Social media platforms have undoubtedly transformed communication, access to information, and interaction between social media platform users. However, as the popularity and influence of social media continue to grow, concerns about its impact on mental health and well-being have also become prevalent. A study conducted by the Cybersmile Foundation reveals that a staggering 89% of social media users believe that it is damaging their mental health (Cybersmile Foundation, 2022),
This alarming statistic raises significant concerns and calls for a comprehensive examination of the link between social media usage and mental health issues.
Social media has been defined differently by different scholars but the central idea in all the definitions is that they are primarily internet-based tools for sharing and discussing information among human beings.
The World Health Organization’s constitution states that “health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of diseases or infirmity”
People use social media to stay in touch and interact with friends, family and various communities. Businesses also use social medial applications to market and promote their products and track customer concerns. However, social media use can also negatively affect users by distracting them, disrupting their sleep, and exposing them to bullying, rumours, spreading of unrealistic views of other people’s lifestyles and peer pressure. The risks might be deadly if left unattended.
A social media user, Kemi, openly expressed on Facebook, the detrimental impact of online bullying and violent content on her mental health, highlighting the urgent need to address these issues https://fb.watch/l_4q-5ySuj/ .
Also, in 2022, a Cameroonian Tik Toker and social media influencer, Diana Bouli left her social media users in shocked as she announced her quitting social media after 3 years of being active. She cited hate extended to her and the effects it had on her mental health as her reason for quitting the social media.
The ANTIC group recently reports on Facebook that the overuse of social media and exposure to content of shocking nature can have an impact on the mental health of young internet users such as, anxiety, depression and stress,
“Jamie’s Sanctuary” is another Facebooker who announced leaving the platform to face their mental health.
The devastating consequences of social media on the mental health of users in particular and countries, in general, have got nations taking measures to protect users. Fake news, disinformation, mal information and misinformation have been widely spread on social media platforms prompting the state of Cameroon to put laws like Law No 2010/012 of 21 December 2010, relating cyber security and cybercrime which in its section 78 states that “whoever uses electronic communication or information system to design, to publish or to propagate a piece of information which is not true shall be punished with imprisonment of from six months to two years or a fine of from 5.000.000 to 10.000.000 FRS CFA or both of such fines and imprisonment. The government of Cameroon also created the National Agency for Information and Communication Technologies (ANTIC) with the main missions of promoting and monitoring public policy in the sector of Information and Communication Technology (ICT); Regulating, controlling and monitoring of activities related to the security of electronic communication networks and information systems as well as electronic certification, in collaboration with the Telecommunications Regulatory Board, and the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism whose mission is to consolidate the country’s unity; while also strengthening its people’s willingness and day to day experience with respect to living together.
Children like adults exposed to social media content can negatively impact their mental health, therefore a need to protect children as they get exposed to content on social media platforms
On June 12th 2023 in Cameroon, the representative of the minister of post and telecommunications defended the draft law of the charter for child online protection in the National Assembly. She said, “At the time when the digital economy is developing so quickly with our children connected, it is wise to put in place an environment where children can study and get entertained online in a secured manner.”
Within the last 10 years, Cameroon has faced different war situations, that is; in the Far North, Northwest and South West regions, characterized by gory images circulating on different social media platforms, which most often can be detrimental to the mental health and wellbeing of other social media users. Notably, there has also been an emerging trend among young people, as highlighted by Joel Miafo et al.’s research in Cameroon (2022) ( https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010440X21000717). The study reports that approximately 68% of Cameroonian youths face mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression, which can pose a high risk of suicide. The researchers attribute this risk to the pressure young individuals feel to conform to the demands and expectations perpetuated by social media (Miafo et al., 2022),( https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010440X21000717) Their research underscores the urgent need to address the impact of social media on the mental health of young people, and the importance of implementing strategies to mitigate these risks.
Social media can have a range of negative effects on mental health and well-being some of which include: Increased anxiety and depression sleep disorder, reduced self-esteem, and addiction
Despite the challenging situation that social media may put some users through, it has also helped many users find proactive measures to address the negative effects of social media on their mental health, which includes temporarily quitting the different platforms.
These personal experiences further emphasize the importance of investigating the consequences of extensive social media use on mental health.
It’s no doubt that social media has been at the centre stage of misinformation, mal information, disinformation and even more so fake news. This report however has attempted to determine the rate to which those in the social media space react to the information received on social media plus how this information affects them.
Thus, promoting awareness and education on the potential risks associated with social media usage and empowering users to make informed decisions should be prioritized.
Therefore, the report asserts that overall social media engagement is unhealthy and hateful with content that turns to harm the mental health of users. The alarming rate of the publication of violent graphics produced and circulated by social media users with personal ego contributes to the alarming rate of mental health disorders. Social media has become a pervasive part of our lives, and its impact on mental health and well-being cannot be ignored. By raising awareness, limiting social media use, encouraging positive social media use, and providing mental health support, we can address the negative impact of social media on mental health and well-being. Additionally, fostering positive interactions and supportive online communities should be emphasized to counteract the negative impacts of social media. By addressing these issues and implementing strategies for healthier online habits, we can hope to mitigate the negative effects of social media on mental health and foster an online environment that prioritizes the well-being of its users.
Also, the provision of mental health support services can help those who are struggling with mental health issues related to social media use. This can include support groups, mental health counselling, and online resources. Furthermore, encouraging positive social media use can also help to reduce the negative effects on mental health and well-being. Using social media to connect with loved ones, engage in positive conversations, and share positive experiences can have a positive impact on mental health and well-being. The time is now for the law to hold perpetrators of violence, bullying on social media accountable.
By Lawong Kendra Yaah, Njodzeka Claudia Berinyuy, Toh Clinton, Ngeh Gerald, #AFFCameroon Cohort 8