Social Media: Society's Titanic
Recently a 16-year girl in Malaysia posted this poll question on Instagram: "Really Important, Help Me Choose D/L." A few hours later she jumped off a building. She chose “D.” At the time of her death the polling showed that 69% of her followers had chosen Death as the option for her and, suffering from chronic depression, she obliged their choice. At the end of the 24-hour poll, well after her death, the poll ended with 88% voting for Life. The Malaysian authorities have stated that anyone voting for Death were aiding and abetting a suicide and should be held accountable.
This is the world we live in today. Social Media has a pervasive grasp on much of the younger generations and, as we’re finding out, that which was once believed to unite us in communication and friendship is devolving into something much worse: an engine for anonymous anger, steep polarization, depression and suicide. Social Media is where civility has gone to die and its affecting us in ways that only now are we able to quantify after a decade or so of research.
Selena Gomez is a star of film and music with a social media following of over 150 million people (on Instagram alone). At the Cannes Film Festival, she said “For my generation specifically, social media has been terrible, I understand that it’s amazing to use as a platform, but it does scare me when you see how exposed these young girls and boys are. I think it’s dangerous for sure.”
In a comprehensive psychological study performed on children and social media, Jean Twenge uses data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health to track the mental health and drug use of teens in the United States.
The dataset compiled by the National Survey had responses from more than 200,000 kids between the ages of 12 and 17, as well as over 400,000 responses from young adults aged 18 and older between the years of 2005 and 2017. Twenge found that during this time period major depression symptoms exploded with an astonishing 52% in teens and 63% in young adults over the past decade. 20%, or one in five, girls were now experiencing major depression episodes. Psychological Distress during this time period also rose to 71% in people aged 18 to 25.
Death from suicide increased by 56% between 2008 and 2017 in 18 to 19 year olds.
Combine this with the fact that Pew Research ran a study of technology adoption across multiple generations and found that younger generations were the ones to adopt not only social media platforms faster than anyone but also the mobile technology that takes this new form of socialization wherever they go. This is the correlation that points to social media as one of the primary drivers in this almost unbelievable increase in depression, suicide, and more. While this is not implying causation, it is a critical connection.
No longer do our homes offer a safe haven for those kids who have a hard time with bullying is school. Thanks to the interconnectivity of social media, bullied children now take their tormentors home with them. How would anyone feel if they couldn’t escape this, even in a place they typically find security in?
As we continue to divide into various political camps and throw stones at each other online without taking the time to have an intelligent and hyperbole free conversation, we are adding our children into the mix. Are we throwing children, with higher rates of depression, into a world where they inherit the anger and vitriol the vocal left and right espouse daily? How will they cope with an adult online world full of anger with no end seemingly in sight?
Studies show that people who adopt social media at the age of 19 or older do not suffer the same rates of depression and mental health issues as their younger peers. Do we need to enable legislation to ensure that no one under the age of 18 can use social media? Do we need to force social media platforms to validate a user’s identity and age before allowing a person into the platform? Would that reduce bullying? There is no perfect solution, but we must take steps to reduce the negative effects of social media on today’s youth.
If we can’t fix this societal Titantic, the iceberg will surely win.