Look at all these slim girls, I am overweight. Hey, two likes, nice! Oh my gosh, I have to try out that trend as soon as possible! Do I like this photo, do I not? I hope I’m going to get my invite to that party they’re shopping for. Look, another like, even better!
Scrolling through our social media feeds feels like a harmless component of our everyday lives. But is it as safe as it seems? Yes, it has crossed our minds in the past, but we don’t speak of it, neither do we dwell on it. In fact, most of us don’t even notice the tentacles of social media grasping us, dragging us further into somewhat of a never ending rabbit hole, which we know as “the Social World”. Today, I’m going to show you the unintended consequences social media is having on you and how you determine your self-identity. The most serious impacts being the highlight reel, social currency, and online harassment.
It has come to the attention of our human race that social media and mental disorders share a strong connection. The centre for Collegiate Mental Health found that the top three diagnoses on university campuses are anxiety, depression and stress. Numerous studies from the UK, US, Canada, and many more have linked these high levels of social media usage, with these extraordinary reports of anxiety and depression. 90% of 18-29-year-olds are on social media. What horrifies me is that my friends, my family -almost everyone is on social media. So now, I ask myself, are they being affected by it? Is it just that they are unaware of it? The pressure social media puts on every individual is absurd! Every single action or thought is extremely important. Even the smallest of things, like asking yourself 'do I post the photo?' or 'do I like this?'. All these questions result to a lot of unnecessary weight on our shoulders. All of these thoughts and everything we see on social media usually leads to severe mental health issues. The Canadian Association of Mental Health states that "grades 7-12 students who spend 2 hours/day on social media reported higher depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts”. To save you from doing the math, that’s as young as 12 years old. I only turned 13 this year, and I’ll admit, from my personal experience, social media has never had a good impact on me. It has either got me involved in drama, or its completely distracted my sense of focus.
Social media is our highlight reel. Its where we exhibit our trophies, our holidays, our get-
togethers, all the good stuff! Best selling author and speaker Steven Furtick once said, “We
struggle with insecurity because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s
highlight reel”. This perfectly sums up how social media causes us to belittle ourselves.
Let me give you an example: You’re sitting in your pyjamas rewatching that one Netflix movie for the millionth time. Boring! Oh look, a notification! Your best friend who’s having fun on the beach in Hawaii just posted a picture in her bikini. Wow her body is so perfect! Lucky her, she gets to have so much fun on holiday. What are you even doing with your life? While you’re too busy making yourself feel worthless, you've managed to forget the fact that your best friend still hasn’t even finished any of her holiday homework (and a lot of other things) but no, all your mind can focus on is how unproductive and boring your life is. You are that one person who sits at home and binge watches Netflix shows. Why would I post anything? After all, my life is so boring.
The highlights are what people want to see, so you slowly start to push yourself to post about you having just as much fun as your bestie, but are you having fun if you have to force
yourself? No, deep down you aren’t, because that’s not who you are. This phenomena is known as the ‘Highlight Reel’ and pressures us into being someone we aren’t. Hence, losing bits and pieces of our self-identity along the process. Social Currency is another one of the many negative effects social media has on us. Now you know what the highlight reel is, right? Well, say these “highlights” do well, what do you get? Just like an Indian rupee, a currency is something we use to give value to an object. In social media, likes, comments, and shares have become the currency, think about it for a second! It has become a form of currency by which we attribute value to something. If you are into marketing, you might have heard the phrase “Economy of Attention”. When you give something a little bit of your finite attention, it puts a label on it and gives it some sort of value, which is great, in the case of selling clothing or books, but the problem is that in social media, WE are the product. You know someone, or are someone because it didn’t get as many likes as you thought it would, and I’ll admit I’ve been right there with you. We took our product that is ourselves, off the shelf that is social media platforms, only because it wasn’t selling fast enough. We are determining our self-worth and self-identity based on what others think of us.
