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How Online Content Can Impact Mental Health

Roisin Henden

The internet has made our lives immeasurably more convenient. Ordering food, paying bills, running our businesses – there’s no limit to its potential. However, the flip side to this is the threat the internet can have on our mental health – namely through damaging online content. Content consumed on social media, review websites and sharing platforms can often have a detrimental effect on the mental wellbeing of individuals and business owners alike.

The impact of bad reviews

Legitimate negative reviews can carry some value – but not all negative reviews are created equal. Some are abusive, defamatory, a breach of privacy or even posted by trolls or business competitors. Disgruntled customers can easily take out their phones and leave a scathing review about a business in seconds. These bad reviews can often create a warped perception of how customers view your business, particularly seeing as customers are more likely to leave a review after a bad experience as opposed to a good one. These negative reviews can cause stress and anxiety for small businesses owners whose livelihood is at threat from negative and damaging comments. Reviews targeted at direct employees can also directly impact people in any business and the revenue loss caused by negative reviews can be a source of mental stress to any individuals in a business,  large or small.

These fake reviews are also most commonly posted by competitors or disgruntled past clients and their family and friends with the sole aim of defaming your business. As online reviews have such an impact on a businesses’ success, there’s been an increase in people trying to “rig the system”. Fake reviews can impact SEO rankings and take a serious hit out of a business’s bottom line. Fake reviews can often be hateful, spiteful and deeply personal – causing anxiety for small business owners and staff. For those fake reviews that do seem legitimate, unfortunately the consensus is that humans are also notoriously bad at spotting fakes. We’re only correct 54% of the time – that’s barely better than flipping a coin.

Hate Speech AKA the “Anonymity” effect

The internet has provided a platform from which anyone can express their social and political views to a global audience, and often-times they can do this anonymously.  While there are benefits to this, the downside is that it’s provided a platform for certain sectors of society to openly express their hateful views. Hate speech can impact everyone; it can lead to violence, divide societies and have a serious impact on mental wellbeing. Whether on social media, blogs or forums – hate speech is difficult to monitor, making people feel helpless and vulnerable. Hate speech is something that can present itself even in online reviews of a business.

An increased exposure to negative online content increases ones chances of having their mental wellbeing negatively impacted. In extreme cases, hate speech and discrimination can lead to depression and suicide. This is particularly concerning for younger children who don’t have the coping mechanisms to properly deal with the situation. They also may not know where or how to seek help and assistance when they’re targeted by damaging online content.

For business owners – this type of content anywhere on their review platforms is enough to deter even the most interested of buyers. In fact, many reviews out there mention racially, sexually or otherwise inappropriately charged comments towards a business or employee.

Social-Media Envy

Aesthetically flawless selfies, photos of designer brands and filtered snaps of picturesque holidays. Scrolling through your social media feed you’d be hard pressed not to think all your friends are living a Kardashian lifestyle. Seeing these manufactured images can lead to feelings of self-doubt and make us question our sense of worth, what’s known as “social-media envy”. In fact, there’s whole scientific fields dedicated to studying the causes and effects of this. 

While a lot of the content being posted on social media isn’t necessarily damaging per se, e.g. a selfie, it can still be harmful to our mental health in more ways than one. Social media provides a window into the “lives” of friends and celebrities alike, and we end up comparing our own lives to the fabricated lives we see on the internet. This can lead to harmful comparisons, anxiety and even depression, making us question our value.

This particularly rings true for teenagers who by their very nature are more inclined to seek validation from their peers. Damaging social media content is more likely to impact the mental well-being of teenagers than any other demographic, creating a perfect storm of self-doubt that follows them around wherever they go.

With the internet, the world is more connected than ever before. However due to damaging online content and our reliance on and exposure to social media, it often feels that as individuals we’re more disconnected than anytime in human history. Certain online content can negatively impact our mental state, causing stress, anxiety and even depression. We need to be more aware of the types of content we consume online so we can mediate the obvious and sometimes unrealised impact.