Does Social Media Support or Worsen Mental Well-Being? Well, It Depends

Tuesday, 25 October 2022, 9:00am (HKT) on Zoom

Social media platforms continue to shape our identities, accruing important roles in our lives as they pertain to connecting with loved ones, finding like-minded peers, or finding an outlet to vent and broadcast small and big happenings around us. Much has been written in the media about these uses, but importantly, about the impacts of social media on a variety of outcomes, ranging from issues of political polarization to social justice. Is social media good or bad when it comes to mental well-being? This talk will present some critical evidence towards answering this question through a series of interlinked studies. In a first study, a large-scale observational study will situate how social support received online can help to reduce suicidal thoughts. Turning to negative impacts, a second study, using a computational causal approach, will describe the alarming ways misinformation on social media can aggravate stress and anxiety. Beyond these examples, finally, Munmun De Choudhury will discuss how, eventually, in many cases, the answer to this question simply depends on the context. Specifically, anchoring on two studies that adopt a human-centered mixed methods approach, she will highlight the potential benefits and risks of social media use related to substance misuse disclosures, and to patients’ social reintegration efforts following a major psychiatric episode. Ultimately, regardless of the specific platforms, online social technologies are here to stay, and she will conclude by reflecting on possible implications that harness the positive uses and those that seek to mitigate the harmful effects of social media on mental well-being.

MUNMUN DE CHOUDHURY is an Associate Professor of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech. Dr. De Choudhury is best known for laying the foundation of a new line of research that develops computational techniques towards understanding and improving mental health outcomes, through ethical analysis of social media data. To do this work, she adopts a highly interdisciplinary approach, combining social computing, machine learning, and natural language analysis with insights and theories from the social, behavioral, and health sciences. Dr. De Choudhury has been recognized with the 2022 Web Science Trust Test-of-Time Award, 2021 ACM-W Rising Star Award, 2019 Complex Systems Society – Junior Scientific Award, numerous best paper and honorable mention awards from the ACM and AAAI, and features and coverage in popular press like the New York Times, the NPR, and the BBC. Dr. De Choudhury currently serves on the Board of Directors of the International Society for Computational Social Science and on the Steering Committee of the International Conference on Web and Social Media, the leading conference on interdisciplinary studies of social media. Earlier, Dr. De Choudhury was a faculty associate with the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, a postdoc at Microsoft Research, and obtained her PhD in Computer Science from Arizona State University.

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Organised by Centre for Media and Communication Research and Research Postgraduate Studies Program, School of Communication