Unplug from the Digital World

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Unplug from the Digital World

Mar 22, 2024

“The damage to self-worth inflicted by Facebook today will haunt a generation,” said U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal in Facebook’s 2021 Congress hearing. Yet, despite knowing their contribution to anxiety and depression rates, platforms, such as Facebook, have done little to combat these detrimental issues. The enhanced realities and unhealthy comparisons perpetrated by social media have taken a serious toll on mental health. Younger generations are shown to be the most impacted, as evidenced in multiple studies, such as one in 2022 by MIT Sloan. This study found that college-wide access to Facebook led to a 7% increase in severe depression among students. Multiple factors collide to create a destructive and addictive environment since users are constantly bombarded with highlight reels of others’ lives, that only show snippets of the truth. Along with faux realities, algorithms continue to feed users information similar to what they interact with, which further delves them into troubling content. Therefore, the problem should be addressed in a two-fold manner, both by the individual user and social media companies. Users can safeguard themselves by taking social media fasts, whilst platforms have a moral responsibility to put aside finances, and institute time-limiting measures to protect the mental health and self-worth of their users.

Personally, I have experienced the harmful effects of social media on my mental health when going through an unexpected and difficult break-up. While already at a low point with my self-esteem, my Instagram and TikTok seamingly knew the exact negative emotions I was feeling and replayed them to me video after video. As well, my Instagram explore page was inundated with posts such as “5 reasons your ex hates you,” and “how to win them back after X days of no contact.” Not only were these posts hindering my healing, but I was also getting addicted to the content. I was searching for emotional relief in a digital platform, rather than outwardly expressing my struggle with trusted friends and family. After this situation got to a point where I was bordering on a depression diagnosis, I knew I had to take action. I was suggested by both a therapist and multiple friends to go on a “social media fast” by deleting the apps from my phone. This was precisely the action that aided me in turning a corner toward healing from my difficult relationship. By putting a stop to the onslaught of so-called “advice,” painful photo memories, and new posts from my ex-boyfriend, I was able to refocus my attention on the people physically around me. It was very difficult to resist the urge to check my DMs and feed for the first few days, but as time went on, I barely reached for my phone. Now, even months later, I rarely check Instagram, and I am far more conscious of enjoying highlight moments in real life, rather than only recording them.

Although I was able to take action against the effect social media was having on me, it is paramount that platforms establish a similar “social media fast” concept. To address the mental health crisis they have created, Facebook, TikTok, and the like, should limit the amount of time a user can spend on a given day. For example, after an hour of scrolling, the app interface would become unavailable for multiple hours. This shutdown would prompt users to divert their attention to real-life moments and break the habit of mindlessly scrolling. Additionally, a time restraint does not involve any censorship concerns, since a “fast” solution does not remove any content. As evidenced by my personal experience, it is not a singular type of content that causes the issue, but rather, it is the addictive character of the platforms. Due to a loss of viewership, and thus revenue, platforms could be hesitant to implement such changes. Nevertheless, social media companies are aware of the harm they are causing to society and have an ethical obligation to unplug users from their digital worlds before the damage is irreversible.

Milena D’Andrea, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s media law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the following question: "Many experts say that a big problem with social media is social anxiety and depression. Have you or any of your friends experienced those problems? If not, how were they avoided? If so, what can be done to address the problem?" Milena is an Integrated Marketing Communications and Multimedia Design major.

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