Over 4.5 billion people across the world use some kind of social media platform, exposing over half of the world’s population to a poorly understood and potentially harmful environment. In recent years, social media platforms – particularly US ones – have been cited as causes of mass misinformation spreading and mental harm.

Worse still, many of the companies that run these incredibly popular – and almost mandatory – sites know of the harm that’s being done. You only have to look at the 2021 leaks that revealed the research performed by Facebook into Instagram that clearly states it’s doing harm to teenagers.

Now going by the name Meta, the company has done very little to mitigate the inherent harm that can be caused to vulnerable people due to how its algorithm seeks to optimize the service and its income. Still, with more and more people joining these platforms from younger ages, the dangers are only becoming more apparent.

What we know and perceive to be the dangers

Having surveyed over 2,000 US and UK parents or guardians as well as over 2,000 children with internet access, the conclusions made in this report demonstrate that there’s a distinct divide between the perceived threats to both parties through online and, particularly, social media use.

Parents see bullying, grooming, offensive media, harassment, and those seeking personal information as the biggest dangers when their children are online, in that order. Children, on the other hand, rank rude behavior, scary media, bullying, and then prompts to make purchases as the biggest online threats.

The most frequent platforms for these adverse occurrences in the US were named YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, Roblox, and Instagram, while UK kids cited Roblox, YouTube, TikTok, Fortnite, and Facebook. Luckily, parental blocks can go a long way towards defending against these potential hams, as the report details.

However, these very clear sources of danger aren’t all that make social media platforms a particularly harmful place to spend time. With four-year-olds averaging 21 minutes on social media per day over the next couple of decades, researchers anticipate many more challenges to come.

Unseen dangers of social media exposure

Social media usage, particularly at its current scale, is a relatively new phenomenon. This means that academics and studies are still catching up to work out its impact on people as a whole. Still, there is some research into the extended impacts of social media use and stories on its adverse effects.

In the three-year study cited here, 12 and 13-year-olds were found to have greater sensitivity in their amygdala if they were among the more frequent users of social media. Less sensitivity was developed by those who were less active on social media. However, it’s not overly clear what social consequences this sensitivity increase will have.

What the study does show is that social media has a direct impact on the brain. A much more commonly-cited result of extended social media use is the hit of dopamine that quick and convenient feedback offers. Elsewhere lines are being drawn between the consumption of fast or short videos with increased rates of ADHD.

Pile onto these figures like 23 percent of teenage girls report Instagram making them feel worse about their bodies and the known impact of increased, prolonged, and regular feeds of dopamine, and it’s clear that social media can be dangerous beyond the obvious dangers.

A surprising amount of time is being spent on social media by very young people; while we recognize and can block some of the harms that can come from this online activity, some more subtle issues come as a part of the experience.