with more friends who spend more time on their profiles and face positive content. At the same time, Instagram user research by Meta Platforms reveals that teenagers perceive social comparison as a key issue for their well-being.

Practical action

After defining the negative impacts of social media mostly depending on the way you use it every day, we suggest some actions that could help you improve these effects.

Firstly, you can limit the online time to improve the depression caused by social media. However, due to the long-term relationship between social media and the users, the habit of using it needs to be changed step by step. To not go cold turkey, you should only reduce 10 minutes of using social media every day to create a new routine, and then continue decreasing it.

Secondly, building a “healthy” online environment is a good way to motivate you to become better and also against social comparison. Researchers claim that following people who are successful but make you feel bad is even worse than following the normal. Do not let those idealized posts confuse your value, there will be the dark side that they do not show up on social media.

Thirdly, being an active online user can “win” the negative influence of passive social media use. People who comment and react with their friends on social media are happier than ones who only scroll without any engagement. Just take your Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok account as the place where you can talk, share, and connect freely.


In conclusion, this article focuses on how social media contributes to negative feelings through upward comparison and envy, which directly harm well-being. Therefore, there is some advice for you to make your social media experience better.

Link to the article:



[1] Simon Kemp (2023). DIGITAL 2023 DEEP-DIVE: HOW MUCH TIME DO WE SPEND ON SOCIAL MEDIA?’s%20latest%20data%20reveals,at%20the%20start%20of%202022.

[2] Beyens I, Pouwels JL, van Driel II, Keijsers L, Valkenburg PM: The effect of social media on well-being differs from adolescent to adolescent. Sci Rep 2020, 10:1–11,

[3] H. Wenninger, C.M. Cheung, M. Chmielinski: Understanding envy and users‘ responses to envy in the context of social networking sites: a literature review

Int J Inf Manag, 58 (2021), p. 102303,

[4] B.K. Johnson, S. Knobloch-Westerwick: When misery avoids company: selective social comparisons to photographic online profiles

Hum Commun Res, 43 (2017), pp. 54-75,


This blog is part of the master course „Information and Organization“ at the University of Bremen.
In the upcoming weeks, the students will present and discuss exciting insights about the role of information and digitalization for people, companies and society.
Stay tuned!