Editor’s note: This column contains mentions of suicide and eating disorders.
Without realizing it, college students across the country have become dependent on social media for validation, comfort and mindless pleasure. Within social media exists a new genre of role models, teachers, and friends. In their dystopian novels “1984” and “Brave New World,” respectively, George Orwell and Aldous Huxley have warned of the dangers of the full integration of technology into society in the past. But we do not often realize the extent that we are already living in these dystopias.
On Oct. 5, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before a Senate hearing. Haugen worked for Facebook for two years and studied how its algorithm increased misinformation, which as a result aided the agendas of foreign adversaries. During her testimony, Haugen claimed that Facebook has been consciously deteriorating the mental health of users and undermining our democracy in order to gain “astronomical profits.”
Our dependency on social media and the virtual world is having deteriorating effects on young adults. Facebook studies that Haugen leaked affirm this. In one study, Facebook found that 13.5% of teen girls in the U.K. had an increase in the frequency of suicidal thoughts after using Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.
Another study found that 17% of teen girls said that their eating disorders worsened after Instagram use. It is concerning that as society we rely on social media to feel connected to the world, no matter how harmful it is to us. Roxana Berentes, a freshman at Syracuse University, has noticed how detrimental social media is to her mental health. “A lot of the time when I open Instagram, I find myself spending so much time comparing myself to others. I end up feeling bad about myself almost every time I go on the app,” she said.
On Oct. 5, Jennifer Grygiel, a professor at the Newhouse School of Public Communications, spoke on CNN alongside Anderson Cooper about the true dangers of Instagram. Grygiel conducted research in 2019 about the “connection between corporate social responsibility and social media safety.”
In an article published in Telecommunications Policy journal, Grygiel proposed how to moderate harmful content on social media and policy improvements. “What I found was really horrific, but I could never really tie it to Facebook. It took the whistleblower’s testimony to prove that Facebook is harming teens,” they said.
Grygiel’s interest in this topic started in the mid-2000s when they noticed that many LGBTQ youth were committing suicide, which they believe was connected to cyberbullying. “As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I started looking more critically at why people cyber bully,” Grygiel said.
Further, they said that Facebook has “really questionable ethics” and “institutional power.” “We need to hold them accountable,” they said. To combat the toxicity of media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, students at SU need to consciously decide what will ultimately upkeep their mental health and well-being. When Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp were inaccessible on Oct. 4, many students at SU were forced to find something else to entertain themselves with.
Some students laid out and enjoyed the beautiful day in between classes. Others took time to complete important midterm papers. Grygiel extended this Instagram “snow day” of sorts, and made friendship bracelets with their class. “We went outside and connected with each other,” they said.
This simple human connection is essential to our well-being and mental health, which unfortunately is often overlooked. Social media has convinced many that simple pleasures in life are not enough anymore.
SU students should think back to when they were kids, during the pre-social media era, as a model of how to live today. By today’s standards, there was an idyllic sense of peace and privacy that existed. Students need to fight to get that back in their lives. Abstaining from social media in the smallest ways will make all the difference in maintaining students’ mental health.
Go to Armory Square for brunch, wear a wonderful outfit, get the best dish on the menu, and don’t post about it. Walk through Thornden Park and leave your phone in your bag. Listen to a podcast that will teach you something valuable, call your siblings to check up on them, and then listen to your favorite playlist. Remember that there are more ways to feel connected to the world than scrolling through social media.
To put it simply, do what makes you feel good. The horrors of Facebook and Instagram are only here to stay if we continue to let them.
Julia Kahen is a freshman news, magazine, and digital journalism and political science dual major. Her column appears biweekly. She can be reached at [email protected].
Published on October 11, 2021 at 10:28 pm