Which Social Media Platform Is the Most Toxic? We Have the Latest Findings

Almost 4.95 billion people are active on social media. These platforms have enormous reach, but beneath the surface of keeping up with your favorite celebrities and practicing viral TikTok dances lies a darker reality: the toxicity that often infiltrates social media apps.

We wanted to see which social media platform is the most toxic according to people who actually use it. We asked 281 people in the US about their opinions and experiences on different platforms. We also surveyed a similar number of people in France, Germany, and Spain, and generally found consistent answers across the 1,000+ people who replied. 

They tended to define toxicity on social media platforms as spreading fake news, enabling bad behaviors and scams, promoting unhealthy comparisons, cyberbullying, trolling, and other negative interactions. 

Based on this definition, almost 30% of respondents in the US considered Facebook to be the most toxic social media app, followed closely by TikTok, Instagram, X, and Snapchat. However, upon closer inspection, we found surprising insights based on perceptions unique to specific generations and genders. Let’s dive in!

Most Toxic Social Media Apps: Ranked

Our in-house survey ranked Facebook as the most toxic social media platform in the US. A whopping 29% of all respondents agreed the platform is home to the most malicious issues, including spreading misinformation, trolling, and cyberbullying. TikTok wasn’t far behind, with 24% – interestingly, respondents in all three European countries rated TikTok as significantly more toxic. 19% of respondents in the US perceived X (formerly known as Twitter) as a breeding ground for negative interactions. While Instagram and YouTube landed further behind, they still raised concerns for 12% and 5% of respondents, respectively.

However, these results change when we look at gender data splits. Men in the US seem to spend the most time on YouTube, but view Facebook, X, and TikTok as equally problematic, with each app garnering 25% of votes from our male respondents. Women, on the other hand, seem to spend the most time on Facebook, which they highlighted as their primary concern (33%), followed by TikTok (24%), then Instagram and X (14%). 

This stems from the different challenges men and women face online. Instagram and TikTok often promote unhealthy beauty standards, which are known to impact women to a higher degree than men – 15% more of our female respondents experienced issues around unrealistic body expectations than males. At the same time, men were 25% more likely to be exposed to risk-promoting content, which is more widely shared on X or Facebook, so it’s not surprising they named them as the most toxic platforms. 

Age also plays a pivotal role in how users perceive toxicity. Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers agree that Facebook is the most problematic social media platform. It also seems the platform’s toxicity could either be coming from older generations, or that younger people are more attuned to online issues, as only 25% of boomers consider Facebook toxic compared to 38% of millennials. Meta’s app barely registers for Gen Z, highlighting a shift in social media preferences among the youngest users. 

Instead, 28% of Gen Z point to TikTok as the most toxic platform. This sentiment was reciprocated by 29% of older millennials/young Gen Xers. Interestingly, 44% of our Silent Generation respondents singled out the short-form video platform as most troublesome – yet only 22% of the group use the app.

Apart from being toxic, social media apps can be risky when it comes to your online privacy and security. Whether it’s data breaches, data collection, or unencrypted data transfers, protecting your details is a crucial part of staying safe on these platforms. VPNs can be game-changing as they encrypt your vulnerable information, shielding it from potential leaks. You can always try a VPN free trial before fully committing. 

More Than 90% of People in the US Experienced Issues on Social Media 

Let’s get real. Negativity online doesn’t exist just because social media does, in the same way that bullies don’t exist just because schools do. It’s the same with social media – the platforms aren’t toxic by default, but sometimes the people on them act maliciously in many different ways. 

Our survey shed some light on what people consider to be the main problems on social media. Fake news landed at the top of the list, with 63% of US respondents regularly coming across made-up stories. Scams are right up at the top too, as 61% say they’ve come across some sketchy links, offers, or giveaways. Interestingly, fewer than half this many of our international respondents experienced scams.

Our survey showed that 32% of people think cyberbullies also add to toxicity on social media. When asked, 26% of respondents admitted they’d been bullied online, and a further 40% said someone they knew had faced cyberbullies. 50% said they’d come across internet trolls. According to Medical News Today, cyber harassment can negatively affect your mental health and cause feelings of depression, anxiety, stress, low self-esteem, and more.

Additionally, over 50% of respondents find social media to be a playground for attention seekers. This is backed by research that shows social media fuels addiction to instant gratification and dopamine hits. A large portion of our respondents worry about the unrealistic body and life standards social media depicts – 41% and 26% respectively. This creates unhealthy comparisons in all areas of life and can lead to mental health struggles including anxiety, low self-esteem, and eating disorders, to name a few. 

The Social Media Paradox — Why Don’t You Just Quit It?

