Before we get started, I want you to take a few minutes and answer the following questions to yourself:
- Do you spend a lot of time thinking about social media or planning to use social media?
- Do you feel urges to use social media more and more?
- Do you use social media to forget about personal problems?
- Do you often try to reduce the use of social media without success?
- Do you become restless or troubled if unable to use social media?
- Do you use social media so much that it has had a negative impact on your job or studies?
How did you answer these questions? If you answered yes to more than three of these questions then according to the Addiction Center you may have or be developing a Social Media Addiction. Research has shown that there is an undeniable link between social media use, negative mental health, and low self-esteem. Negative emotional reactions are not only produced due to the social pressure of sharing things with others but also the comparison of material things and lifestyles that these sites promote.
On Instagram and Facebook, users see curated content – advertisements and posts that are specifically designed to appeal to you based on your interests. Individuals today unlike any other time in history are seeing how other people live, and how their lifestyles differ significantly from their own. This sense of self-worth is what is being used to curate information, children at a young age are being taught that if you are not a millionaire then you are not successful, and they are creating barometers of success based on invisible benchmarks, this is leading to an increase in suicide and depression among young adults.
Social Media has become a stimulant whose effects mimic that of someone addicted to gambling, and recreational drugs. It has been shown that retweets, likes, and shares from these sites affect the dopamine part of the brain that becomes associated with reward. “[I]t’s estimated that people talk about themselves around 30 to 40% of the time; however, social media is all about showing off one’s life and accomplishments, so people talk about themselves a staggering 80% of the time. When a person posts a picture and gets positive social feedback, it stimulates the brain to release dopamine, which again rewards that behavior and perpetuates the social media habit.” “Chasing the high”, is a common theme among individuals with addictive personalities, and when you see people on Social Media posting every aspect of their lives, from the meal they ate to their weekend getaway, and everything in between, that is what your chasing, but the high is the satisfaction of other people liking your post. We have all been there you post a picture or a moment of great importance in your life, and the likes and reactions start pouring in, the reaction you garner from that love, differs significantly from the reaction you get when there is no reaction. A recent Harvard study showed that “the act of disclosing information about oneself activates the same part of the brain that is associated with the sensation of pleasure, the same pleasure that we get from eating food, getting money or having even had sex.” Our brains have become to associate self-disclosure with being a rewarding experience. Ask yourself when was the last time you posted something about a family or friend who died, why was this moment of sadness worth sharing with the world? Researchers in this Harvard Study found that “when people got to share their thoughts with a friend or family member, there was a larger amount of activity in the reward region of their brain, and less of a reward sensation when they were told their thoughts would be kept private.”
“The social nature of our brains is biologically based,” said lead researcher Matthew Lieberman, Ph.D., a UCLA professor of psychology and psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences. This in itself helps you to understand where Social Media has gone to, it has evolved into a system that takes advantage of our biological makeup, “although Facebook might not have been designed with the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex in mind, the social network is very much in sync with how our brains are wired.” There is a reason when your mind is idling the first thing it wants to do is to check Social Media, Liberman one of the founders of the study of social cognitive neuroscience explains that “When I want to take a break from work, the brain network that comes on is the same network we use when we’re looking through our Facebook timeline and seeing what our friends are up to. . . That’s what our brain wants to do, especially when we take a break from work that requires other brain networks.”
This is a very real issue, that has very real consequences. The suicide rate for children and teens is rising. According to a September 2020 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the suicide rate for pediatric patients rose 57.4% from 2007 to 2018. It is the second-largest cause of death in children, falling short only of accidents. Teens in the U.S. who spend more than 3 hours a day on social media may be at a heightened risk for mental health issues, according to a 2019 study in JAMA Psychiatry. The study, which was adjusted for previous mental health diagnoses, concludes that while adolescents using social media more intensively have an increased risk of internalizing problems or reporting mental health concerns, more research is needed on “whether setting limits on daily social media use, increasing media literacy, and redesigning social media platforms are effective means of reducing the burden of mental health problems in this population.” Social Media has become a coping mechanism for some to deal with their stress, loneliness, or depression. We have all come into contact with someone who posts their entire life on social media, and more often than not we might brush it off, even make a crude joke, but in fact, this is someone who is hurting and looking for help in a place that does not offer any solitude.
I write about this to emphasize a very real, and dangerous issue that is growing worse every single day. For far too long Social Media have hidden behind a shield of immunity.
Section 230, a provision of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that shields social media companies from liability for content posted by their users and allows them to remove lawful but objectionable posts. Section 230 states that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider” (47 U.S.C. § 230)
In 1996 when this Law was introduced and passed, the internet was still in its infancy, and no one at that time could have ever envisioned how big it would become. At this point, Social Media Corporations operate in an almost Omnipotent capacity. Creating their governing boards, and moderators to filter out negative information. However, while the focus is often on the information being put out by the users what gets ignored is how that same information gets directed to the consumer. You see Facebook, Snap Chat, Twitter, even YouTube, rely on the consumer commonly known as “influencers” to direct posts, and information to the consumer also known as the “User”, to direct advertisement and product placement. To accomplish their goals which at the end of the day is the same as anyone Corporation to create a profit, information is directed at a person that will keep their attention. At this point, there are little to no regulations, on how information is directed at an individual. For instance, the FCC has rules in place that “limits the number of time broadcasters, cable operators, and satellite providers can devote to advertisements during children’s programs.” however, there are no such rules when dealing with children, there is only one such case in which the FTC has levied any fines for directed content at Children. Yet this suit was based more on the notion that Google through their subsidiary YouTube “illegally collected personal information from children without their parents’ consent.” When dealing with an advertisement for children Google itself sets the parameters.
Social Media has grown too large for itself and has far outgrown its place as a private entity that cannot be regulated. The FCC was created in 1934 to replace the outdated Federal Radio Commission an outdated entity. Therefore, just as it was recognized in 1934 that technology calls for change, today we need to call on Congress to regulate Social Media, it is not too farfetched to say that our Children and our Children’s futures depend on this.
In my next blog, I will post how regulation on Social Media could look and explain in more detail how Social Media has grown too big for itself.