When it comes to social media, red flags keep popping up.
All of this shows how much of a public health crisis our use of social media has become. I think we need to start treating these platforms like we treat cigarettes and alcohol. This means implementing warning labels and age restrictions, and conducting better research on the health effects of long-term use.
As recently as last week, President Joe Biden said the widespread disinformation on Facebook regarding COVID-19 is “murder” people. Yet while the explosion and prevalence of such disinformation is a serious problem, it is by no means the only threat to public health. The threat of social media to our national mental health is at least as dangerous as anti-vaccine misinformation.
Does that sound overkill to you? Then consider that more than half of those surveyed acknowledged that their use of social media intensified their feelings of anxiety, depression or loneliness. They also told us that it contributed to their low self-esteem and made it harder to focus. Yet despite the recognition of these deleterious effects, only about a third said they had taken steps to limit their use of social media, such as deleting or suspending social media accounts, turning off their phones, or limiting their use of social media. of time spent on their feeds.
I find it amazing that even though users know the damage social media has on their mental health, they don’t want – or can’t – limit their use of these platforms. It’s a bit like smokers and their cigarettes. We should treat it that way.
What is needed is nothing less than a digital, company-wide detox.
What if every time you open Instagram, you first see a warning label like the ones found on cigarettes? “Caution: Social media can be dangerous for your mental health. “
Or when you logged into Facebook you saw this: “Warning: Facebook can increase feelings of depression or loneliness and suicidal thoughts. “
Or every time you got a Twitter notification, it came with it: “Warning: Heavy use of social media is linked to higher rates of depression and anxiety.” “
There is a strong urge to dismiss concerns about social media as a “moral panic“and to compare it to other innovations of communication like the printing press or the telephone, which raised serious concerns in their time which have turned out to be largely unfounded. But there is good reason to believe that we are dealing today hui to a very different problem.
With a growing body of research confirming the link between social media and poor mental health, it may be time to consider government regulations restricting who can create a social media account. If you have to be 18 to buy tobacco or 21 to drink alcohol, why can a 13-year-old with internet access open a TikTok account?
There is no doubt that in the years to come research will generate new knowledge about social media, its negative effects and possible policy solutions. It is absolutely necessary. But scientific progress takes time. In the meantime, more must be done today to reduce the negative impacts of social media, both at the individual and societal level. It means improving the social media environment itself and encouraging people to use it in healthier ways.
As technology and social media have become more and more addicting, “digital detox” has become more and more popular. A break with smartphones, and in particular social media, has been demonstrated, both anecdotally and in research, to increase people’s productivity, improve their mood and help them spend more time with loved ones.
But voluntary breaks aren’t enough, mainly because people don’t take them. Our research has shown that around 40% of social media users would give up their pets or cars before giving up their accounts. And surprisingly, over 70% said they wouldn’t take their social media out of their way for less than $ 10,000.
It is not healthy behavior.
Social media is currently designed for virality and addiction. People can voluntarily share their data in exchange for a free service that they value. But they have not agreed to submit to experimental manipulations that encourage slot machine-like behavior and can cause feelings of anxiety and depression. Additionally, the algorithmic elevation of sensational content distorts users’ perceptions of political realities, promotes polarization, and worse. Limits, standards and regulations are needed.
It’s time we started treating social media for what it is: an addictive activity with serious health implications. Detoxifying from social media will require engagement at many different levels – regulatory, educational, and individual.
Ultimately, this challenge can become an opportunity to prioritize sanity and clear thinking, and cherish that most precious gift of all: our mind.