Our survey results shed light on a dilemma many of us face with social media: its toxicity versus its indispensability. While continuous scrolling on these platforms often leads to negative impacts on mental health, quitting it altogether isn’t so straightforward.

Among our respondents, 58% said they’d consider leaving social media if it harmed their mental health. Cyberbullying was another major concern, with 31% willing to delete their accounts if they personally were targeted, and 27% if someone close to them was affected. Disturbing content and scams also played a role, potentially driving 32% and 29% away. Despite the prevalent risks, 9% of our respondents claimed they’d stick with social media regardless.

But quitting social media isn’t as easy as deleting the apps from your phone. That’s because social media platforms are woven into our lives and serve a range of purposes, from checking the news and keeping up with friends to finding jobs, shopping, or promoting businesses. 

Experts suggest that lacking a social media presence might disadvantage you as a jobseeker, especially if you’re applying for a role that requires social networking. A lot of recruiters now post vacancies directly on social media, too, so you run the risk of missing out on new opportunities without an account. 

In the business realm, platforms like Instagram and Facebook are vital for customer engagement, brand promotion, and even recruitment, with 92% of businesses utilizing them for hiring. Interacting with potential customers on social media lets you build your brand image, get feedback, and often increase your sales without spending too much on marketing.

The reality is, even those who do quit often find themselves returning to social media. It’s a modern-day paradox: while we recognize its drawbacks, its benefits keep pulling us back in. Living completely without social media seems just as challenging as living with it.

Hazards of Using Toxic Social Media

Our survey showed that even though 90% of respondents are aware of issues on social media, they experience differing levels of concern about them.

Cyberbullying and Internet Trolls

Cyberbullying has become an all-too-common shadow over the social media landscape. Our survey reveals that 32% of users have grappled with cyberbullying, while 27% have faced discrimination in digital spaces. These numbers are more than just statistics; they represent real experiences. Of those who encountered cyberbullying, 26% were direct targets, and an alarming 40% have seen others fall victim to it.

In the US, 26% of people thought X had the most cyberbullies, followed closely by Facebook with 23%. Cyberbullying invades personal spaces through text messages, calls, and predominantly, social media. Imagine dealing with fake images or videos of yourself that have been spread without your consent, relentless gossip, or targeted hate campaigns. Worse, traditional forms of protection, like involving the authorities, aren’t as readily available in the digital realm.

The impact of cyberbullying cuts deep into mental health. A study by BMC Psychiatry found that you could face serious consequences like heightened anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, aggressive behavior, and plummeting self-esteem. According to the University of California San Diego,  the scars can be long-lasting, leading to PTSD that can linger long after the bullying stops.

What’s often overlooked is the ripple effect cyberbullying has beyond its primary victims. Those who witness cyberbullying are not spared from its impact, often experiencing feelings of helplessness, guilt, or fear. This highlights the need for a collective effort to combat this digital menace, emphasizing the importance of being bystanders and active defenders in our online communities.

Social Media Scams

Social media scams are a growing problem, affecting 61% of our US survey respondents. These scams take many forms, including malicious links, malware, fake profiles, and deceptive giveaways. They often appear as harmless quizzes or tempting offers, but their intentions are anything but benign.

These scams aren’t just about losing a few bucks. Their consequences include identity theft, legal headaches, and even personal safety risks. They can also impact your reputation, as being associated with a scam can tarnish your image. Even if you don’t lose money, getting scammed can still hit hard emotionally due to the stress, anxiety, and feelings of betrayal, especially when it comes to romance scams or when a ‘friend’ turns out to be a fraudster.

Vigilance is key in mitigating these risks. Look out for common scamming tricks and always think twice before opening a link or sharing your details. Use strong, unique passwords, and be cautious about how much personal info you upload to social media. If someone’s asking for money or your data, hit pause and think about if they’re actually who they say they are. It’s all about staying one step ahead in the ever-evolving game of social media scams.

Fake News

Fake news on social media is a real headache. It spreads like wildfire, mostly because it’s often more eye-catching and emotional than the boring truth. This leads to a lot of people sharing stuff without realizing it’s not true. The result? A lot of us end up misinformed, and that can lead to some pretty big problems, like messing with how people vote or even causing public disturbances.

The tricky bit is that fake news can be really hard to spot. It often looks just like the real stuff and gets mixed in with actual news. Plus, the way our social media feeds work, they keep showing us what we already believe, true or not. That’s probably why 63% of the folks we talked to said they’ve encountered fake news on social media.

While it can be harmless, fake news may put you at risk. For example, the recent pandemic caused an influx of false health advice, like improper use of bleach. Political misinformation can do more than just sway opinions – it’s been known to lead to some scary situations like people attacking their neighbors or acting violently to make a statement.

