Using X often will make you lonely, bored and angry

  • A study of Twitter/X users found that the mental state of those using the platform often was adversely affected.
  • Those who use Twitter a lot tend to be more bored, lonely, outraged and polarised than those who don’t.
  • Even just seeking out information on Twitter/X can upset users.

It is official, folks who use Twitter/X a lot, tend to be lonelier and more bored than those who don’t.

This is according to findings uncovered during a study conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto. The article, Twitter (X) use predicts substantial changes in well-being, polarization, sense of belonging, and outrage, was published in Nature Communications Psychology last month and sought to determine the effect Twitter, now X, has on a person’s mental state.

The researchers surveyed 252 participants who said they used Twitter/X at least twice a week. This data was collected in 2021, before Elon Musk took ownership of the platform. The participants were surveyed before and after using Twitter/X to gauge their emotional experiences. The findings are as varied as the platform, but some key takeaways rise to the top.

First and foremost, using Twitter/X is associated with a decrease in within-person well-being and an increase in belonging, polarisation, outrage and boredom.

Breaking that down the researchers found that simply scrolling through Twitter/X decreases a person’s sense of well-being. This tracks with our own anecdotal experience with the platform where content can range from memes to harassment to uncensored gore.

One benefit of Twitter/X is that it increases a sense of belonging when a users is replying to others, checking trending topics or checking profiles. Naturally, this depends on what that person is doing as we suspect that fighting with somebody online would have the opposite effect. Interestingly, consuming entertainment on Twitter was linked to an increase in polarisation. As the most extreme voices often enjoy the most reach on the platform, it makes sense that their content would push viewers further right or left on the political spectrum.

Using Twitter/X as an information-gathering tool was found to increase outrage.

Deal with your problems?

While it would be easy to rest the blame solely at Twitter’s feet, the researchers are careful to highlight that the emotions experienced while using Twitter/X may come down to the person themself.

“At the between-person level, people who used Twitter a lot were lonelier and more bored; people who retweeted a lot were more polarized; people who used Twitter to avoid their problems (escapism) had lower well-being and higher outrage levels; and people who used Twitter for social interactions had a higher sense of belonging. That people who retweet more often are more polarized is consistent with previous findings that most Twitter data are produced by a minority of users who tend to be more politically engaged than the average user. The relationship between social interaction on Twitter and sense of belonging was also consistent with expectations: people who generally feel a stronger sense of community are more likely to do activities that involve social interactions,” the paper reads.

“Finally—because avoidant coping strategies tend to be unsuccessful and cause emotional distress and because well-being and outrage were operationalized as a function of negative emotional experiences—people who generally used Twitter to escape their problems probably felt less happy and more outraged due to the negative emotional consequences of using avoidant strategies to deal with their problems,” it continues.

Jumping on to Twitter/X then when you’re not of sound mind is only going to cause more problems for you because even though you’re avoiding real-world problems, the nature of the platform brings other problems into your field of view. However, it should be noted that even if you are fine, content on Twitter/X can negatively affect you.

The researchers highlight that those seeking information on Twitter/X are more likely to be outraged as they will likely find content that stokes that outrage.

In the time since this data was collected and analysed, Twitter has seen a change of ownership and a name change. Upon taking ownership, Musk scrapped several teams and reduced others to their barebones. A new “freedom of speech, not freedom of reach” policy was adopted and it’s gone rather poorly. This is because content that breaches terms and conditions isn’t immediately removed but its reach is limited.

We’d be curious to see how more recent data compares with this study as we’d be willing to bet the findings would be worse. Indeed the researchers note that more research into this field needs to be done but the findings highlight once again that social media in excess, isn’t good for anybody.

The writing has been on the wall for a while now though, social media does more bad than it does good. A study in 2022 found that social media users had an increased risk of developing depressive symptoms.

With this in mind, be mindful of how you use social media and if you’re feeling down, maybe put the glass rectangle down and take a walk around the block instead.

[Image – 825545 from Pixabay]


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