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Social media is not a zero-sum game, as advocates and detractors frequently claim. It has as many positives as negatives, often for the same user. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have elevated the same individuals they have later destroyed. The two are essentially related, but the grave consequences continue to overshadow the positives. Social media platforms have convinced users to put their happiness in the hands of strangers. Worst of all, far too many individuals have complied.
A Wall Street Journal report published Tuesday documents how Instagram has put teenagers into dangerous situations. An internal company presentation said that among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of British users and 6% of American users traced the issue to Instagram.
“Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” the researchers found. In addition, 14% of boys in the U.S. said Instagram made them feel worse about themselves than before they logged on. Facebook, which owns IG, is aware of this data.
Think about that: IG, a service accessible to almost everyone, is damaging teenagers mentally. Mental health concerns can later transition into physical issues. Social media is a drug that minors can access easily. They don’t need to obtain it illegally through a third party, like they do with alcohol or street drugs. Each service is free on existing app stores and browsers.
Furthermore, Instagram’s influence on teenagers is only a small part of social media’s takeover of society. Facebook and Twitter are uniquely changing the minds of the most influential individuals in the country. Those two platforms impact decisions made by politicians, corporate leaders, and arguably the most powerful group, American voters.
A 2020 survey found that 62% of Americans avoid posting their honest views online because they are “afraid.” Of whom are they afraid? Well, that’s the key to social media’s influence. Fear makes people behave in irrational and unhealthy ways. And social media spreads fear.
Social media is an infomercial that is not intriguing but threatening. Americans are afraid of other social media users. When someone in the real world turns on you, the event can change the minds of a few members of your immediate social circle. However, one quote-tweet or comment on social media can pit a user against hundreds or even thousands of hostile actors within seconds. Those who can’t brush that off then feel demoralized. Social media wars have ruined teenagers, adults, and celebrities. Twitter thereby rewards bullies, followers, and cowards — the three worst types of people in our society.
And yet, many of these same social media influencers are inauthentic. They put on masks, channel a character, then log onto a platform as someone they are not. On Instagram, people are happier, better looking, and have fewer flaws than they do in real life. Meanwhile, Twitter convinced us the entire population is hostile, openly political, and immersed in complicated social issues. These two groups, the perfect people on IG and les misérables de Twitter, pressure others to look, feel, act, and think as they do. In effect, they control the happiness of many of the followers who try to emulate them. Now, there’s a surplus of pretend IG models and extensions of blue check journalists. Each one is more miserable and insecure than the last.
Because of Twitter and Facebook, we now try and fit in with the people we’d never want to in public. Unfortunately, many users don’t see any other option. They think they must either fit in with the views promoted by a social media algorithm or face the wrath of the outrage mob.
Why is that? From a young age, human beings, by and large, try desperately to belong with the crowd. That’s why first graders change interests by the third week of a semester — they begin to like and dislike the same things their friends do. We want to fit in for multiple reasons: comfort, validation, confidence, and protection. Sadly, those not accepted by their peers are often bullied, rejected, and lonely. It has always been that way. Twitter and Facebook have only amplified these social dynamics.
I spoke about this phenomenon with Grant Napear on Monday. We both noted how our opinions are condemned on Twitter, while media people text us to say they agree with us privately but cannot say so publicly. That means that one side of a conversation is overrepresented while the opposing side, with far more members, remains hidden. It’s a sham by design, but it’s nonetheless effective. The Left and Right agree on little, but they both despise phonies. Social media has made us all fake. So it seems that we despise who we, ourselves, are online.
Now, social media has advantages. That’s obvious. It’s the best way to amplify a link, a cause, or a news story. It’s a megaphone for information. However, it is the most detrimental microphone for our mental well-being. It’s become a habit, and Americans rarely break their routines. Users speak of social media habits like a cigarette. For some, posting online has replaced nicotine. The average internet user spent 2 hours, 25 minutes daily on social media in 2020. That says we choose to surround ourselves with the most miserable people for over two hours a day.
It’s an addiction — the likes, retweets, shares, hate, love, comments, photos, filters, and instant reaction. How dangerous is that? Social media is responsible for teenage suicides, unhappiness, and faux versions of ourselves. That is more than the period to the end of the story.
We control so little of our lives. We are subordinates to traffic, tragedies, accidents, the weather, and often are our health. Still, we do control our enjoyment and what we allow to decide our happiness.
I’m not advising anyone to leave social media. I don’t plan on departing it, unless someone kicks me off, of course. But we can use it differently.
You can use it to your advantage. Today, you can stop accepting and internalizing the judgments of online caricatures. They don’t know you, and they don’t know themselves online. If these strangers are not attending your neighborhood barbecue, workplace, local park, and downtown bar — what influence do they have on your life?