Beyond getting the facts wrong, fake news can shake our trust in the media and even mess with the stock market when it spreads lies about companies. The worst part? It can cause real conflicts, playing on and widening the divides in society. This whole mess shows just how important it is to double-check news sources, and for social media platforms and policymakers to step up their game in fighting this flood of fakery.

Setting Unrealistic Expectations and Unhealthy Comparisons

According to our survey, 41% of people feel that social media promotes unrealistic body expectations, and another 36% believe it fosters unhealthy comparisons. This is more than a superficial issue; these unrealistic portrayals can deeply affect our mental health and the way we see ourselves.

Every time you scroll through images of ‘perfect’ bodies, it chips away at your self-esteem. It’s not just about not liking what you see in the mirror; it’s about how constantly seeing these idealized images can make you feel inadequate. Young people are particularly vulnerable as they’re still shaping their self-image and can easily take these standards to heart. As a result, people may end up pushing themselves too hard through extreme diets or overdoing it at the gym.

It doesn’t just stop at body image. This trend of idealized standards creates a trap of endless comparisons. You start measuring your worth based on how you live your life, what you feel, how productive you are, or how successful other people seem to be, ignoring your other qualities and achievements. This can have long-lasting effects on your mental health, leading to issues like anxiety and depression.

Addressing this problem is crucial. It’s important to change the narrative for it to reflect more diverse and realistic standards of beauty and life. It’s about helping everyone, especially younger users, understand that self-worth isn’t just skin deep, and encouraging a culture of self-acceptance and body positivity.

Normalizing Risky Behavior

Our survey found 25% of users have seen posts that not only normalize but actually glorify risk-taking behaviors. Furthermore, 52% of our survey respondents observed that people seek out attention on social media. This trend of showcasing daring stunts and wild adventures can have serious implications, particularly for the younger audience, as it can distort our perception of what’s safe or sensible.

Take popular “challenge” trends as an example. Social media regularly explodes with videos of reckless behaviors like driving to the Cha Cha Slide tune, eating Tide pods, or drinking Benadryl to trigger hallucinations. Most dangerous of all was the blackout challenge, which encouraged users to choke themselves in order to pass out and feel an adrenaline surge upon waking up.  

When social media makes risky behavior look cool or adventurous, it  Younger users, in particular, might see these challenges and think it’s fine to mimic them, overlooking necessary safety precautions. Add peer pressure, and you have a situation which can lead to serious accidents or dangerous scenarios, leading to hospitalization or worse.

The consequences of imitating such behaviors can be severe, sometimes even fatal. Young and impressionable users viewing these stunts often try to replicate them without the necessary skills or safety measures, leading to tragic outcomes. It’s a stark reminder of the importance of being mindful about the content we share and consume on social media. There’s a fine line between sharing adventurous experiences and promoting hazardous actions.

For users and platforms alike, there’s a responsibility to promote safe and responsible content sharing. It’s crucial to understand the real risks behind those seemingly thrilling posts and to emphasize the importance of safety in pursuit of adventure.

Easy Steps to Mitigate the Toxicity from Social Media

There are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself from the worst of the issues that are prevalent on social media. 

Curate Your Feed

Your social media should reflect who you are and what you like. Just like you, your interests and preferences change and grow over time — and so should your feed. If you come across something that doesn’t sit right with you, remember you’ve got the power to unfollow, mute, or just move on (or even report when necessary). There’s no need to let it linger and spoil your mood.

Curating your feed lets you filter out the noise and focus on things that make you feel good. Remove any accounts which tend to bring you down or stress you out. Instead, replace them with people who share interesting or inspirational content – be it recipes, crafting, or anything in between! 

Take Regular Breaks From Social Media

Taking a step back from the non-stop buzz of updates, opinions, and often negative interactions on social media can do wonders for your mental state – there’s a big world beyond those small screens! A social media break also lets you dive into activities that boost your mood, whether that’s hanging out with family and friends, picking up hobbies, or just kicking back and relaxing.

Our survey shows many people already understand this. About 44% of respondents take a social media break at least weekly, with 21% stepping back even more frequently. However, 36% admitted they never step away from their accounts. It’s a bit concerning considering the risks of constant social media use. 

Engage in Mindful Interactions

We’ve all been there – you see a post or comment online that’s just begging for a response because it’s so very wrong. But before you start typing, consider this: most online discourse is stressful without leading to any meaningful exchange. Instead, it can spiral into huge arguments, leaving everyone involved feeling worse off.

