Trigger warning: this article dicusesses sexual abuse, self-harm and suicide.
Like many things in life, we look to create things for the better, and we’re not really considering the downside of those creations. The Social Dilemma is a documentary and drama that does a deep dive with tech experts in the field about the dark side of social media.
I have been hesitant to watch this docudrama because I know it’s going to negatively impact how I view social media even more than I do now. It’s a weird juxtaposition because I am part of the problem, but there’s nothing I can do to change it (unless I want to switch careers).
This documentary felt like they were talking to both sides of me, which is why there’s a dilemma, right? On one hand, I grew up on social media, I’m the consumer — I get the targeted advertisements and push notifications. On the other hand, I’m the advertiser — targeting certain consumers, trying to get them to complete my intended call-to-action.
Social media was intended for people to connect with one another. I was excited to join Facebook and become friends with people who I haven’t seen since elementary school. Although this film showed a snippet of the good, it touched on the many ways that social media is detrimental to our society: misinformation, distorted reality and the negative impact on our emotions. Each of those facets will be discussed in further detail, but first, I want to discuss a few moments that resonated with my experiences.
As I previously stated, I joined MySpace when I was in middle school. I had a pretty healthy balance between aligning my online persona and my real life. I didn’t deal with having to use filters to feel accepted by friends and family, but I know friends who dabbled in Photoshop (pre-Instagram filters) to make sure that their pre-teen acne scarring didn’t show up on someone’s news feed.
Among that, it has created more unnecessary parasocial relationships, “nonreciprocal socio-emotional connections with media figures such as celebrities or influencers,” in my life. I found myself spending more time than I’d like to admit on people’s Instagram accounts, comparing how I can have their “relationship” and/or “life” goals. Using other people’s curated accounts to measure my life was an unhealthy habit that was hard to kick.
We are not present. Wasn’t the point of social media to connect with people who you can’t physically be around? There was a reenactment in The Social Dilemma where a mom made everyone put their phones away in a jar so the family could be present with one another at dinner. I noticed that when I’m in social gatherings, people are glued to their phones, and because I don’t want to be the odd one, I mimic everyone else.
My Justification for Using Social Media
It’s part of my job. I need to create a Facebook account in order to run my job’s social media accounts. I have to create company profiles on Instagram and Twitter because that’s where our audience is at. Yes, this is what I tell myself in order to feel better.
The longer, more truthful answer is that I can’t avoid social media. I deleted my personal accounts, but I have a Finstagram, an account that isn’t personally attributed to me, to watch Reels and share memes with friends. I went cold turkey off of social media for about a week, then I had to do things for work. Then, I found myself checking the latest news on Twitter. After I figured, I might as well follow interesting accounts on my Facebook, so it’s not totally boring, and here I am. In complete denial that I have a Facebook account without friends, but a lot of content that I gladly scroll through.
As much as I am gung ho to leave social media, I noticed I can’t go without Instagram without feeling withdrawals. It makes me happy to watch Reels and share memes with loved ones. I used to go days without using the app, but now, that message notification takes me back to Instagram every time.
To be honest, I can probably use a third-party platform to post my content, but that’s not fun. If I’m going to do things on social media, I need to be on social media, right?
Social media has negatively impacted society’s perception of reality. Instagram gives us the illusion of perfection. Instagram gives users the idea that people “have seemingly perfect bodies, perfect lives and perfect relationships.”
We feel like our normal is not good enough. Millennials and Generation Z are greatly impacted because most of them grew up in the social media era. I had the opportunity to grow up in a time when I can have two personas, now the online persona is more important than who you are in real life. The Social Dilemma discusses how certain sites have impacted us throughout the years. There has been an increase in self-harm and suicide rates in pre-teens and teenagers that can be correlated to growing up with these platforms.
The misinformation on social media has been rampant. I found out about Pizzagate, a conspiracy theory that targeted right-wing conservatives, through the docudrama. Edgar Maddison Welch, a man from North Carolina, traveled to a pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C., with an AR-15 rifle, because he saw a false social media post that the restaurant was harboring a “satanic child sex abuse ring” for democrats. It has impacted people’s behaviors.
Ethical AI to Create Healthy Relationships
Social media sites have been including AI to help their users. First, TikTok has implemented a Screen Time Management feature that allows users to limit their daily time on the social media app. Instagram has allowed users to remove displaying the number of “likes” they receive on a post, which is supposed to remove the displeasure of the lack of validation by not receiving a certain amount of likes. For misinformation, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are putting a warning label on posts when it came to health concerns regarding the coronavirus.
These are all great steps to moving toward a healthier relationship with social media, but there may need to be some regulations put forth. Social media sites may need to be required to work with mental health experts to make sure that they are constantly assessing how they can improve these platforms for their users’ mental health.
I was asked if I could stay off of my phone for 24 hours. If I had a jampacked day and I was spending time with the ones I love — yes. Other than that, no. I use my phone for more than social media: I listen to music and audiobooks, communicate with friends and family, and play phone games. I read an article where Baroness Susan Greenfield, a neurologist, spoke about boredom being a lost art because social media users are used to being stimulated by the sensory power in these apps. She’s not wrong, but I believe I’d win a gold medal in overthinking. Before I go to bed, I go through all of the scenarios I have in my head, but I don’t think that my brainpower can keep me from my phone.
This has brought me to the realization that I’m slowly back to consuming social media before I deleted my personal accounts. I haven’t posted anything for engagement, but I’m still using the apps for other reasons. I want to monitor my usage and not rely on it as much as I did in the past (or present).
Finally, I want to take a hard look at my Instagram and Facebook user information. I don’t want to be sold on all of the unnecessary advertisements that I might be susceptible to purchasing.