Design by Maggie Wiebe. Buy this photo.

One of the most prominent discussions right now amongst researchers, journalists and students is how damaging social media is for society. Countless hours of research have been dedicated to discovering how it affects the human brain and our social well-being. There are countless books about the detriments of social media, such as “Why Social Media is Ruining Your Lifeby Katherine Ormerod or “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now” by Jaron Lanier. Research indicates its adverse mental health effects and its tailored pathways to addiction, yet we also know of the opportunities it presents for economic growth.

4.48 billion people worldwide use social media. As a society, we’ve seen the rise in social media’s influence through recent elections and social movements, in addition to the relatively new concept of events and people going viral. Social media often sparks our attention, highlights serious issues in our country and internationally, provides new opportunities for work and many spaces for those with unique interests. These positive processes have led many to question whether social media is more beneficial than it is harmful.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are staying home and are spending more time on the internet. In the United States, 90% of adults felt that during the pandemic, the internet was essential. The pandemic has resulted in fewer people commuting to work, decreasing the impact of marketing through billboards, street signs and other in-person forms of advertising. There has been a $10 billion increase of leading U.S. companies advertising on social media since 2014, so it is evident that it is becoming an increasingly prominent form of outreach to consumers due to its high and trackable engagement rates. The pandemic has pushed advertisers to transition further to online marketing and has made social media the logical platform for brand advertisements since companies are able to analyze more data and receive a direct response from their consumers.

When scrolling through social media, many sponsored posts have now entered our home pages, to the point where most scroll past without even reading the ad. But a much more tailored approach, called micro-influencing, is on the rise. Micro-influencers are those with a following of anywhere from 10,000 to 500,000 followers on various platforms that work with companies on monetized brand deals. These influencers compete with macro-influencers with 500,000 followers or more, such as Emma Chamberlain, Kylie Jenner and other well-known names. Why would an audience care about what these smaller influencers have to say compared to those with massive followings? Trust and authenticity. 

For companies with 100 or more employees, nearly 68% of them utilize influencer marketing. There is a higher, more personal engagement through influencers that also requires a lower budget, which is helpful due to shrinking budgets caused by financial losses during the pandemic. Micro-influencers provide a specific interest and higher engagement rates with their followers since they don’t have as many to communicate with. Comparing an influencer with 10,000 followers to one with 5 million followers, there tends to be a more personal connection with smaller followings compared to larger ones. News sites are frequently “exposing” larger celebrities for having fake or inactive followers, so how many of that 5 million still enthusiastically watch what they post? The public wants to hear from someone with whom they relate to or identify with.

The use of social media within a business has gone so far that it has become a full-time job for many creators. Between the Tik Tok Creator Fund, Instagram brand deals and YouTube ad revenue, going viral from one post can transform an ordinary person into a public figure. There is no doubt that social media has developed into something more extensive than initially imagined.

But how positive is this impact on our overall health as a society? While there is such growth for opportunity, none of this comes without consequences. Youth in today’s society experience a level of pressure that is exponentially amplified by having their own life and the lives of others shine brightly in their eyes daily. Beauty standards and an embedded perception of competition foster the perspective that users need to appear physically perfect on sites such as Instagram and successful on networks such as LinkedIn. These falsehoods and flaws can be worsened by larger influencers that may promote brands and products they don’t even use, which creates a false perception of health and beauty regimens that are simply unattainable. Khloe Kardashian is frequently bashed for promoting weight loss tricks, further popularizing “eating disorder culture,” and acting as though these products produce her body shape instead of her trainers and nutritionists.

Despite the issues social media creates, it is critical to acknowledge the ways in which it can create jobs and provide an avenue for small influencers to make a living. Statistics from 2019 illustrate that 6 million jobs have been created through the internet sector, so one can only picture the massive future increase as social media continues to grow. While social media’s impact is inescapable at this point, we as consumers need to understand social media’s role in our lives and the positive economic impacts that it can have. Ultimately, how you interact with social media and the extent to which you are impacted by things like influencer culture and microtargeting is up to the individual and how they decide to navigate it.

Gabby Rivas is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at