Societal impacts of social media platforms

Luiz Valério P. Trindade
3 min readDec 11, 2023
© Pexels, Roberto Hund

In the past two decades, social media has become ubiquitous in people’s daily lives, connecting them with friends, acquaintances, colleagues and family, and providing them with a platform to share their thoughts, values, beliefs and experiences with a wide audience.

Nonetheless, while the benefits of social media are numerous, its impact on society has become a subject of increasing debate and concern. Consequently, this article explores the ways in which social media has changed people’s interaction with one another and how it has influenced people’s beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours.

Certainly, one of social media’s most significant beneficial impacts is how it has changed global communication. Platforms such as Facebook, X (formerly known as Twitter), Instagram, TikTok, WhatsApp, etc., have afforded users the capability to connect with many others from all over the world, and to share their thoughts and experiences with a large audience that otherwise, would be more difficult to reach without this digital technology.

This overall scenario has led to an increase, for example, in online activism and greater democratisation regarding access to information in real-time, which has had positive effects in terms of promoting several social causes and raising awareness about a wide variety of important issues.

However, social media has also brought a series of adverse societal impacts. Among them, it can be highlighted the possibility of creating fake or anonymous accounts, which allows people to say things they would not dare to say in person, and this has led to a surge in a wide variety of online harassment and abuse.

Moreover, social media has contributed with a significant increase in the dissemination of fake news, disinformation, white supremacy, and conspiracy theories, among other forms of abusive behaviour, which, combined, can have harmful effects on public opinion and even in democracy.

Another adverse societal impact of social media comprises how it has influenced people’s beliefs and attitudes. Research has shown that powerful social media algorithms tend to prioritise content deemed popular, controversial, or sensational, which can lead users to form opinions based on limited and biased information. Some of the consequences of this scenario include the reinforcement of distorted stereotypes of vulnerable social groups, many episodes of discrimination, xenophobia, misogyny, and varied forms of bigotry.

Furthermore, it is also possible to notice that social media has been linked to an increase in feelings of anxiety, depression, loneliness and even episodes of suicide and self-harm, especially among young users.

Additionally, spending prolonged hours connected to these platforms can potentially lead to feelings of social inadequacy and a fear of missing out (FOMO), as people tend to compare their lives with the carefully crafted posts of several others (after all, on social media, everybody seems to live an incredibly happy and successful life). Besides, it can also be addictive, leading to decreased face-to-face interactions and a decline in real-life relationships.

To sum up, social media has had both positive and negative societal impacts. While it has allowed users to connect with many others across the world, as previously said, and provided a platform for self-expression, it has also led to a worrisome surge in varied forms of online harassment and abuse, the proliferation of fake news, hate speech, and feelings of anxiety and depression.

Therefore, as society continues to navigate the rapidly evolving world of social media and emerging new digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, it is very important to increase awareness concerning their potential adverse societal impacts and work to mitigate or eliminate them while continuing to enjoy their benefits.