10/10 is World Mental Health day. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused us to feel more isolated from socializing than before, especially as the lifting of social distancing restrictions has been slower than expected after the vaccine rollout.
During periods of isolation, many people increased their time on social media to stay connected. This week’s outage showed how reliant we are on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. We also learned from a whistleblower how Facebook places profits over its users’ mental well-being.
What Happened to Facebook This Week
Last Monday’s 6-hour outage highlighted how many individuals and businesses have become dependent on social media. The disruption affected billions of users across all of Facebook’s apps, including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Oculus.
However, Tuesday’s Senate subcommittee testimony by former Facebook data scientist turned whistleblower Frances Haugen may have more significant and longer-term ramifications for Facebook. She confirmed what many psychologists and researchers have stated for years. Facebook’s business model is harmful to its users’ mental health and the well-being of society as a whole. She also claimed that the ends justify the means as far as Mark Zuckerberg is concerned. And, in this case, the ‘ends’ are ‘more time on Facebook, more ads, and more profits.’
How Instagram Damages Mental Health, Especially for Teenage Girls
Social media platforms tend to focus on specific natural human behaviors and tendencies. Instagram, for example, encourages vanity and preys on the feeling of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).
When we scroll through our Instagram feed, we see a highly edited view of someone else’s life. We see posts of people smiling at events, showing off their toned bodies, or posing next to an expensive sports car. Our own lives seem prosaic by comparison. Social media is designed to get you to click on the next piece of content, not reflect on the content's story. But serving up a fantasy of people’s perfectly curated lives diminishes the self-esteem of users who are not as beautiful, wealthy, or successful as the poster.
Our self-image develops during adolescence, which is also a time of hormonal imbalances. Unfortunately for adolescents, especially teenage girls, these filtered and Photoshopped images can drive many to depression and even suicide. The acne that develops on many of our faces doesn’t help. Unfortunately, this feeling of inadequacy is a perfect place for many advertisers to sell their products. “Just buy this product, and you’ll look like a fit actress!”
While Facebook, which purchased Instagram in 2012, has often downplayed mental health concerns in public, its researchers have been conducting studies for the past three years into how the app affects its millions of young users. The research shows that the platform can damage mental health and body image, especially teen girls. "We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls," said one internal presentation slide.
Outrage Generates Clicks - Clicks Generate Money
Although objectively, we live in the safest time in history, many people think otherwise. Why is there such a disconnect between factual data and people’s perceptions? Facebook employs a tactic that Twitter, many other media, and social media platforms use to generate clicks - outrage.
With the rise of the internet, we can see everything happening worldwide and share our thoughts in real-time. However, the internet is a mixture of fact, fiction, and misinformation.
It doesn’t matter whether a post is accurate or not. What matters to the poster and Facebook is that it generates engagement in clicks, shares, and comments. Engagement provides a dopamine hit to the sign and lures advertisers and investors to the platform.
Truth is not the currency of social media. A study shows that misinformation from the 2020 election got six times more clicks on Facebook than factual news. And this holds for recent information - a post on Facebook about one vaccinated person dying from Covid-19 has more impact than posts about the many lives saved by vaccines. Facebook doesn’t ban this type of misinformation outright. A significant portion of the wealth of Facebook’s senior management team is tied to Facebook’s stock price. Remember, more engagement = more ad dollars = more profits = higher stock price. ‘Truth’ is not a part of that equation.
How You Can Take Control of Your Mental Health
Facebook is not the same as face-to-face interaction; it cannot replace other forms of communication or meaningful social relationships.
While it may be too much to ask people to delete their Facebook accounts, moderating usage is achievable. A 2018 University of Pennsylvania study found that reducing social media use to 30 minutes a day significantly reduced anxiety, depression, loneliness, sleep problems, and FOMO.
Use that saved time to focus on the people and things that truly matter. Do the opinions of strangers mean more to you than those of the people who know you intimately and care about you deeply?
Unlike Facebook, our free application, My Stories Matter, is built on a foundation of positive psychology. We don’t have ads and don’t sell or share your data. We are also age-friendly! My Stories Matter is purpose-built to provide a safe place to connect with the people you care about. Use it to reminisce and collaborate with friends and family, write a memoir, share your hard-earned life lessons with others, or preserve your life lessons.