Social media has completely revolutionized the way we communicate with each other. It is a powerful tool to communicate with the outside world, as well as a free and open forum to debate, exchange ideas, and share opinions. Then, by calling social media a tool for communication, one would point out that it contradicts the claim in this article’s title. The reality is that all the platforms that encompass “social media” have been evolving drastically over the past ten years. Algorithms have grown smarter and more precise, and as many as 5% to 10% of Americans now meet the criteria for social media addiction.
Sites like Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram utilize our data to sort posts in a user’s feed based on relevancy to said person’s interests instead of publishing time. This is the algorithm, a term many of us are now familiar with thanks to the increase of websites using user data to recommend posts with the potential to catch the user’s attention, thus keeping us hooked on said site for more sustained periods. Social networking companies earn their money primarily through advertisement, and the more you look, the more advertising you’re exposed to.
While virtual interaction does not have the same psychological benefits as physical interaction, and face-to-face contact is far more difficult now during the pandemic, there are still many positives to the usage of social media. It enables instant communication with friends and loved ones, facilitates finding new friends who share similar interests and hobbies through servers or forums, or serves as an outlet for creative self-expression. As it is vital in all things in life, finding a balance in daily social media usage is always ideal. With the positives already stated, it would be ignorant not to acknowledge the prevalent mental health concerns that stem from overuse.
We have heard time and time again of how social media posts warp reality, makes us feel inadequate, isolates more vulnerable users from needed physical interaction, and socially cripples children and teenagers. So, why do we always go back to it? Why is it so irresistible to check every five minutes in hopes of a new message?
There is science behind why more people every year find themselves “addicted” to social media. Studies have shown that receiving notifications activate rewarding centers in the brain by directly involving the concentration of dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain, acting as a chemical messenger between neurons. The chemical is released when your brain is expecting a reward. When you come to associate a certain activity with pleasure, mere anticipation may be enough to raise dopamine levels. The anticipation of receiving that Whatsapp reply notification stimulates an increase of dopamine. This can be highly addictive; the human mind begins to demand it more and with higher frequency. Social networking companies exploit this addiction through surveillance capitalism and data mining.
The recently published Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma” explores this set of problems in greater depth. The film features interviews with former Google design ethicist and Center for Humane Technology co-founder Tristan Harris, along with other former employees from large tech companies such as Google and Facebook. The ex-employees exposed these companies for purposely praying on the addictive nature of social media and gathering user data for financial gain.
Despite social media facilitating the connection between friends and family and serving as a creative outlet for millions around the globe, the damming evidence against these networks and the emotional strain it has brought upon the younger generation is an added warning of the relevance and need for a healthy balance between restricting and overuse.
Ahmad, Irfan. “Why Are We Addicted to Social Media? [INFOGRAPHIC].” Social Media Week, 27 July 2018, socialmediaweek.org/blog/2018/07/why-are-we-addicted-to-social-media-infographic/
Orlowski, Jeff, et al. The Social Dilemma, Netflix, 9 Sept. 2020, www.netflix.com/search?q=the%20social%20dilemma&jbv=81254224.
“Social Media Addiction.” Edited by Theresa Parisi and Jena Hilliard, Addiction Center, Addiction Center, 17 Sept. 2020, www.addictioncenter.com/drugs/social-media-addiction/.