Social Media: A Streamlined Platform Using Electron; Examining the Impact of Social Media on Young Adult Mental Health

Saunders, Asher, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Stafford, William, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Vrugtman, Rosanne, EN-Comp Science Dept, University of Virginia

Social media over the past 30 years has slowly become an incredibly prominent aspect of many young adults' lives. It has become an increasingly studied topic of research and insights about the psychological and sociological effects of social media will allow for a more safe and fulfilling online experience. In studying the existing research on social media and mental health I found many conflicting results which directed my thought to the individual. As an aspiring computer scientist, I immediately thought of the method by which individuals interact with these various services. My project overall focuses on the scrolling feed which is very common across social media applications. In my technical project, I designed my very own method for consuming social media content by leveraging existing platforms and routing their media into a single place. My STS research focused on the effects of using social media on the user.

For the technical part of my project I proposed a project which combined the feeds of multiple social media sites into a single page. Using a very popular javascript framework designed for creating desktop web applications such as Microsoft Teams, Discord, and Visual Studio Code, I designed a system that allows a user to log into various social media services and have all the posts merged into a single scrolling feed. It does this by opening a hidden browser to automatically scroll each social media site in the background. It then reads the elements of the original site’s page and extracts the individual posts. The information that makes up the post is repackaged and added to the display for the user. By doing this, it’s possible to combine multiple websites into a single stream. For the prototype of the project, the application would have to be very barebones, but future work includes polishing the user interface, improving the social media account login system, and implementing features that improve the quality of user experience.

For the STS portion, I delved into the user psychology side of things and looked into how social media impacts the mental health of its users. Through the literature, I searched for answers to the question of how social media impacts mental health and the potential negative mental health effects of prolonged use. In the case study, in which I analyzed the design of three popular social media services, I searched for potential solutions or ways in which users can protect themselves. In these case studies, I observed how many services set up their platforms with design elements made to maintain users’ attention for as long as possible; but I also learned of ways in which the developers can safeguard users and encourage them to take breaks. Ultimately after conducting my research and study, I have concluded that there is a deficit of conclusive sociological and psychological research into social media; With increasing attention and longer time frames for study, I’m sure that researchers will uncover the truths behind social media and its effect on its users granting the developers and companies that run these services the necessary tools to ensure its users are not at risk.

Social media is still very much unknown to psychologists and sociologists alike. Many studies have shown there could be a potential danger to individuals who are at risk for mental health problems, and although none have been entirely and specifically conclusive, even a small risk means that the developers of these platforms should take every precaution necessary to ensure the safety of their users. My STS research identified some ways in which social media platforms and their associated user interfaces could potentially pose a danger to users, and my technical project highlighted a means to increase the efficiency of content consumption. Though these topics seem slightly unrelated, some of the future work for the technical project would include implementing features to help protect the user. Most notably a feature designed to remind the user periodically of their continuous usage. By stripping the user interface from their sources and providing an entirely new, improved experience I hope to alter the way users interact with social media and destabilize the conditions that research has shown could cause harm. In the end, the developers that design the interfaces with which we interact with social media have a responsibility to those people to ensure their designs do not cause them harm. This area of study and development is incredibly important; innovation and further research will uncover even more ways for developers to keep people safe online.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
social media, mental health, Electron Framework, scrolling user interfaces
Issued Date: