Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called Facebook a 'public health risk' and said she limits her use of social media — here's why she might be right

Hollis Johnson/Business InsiderAlexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently said she quit Facebook.
    • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was interviewed on the podcast “Skullduggery” and asked if she’s worried about the possible negative effects of social media on public health.
    • Ocasio-Cortez revealed that she’s thought about this a lot and that she “personally quit Facebook,” although she still maintains her own Twitter and Instagram accounts.
    • Many scientific studies have been done on social media’s effects, but none have been long-term.
    • Several studies only focus on Facebook and not other platforms and most rely on results that are self-reported, which can lead to inaccuracies.
    • Both positive and negative effects of social media use have been observed by experts, but it all depends on individual users and their circumstances.
    • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.

In a recent interview with the podcast “Skullduggery,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was asked about social media’s negative effects and whether she had ever considered giving it up to make a statement.

Since Ocasio-Cortez is well known for her skillful use of social media, her response that “I personally gave up Facebook” came as a surprise to some, but her reasoning is a pretty popular one.

“I actually think that social media poses a public health risk to everybody, regardless,” Ocasio-Cortez told podcast hosts Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman. “There are amplified effects for young people, particularly under the age of 3 – the screen time – but I think it has a lot of effects on older people. I think it has a lot of effects on everybody – increased isolation, depression, anxiety, addiction, escapism. I think that it poses these issues to everyone.”

Ocasio-Cortez said that she thinks about her role on social media as a consumer and a public figure and that she’s had to impose “rules” for its use.

“Every once in a while, you will see me hop on Twitter on the weekends. But for the most part, I take consumption of content, like when it comes to consumption and reading, I take the weekends off,” she said.

Ocasio-Cortez is not alone in her concern about phone and social media usage

She certainly isn’t the only major figure raising concerns about social media usage. Earlier this month, Prince Harry said that he believes that social media use is more dangerous than drugs or alcohol.

“Social media is more addictive than drugs and alcohol, and it’s more dangerous because it’s normalized and there are no restrictions to it,” he said during a talk about mental health in London.

Tech giants like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, the latter before his death in 2012, also have given interviews about letting their children use technology. Gates has previously stated he gave his daughter a screen time cap while Jobs told The New York Times in 2011 that he also limits how much technology his kids consume at home.

Research in the field of social media and its effects on our wellbeing is ongoing – and existing results are mixed

In January 2018, the BBC conducted a meta-analysis of several recent studies regarding the effects of various social media platforms on our mental health across several key categories: stress, mood, anxiety, depression, sleep, addiction, self-esteem, wellbeing, relationships, envy, and loneliness.

Dating app textingJet Cat Studio / ShutterstockSocial media use may depend on the person.

It noted some significant concerns about the research done so far. For one, many results are self-reported. For another, most of the studies center on Facebook and don’t often cover other social media platforms.

But overall, the BBC’s analysis from existing scientific data found that “social media affects people differently, depending on pre-existing conditions and personality traits.”

Still, Ocasio-Cortez’s theory about limiting usage may hold water. A study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology in November 2018 asked one-half of participants to engage in their regular social media use and another group to limit each app to 10 minutes per day. According to screen time management app Moment, about half of global smartphone users spend five hours or more on their phones each day.

The study linked lower rates of feelings of social isolation and depression to the group that limited its social media use.

There are definitely some good sides to social media usage, experts say

Social media does have some positive uses, psychologists point out, including connecting people in ways that simply weren’t possible before the internet.

“Teens in marginalized groups – including LGBTQ teens and teens struggling with mental health issues – can find support and friendship through use of social media,” licensed clinical social worker Kate Hurley observed in PsyCom. “When teens connect with small groups of supportive teens via social media, those connections can be the difference between living in isolation and finding support.”

That can be especially important for social media users outside of big cities, where it’s easier to find more like-minded people, simply because there are more people around.

“If their offline life is unpleasant, they’re feeling marginalized at school, when you go online and you’re in one of these communities it feels good, because you’re now a valued member of something,” Dr. Pamela Rutledge, who is director of the Media Psychology Research Center, told HealthDay regarding one study that focused on teen girls suffering from depression. “Maybe they use social media more to connect with people, and if they didn’t, maybe they’d be more isolated.”

Phone in bed texting sextingiStockFOMO is real.

But for some users, FOMO – fear of missing out – is real, and can have negative consequences

From travel photos to luxurious lifestyles, it’s easier than ever to see things we want and can’t immediately experience, which can cause negative feelings that may snowball.

“It’s possible, on the negative side, they’re looking at all these people whose lives look better than theirs and they’re feeling inferior,” Dr. Rutledge acknowledged to HealthDay.

One study, from the June 2018 issue of International Journal of Information Management, found thatFOMO might trigger compulsive social media use, which in turn often led to social media fatigue and later, feelings of heightened depression and anxiety in the adolescent participants in the study.

But another study from researchers at Central Michigan University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee suggested that this type of envy, in some people, could make them want to work harder to get the things they want – and is therefore not always negative.

Ultimately, there’s not enough research that unequivocally states you should delete all of your social media apps. It’s up to consumers to know when they have had enough.

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