Ask an Expert: What are the real effects of social media on mental health?

BU Experts
4 min readMay 22, 2024


A Boston University mental health expert delves into the spread of health misinformation across social media platforms and social media’s potential as a tool for enhancing health and well-being.

By Lydia Lu

In the modern era, social media has woven itself into the fabric of everyday life and revolutionized how we connect, communicate, and share with others. Platforms like Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, and Twitter offer opportunities for global interaction, allowing users to share moments, opinions, and memories with a broad audience or friends and family miles away. However, as social media’s influence expands, so does concern about its impact on mental health and well-being. The effects of social media on psychological and physical well-being are complex with platforms having the potential to both enhance and undermine mental health. In a recent Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA), Dr. Monica Wang, an Associate Professor of Community Health Sciences at Boston University’s School of Public Health, and an expert in Health Policy and Management, acknowledged these concerns and provided advice for navigating an increasingly digital world.

Dr. Wang is a globally recognized researcher, educator, and thought leader on social determinants of health and health equity. She specializes in topics of prevention and management of chronic diseases and community-engaged interventions, and her research topics extend to social media and health. Dr. Wang has published numerous peer-reviewed studies examining the spread of health misinformation across platforms and exploring social media’s potential as a tool for enhancing health and well-being. Her answers debunk and affirm the effects of social media on user well-being, and provide insights that help users navigate these platforms and mitigate their potential negative impact.

Photo by Rami Alzayat on Unsplash.

What role does social media play in the spread of misinformation?

Social media and influencers can quickly spread misinformation on health, politics, and society, as their engagement-driven content often prioritizes controversy over accuracy.

How can users combat misinformation?

A good rule of thumb is to prioritize information from credible sources and always fact-check.

How can users differentiate between potential real harm and the normal use of social media?

Social media is multi-faceted, but it is important to recognize when it might cause distress or hinder real-life interactions.

Are there positive impacts social media can have on mental health?

According to Dr. Wang, social media can serve as sources of inspiration, creativity, and social support.

Do the effects of social media vary across different platforms?

It can differ depending on how long an individual uses social media and their specific experiences with the platforms. Dr. Wang highlights specific criticisms for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter/X, and TikTok.

What can parents do for their children who are starting to show interest in social media?

Maintaining open, nonjudgmental communication about online activities and understanding the platform’s features and privacy settings can promote safe and positive online behavior.

Is social media helping our society progress or leading us into social challenges?

Despite its challenges, social media can drive positive change by raising awareness and mobilizing support for important issues when used responsibly.

Is supporting censorship of individuals and groups on social media under the pretext of combating “misinformation” ever justified?

Combating harmful misinformation is essential, but any type of moderation should be transparent and considerate for ongoing scientific discussions.

How can marginalized individuals navigate social media effectively?

Prioritizing self-care, setting boundaries, and engaging with supportive communities can help to mitigate stress from social media.

How might social media shape beliefs or ideas towards certain groups?

Research shows that social media can challenge and reinforce stereotypes and biases. It is a tool that can be used for good and bad.

Which social media platforms are suitable for different age groups?

Dr. Wang explains that individual social media usage should align with developmental needs.

For additional commentary by Boston University experts, follow us on X at @BUexperts. For research, thought leadership, and information from Boston University’s School of Public Health, follow @BUSPH.



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