‘Social Currency’ is harmful to our mental health and it is greatly affecting how we view
ourselves. Some may argue that Social Media is an eye-opener, its a place where you feel safe and less alone. Yes, studies have proven that it makes you feel less alone, but you have no idea why. Social media has become an actual addiction for us humans. 70% of the Canadian population is on social media, Canada’s voter turnout isn’t even 70% percent! Suppose you’re doing some important work but your phone is constantly buzzing with notifications. You and I both know that you have an urge to check those messages. That urge you feel? It becomes an addiction. With every like or comment, you get a shot of that “feel good” chemical which we know as Dopamine. We post, “just one more time”, we check for likes, “just one more time”. It gets harder and harder for us to rid ourselves of it as we do it more, we become anxious if we don’t have access. Does that not sound like every drug you’ve ever heard of? Brain scans show that the social media addicted brain is wired almost the same way the brains of drug addicts are wired. As we see this grow and evolve, we start to see signs of depression and anxiety, because we keep wanting more and more, we want more of that “feel good” chemical, and without it, we’ll feel depressed, we’ll feel anxious for more. You now know that social media can result in negative biological responses inside your body. It is proven that social media has turned into an addiction for humans. Our nervous system has changed its structure for the worse due to the usage of social media. We have rearranged our systems to secrete dopamine only when we use social media. That’s the time when we feel “less alone” and “happy” (as I mentioned before).
Media refuses to publicise cases about children who have committed suicide due to online
conflict, women who have received rape threats through social media and much more, because just like social media, the newspapers and television news mainly want to show you the“highlights”. The following statistics are what Pew Internet Research: 40% of adults have experienced online harassment, 73% have witnessed it, and the unfortunate reality is that it is much worse and much more likely if you are a woman, a Muslim, a person of colour, LGBTQ+ member, etc. Remember social currency? Well let's say that you’re poor when it comes to social currency, no one likes you, your looks, the don’t approve of you, etc. What then? You aren’t accepted, so what now? There are various stories. One of the stories being the 18-year-old Tyler Clementi who took his own life after his roommate secretly filmed him kissing another guy and outed him on twitter. We see women like Anita Sarkeesian who was close to being shamed off the internet. She was even sent death and rape threats for sharing her feminism. We see all these stories when it is too late. You know that snap with a funny face you sent to your best friend with the intention of it being private? he posted it on Facebook, but so what? Its funny! its just one rude comment, not a big deal. The problem begins when these “small” bits repeat over and over again, and eventually turn to significant predicaments. Such instances could be passing right by you and you won’t notice it. If this pattern continues, I'm afraid we will have a lot more Tyler Clementis in the future. We must stop shaming people for who they are, if we don’t accept them as who they are.
Now when we look back on everything I have shared with you, everything but nothing is truly
about social media. Social Media is a combination of websites and applications that enable
users to create and share content or to participate in social networking. It was never designed to be the root of such serious dilemmas. When we talk about the dark side of social media, we’re actually talking about the dark side of people, and how it is triggered by social media. That dark side that makes harassers harass, that insecurity that makes you take down a photo you were super excited to share, that green eye that looks at a happy photo of a family and makes you wonder, 'why can’t my family be like that?'.
To conclude, I, as a friend, encourage you to keep in mind everything I have told you today.
Why? Maybe it’ll calm the urge you have to check that notification, maybe it’ll teach you to
not care when you don’t have the "usual amount of likes". It will help to keep you safe and happy. I hope I have made it crystal clear as to why social media is harmful and how it changes us to determine who we are as individuals. All in all, social media is very harmful because it triggers mental disorders, promotes the idea of ‘the highlight reel’, makes you desperate for ‘social currency’, can very easily lead to online harassment, and even rewires your nervous system in the worst way possible. If you don't know how to control yourself, social media is a nightmare. If you aren't strong enough to resist the pull and urge of social media, it is truly a horrid place. It can draw you in easily. Like a drug, you’ll keep wanting more.