This is where the art of mindful social media engagement comes into play. It’s about thinking before you type, considering whether what you’re about to say or share will contribute to the conversation in a positive way. It’s tempting to react on impulse to provocative posts, but pausing to reflect on it first can prevent the situation from escalating and keep the online atmosphere more pleasant.

If you do decide to weigh in, focus on facts rather than emotion. Other people’s opinions are just that – their opinions. They don’t define your experiences or beliefs. By keeping your responses factual and your emotions in check, you help foster a more constructive and less toxic social media environment.

Set Time Limits

Our survey shows the time spent on social media varies by age, with younger respondents clocking in 1–4 hours daily and older users typically spending up to an hour. No matter your age, without regular breaks, you risk a real danger of falling into a social media rabbit hole, potentially leading to dependency issues, strained real-life relationships, and a more sedentary lifestyle. Plus, there’s some evidence that shows that too much screen time, especially at night, can mess with your sleep.

TikTok is rolling out a new time limit feature to protect its younger audience, aiming to curb the downsides of too much scrolling. It’s not just young people who get hooked: the addictive nature of social media knows no age limit.

This is why setting personal time limits can be beneficial. It’s a smart move to shield yourself from the not-so-great parts of social media, like the endless negative comments, cyberbullying, or those picture-perfect photos that make you feel like you’re not measuring up. By deciding how much time you’ll spend on these platforms, you’re taking control, preventing information overload, and keeping your digital life aligned with your real one.

Time limits also mean you’re more likely to use social media mindfully. When you know your time is limited, you tend to skip the endless scrolling and focus more on stuff that makes you feel good or adds something to your day.

Plus, these limits can help you break that constant ‘check-in’ habit that can be super distracting. Imagine having more time for hobbies, exercise, or just hanging out with friends and family. Setting boundaries on your social media use lets you not just look after your digital health but your overall well-being, too.

Check Policies on Every Social Media Platform You Use

Many social media platforms are rolling out policies and features designed to create safer spaces online. These focus on cutting down on harassment, hate speech, misinformation, and other harmful content. Unfortunately, these efforts aren’t quite hitting the mark yet. There’s more work to be done to enforce these policies effectively.

It seems users are noticing the gaps. Almost 20% of our respondents don’t think social media apps are doing enough to limit or stop negativity. Still, a quarter of surveyed people said Instagram and TikTok seem to put forward more safety policies and regulations, including age restrictions and time limits, making them more proactive than others. This could potentially limit how much negativity spreads on these platforms and reduce their perceived level of toxicity.

Checking each platform’s policies gives you an insight into what you can expect when using your favorite social media apps. Many of them clearly state what to do if you experience bullying, explain how to report toxic behavior, and outline what may happen after. Note it doesn’t guarantee you won’t deal with anything negative — but it gives you somewhat of a baseline should something go wrong.

National legislation can also protect you as a user. For example, France recently updated its law to say social media apps have to delete hateful and illegal content within 24 hours. However, over 56% of our US respondents admitted they don’t know of any social media legislation. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with any local laws, so you know where and how you can report suspicious, toxic, and illegal behavior.

Prioritize Self-Care

Doomscrolling can feel like ‘me time,’ but it’s unlikely to actually leave you feeling good. Whether it’s hitting the gym, diving into your hobbies, or just chilling out, putting your phone down and focusing on real self-care practices can bring back your peace of mind.

Self-care isn’t just about doing something to make yourself feel better — it also involves working on your mind. Take time to check in with yourself, see how social media affects you, and whether you need to adjust your scrolling habits to improve your well-being. It’s all about finding that sweet spot where you can enjoy the perks of social media without letting it mess with your head.

Seek Professional Help If Needed

Sometimes, the toxicity on social media can cut deeper than you realize. If your online scrolling leaves you anxious, down, or simply feeling a bit off, it might be a good idea to get extra help. Therapists and other mental health professionals can act as your guides in navigating life on social media. They can offer you strategies to cope, support to lean on, and advice to help you find your way back to a healthier state of mind.

Looking Into the Future of Toxic Social Media Apps

A majority of our respondents agree that every social media platform is toxic to some extent. Whether it’s trolling, bullying, unhealthy comparisons, spreading misinformation, or promoting risky behavior, a huge majority of respondents reported that they’d experienced the negative aspects of social media. Facebook may have emerged as the most toxic app, but digital toxicity is prevalent on every platform you visit — just maybe at varying levels. 

One thing we know for sure: people are getting tired of how many seem to use social media to spread hate, often for no reason at all. While there is a growing awareness and push for healthier online spaces, challenges persist due to the sheer volume of content to sieve through to make sure it isn’t toxic. The role of platform policies, coupled with user behavior and regulatory measures, will be crucial in shaping a less toxic social media environment.

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