The internet, with its more than 4 billion people connected around the world, everyone creating content, sharing aspects of their lives and living their lives, is a true public sphere.
The internet is comprised of ones and zeroes, the digital representation of our thoughts, feelings, impulses and motivations. Whilst these ones and zeroes have become increasingly essential to our way of life, it is all too easy forget that engaging with these technologies has very real psychological and emotional effects.
The psychological effects of social media and the internet come to light most profoundly when we read about the tragic stories of people who have been ‘trolled’ or ‘bullied’ online, sometimes to their deaths. Over and over, the victims of such treatment describe feelings of low self-esteem, exclusion from social events, increased anger or loneliness, and general distrust of people (Slegova & Cerna, 2011). These feelings are not unique to children or adolescents. Negative feelings from digital environments can also come from emails from our bosses or co-workers, to negative or insulting posts on social media.
Living in a digitised environment has unique psychological and emotional challenges that we’re just learning to understand.
How Does Digital Impact Us Socially & Emotionally?
Serious concern about the emotional and psychological impact of the internet and social media has existed since well before Facebook and Twitter. Empirical research has explored the impact on people exposed to long periods of internet use, and the findings consistently point to the fact that people were prone to increases in loneliness, depression (Kraut, et. al. 1998), and more impulsive behaviour (Keisler, et al. 1984).
But for every negative, there is also strong evidence that the internet and social media enhances the quality of our lives by making us more sociable (Shaw & Grant, 2002), and that the very act of connecting with people, either in-person or online, improves our wellbeing (Burke & Kraut, 2016).
Either way, it is clear that both the internet and social media affect our psychological and emotional wellbeing in a very real way. For example, the words, images and videos that we send to each other have a direct effect on the quality of our mental health, and can increase the levels of stress in our lives by increasing awareness of other people’s events, sometimes on different sides of the world (Hampton, et al. 2015). Other research has shown that viewing stressful or violent content online is linked to PTSD symptoms.
Making the Web A More Peaceful Place
So, if the internet and social media affect the quality of our psychological and emotional health, how do we make do we improve our digital and digitised environments? One way is to compel the technology companies to place greater restrictions on who can access the service, or to get our governments to pass laws that can make the internet a more civil place.
When we want to bring attention to something and make a change in the world, we, as a global society, recognise a specific day that signifies international awareness of an issue. December 1st is AIDS Day, September 21st International Peace Day, March 22 – World Water Day, July 30 – International Day of Friendship, and so on.
As we become more connected, the world needs one day in the calendar when we actively promote peace and goodwill online, everywhere. For one day, the global digital community should create and populate the Web with positive content in support of all those people who experience psychological and emotional turmoil online every day. From our ubiquitous devices and services, with an International Day of Digital Peace, we can make a real difference to people around the world for free.
Receiving supportive or positive digital content can positively impact depression, feelings of loneliness, enhance dopamine production, and much more.
If the digital environments we use every day can affect our psychological and emotional wellbeing, then for one day, we should take greater control shape it to impact humanity positively.
Burke M., and Kraut, R., 2016. Online or Offline: Connecting With Close Friends Improves Wellbeing. Research At Facebook. [Accessed 30 October 2016], Available at https://research.facebook.com/blog/online-or-offline-connecting-with-close-friends-improves-well-being/
Hampton, K.N. et al., 2015. Social Media and the Cost of Caring. Pew Research Center, 15(2014). Available at: www.pewresearch.org [Accessed October 30, 2016].
Kiesler, S., Siegel, J. and McGuire, T.W., 1984. Social psychological aspects of computer-mediated communication. American psychologist, 39(10), p.1123.
Kraut, R., Patterson, M., Lundmark, V., Kiesler, S., Mukophadhyay, T. and Scherlis, W., 1998. Internet paradox: A social technology that reduces social involvement and psychological well-being?. American psychologist, 53(9), p.1017.
Sleglova, V. and Cerna, A., 2011. Cyberbullying in adolescent victims: Perception and coping. Cyberpsychology: journal of psychosocial research on cyberspace, 5(2), pp.23-46.