Improving Your Relationship with Social Media May Call for a Targeted Approach

By Max Fineman and Matthew Salganik 

Chances are, you’re on social media every day. If you have teens, they are too. And everyone seems worried about just how much social media they’re consuming; even many teens.  Beyond these individual worries, some researchers have linked social media use to increases in political tribalism, mental health problems, and suicide.  Yet at the same time, many people seem to really love using social media.  This combination was puzzling to us, as social scientists.  So, as part of our recent undergraduate course in social networks at Princeton University, we decided to explore it further.  In particular, we decided to ask: How can people use scientific ideas to create a healthier relationship with social media?

You might think the best approach is to change your behavior based on previous research, but that runs into two problems.  First, prior research doesn’t necessarily shed light on how individual users are affected by social media, and second, as best as researchers can tell, different social media platforms seem to impact people differently.  Therefore, if you want to understand and improve your own relationship with social media, a promising approach is self-experimentation, where you basically run experiments on yourself.

The students in our social networks class did just that – designing, conducting, and reflecting on a self-experiment involving social media. For example, one student who was interested in improving their sleep decided to stop using TikTok after 10 p.m. Another student interested in being less lonely posted more

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