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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Why you should stop using social media

Social media companies are willfully profiting off the destruction of your mental health.

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Social media apps are pictured.

Content warning: This article contains mentions of suicide.

Throughout college, I’ve often had to explain to people that I do not, indeed, have an Instagram account. In fact, I’ve been social media-free for most of my life, which has often felt like both a social detriment and a personal benefit. People are quick to point out the cons of going offline: It is more difficult to meet people, exchange contact information and keep up with (or keep tabs on) your high school friends you don’t talk to anymore.

But, to me, the benefits greatly outweigh the drawbacks. It’s much easier to foster friendships in the absence of social media than it is to foster mental health under the influence of it. For me, the experience of socializing without social media has been extremely rewarding. It has forced me to prioritize in-person communication, spend less time stressing about how I’m being viewed and helped me to build deep, close-knit relationships with a number of people.

It’s common knowledge how damaging social media is for your mental health, but it bears repeating. Research consistently links increased social media use with increased severe depression and anxiety, and it is widely noted that the rise in social media use has been mirrored by a historic rise in suicide rates. This is the kind of knowledge that should make us afraid, but somehow we’ve become frighteningly numb to it.

From the outside, it’s easy to blame social media users for their own problems. How many times have we heard condescending remarks about how young people spend too much time on their phones? But in the willful neglect of social media’s effects and the victim-blaming nature of our conversations around social media, we fail to demand accountability from those really at fault: social media corporations.

Meta is a particularly acute example of the abhorrent behavior that is characteristic of these companies. As the technology conglomerate behind such platforms as Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, Meta has billions of people using its products on a daily basis. In the case of Instagram, 40% of these users are 22 years old or younger, as the app has been accused of specifically targeting younger users. Meta is well aware of the effect its product has on users. Its own research has regularly shown that its products, especially Instagram, can have devastating effects for teenage users, who widely report feelings of anxiety, depression and body shame derived from the app. In fact, according to one of Meta’s internal studies, 6% of suicidal American teens say that their desire to kill themselves came from Instagram. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence from inside and outside of the company, Meta has repeatedly hidden and downplayed the evidence that their products cause these issues. CEO Mark Zuckerberg even said in a congressional hearing, “The research that we’ve seen is that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental-health benefits,” belying the trove of data saying that Meta’s apps largely do the opposite.

It’s clear that this callous inhumanity comes from an insatiable greed for profit. Thirty-three U.S. states and Washington D.C. argued as much in a lawsuit they filed against Meta last year, saying that the company “designed psychologically manipulative product features to induce young users’ compulsive and extended use.” Using tactics like infinite scroll and persistent notifications, Instagram sends users down toxic rabbit holes, exploiting them for profit with every like and notification. In the meantime, Zuckerberg gleefully continues to pad his pockets with the pain of children that his company’s product has knowingly driven to the extremes of depression and self-hatred. 

Evidently, it’s not the user’s fault that they get caught in this carefully designed system, and they aren’t responsible for the abominable actions of these companies. But on an individual level, changing your relationship with social media can be healthy for yourself and for society at large. Of course, using social media less often, getting rid of certain apps or deleting it altogether can have a major, positive impact on your mental health. But even more than that, interacting with these apps at all contributes in many ways to the toxic chokehold they have on our society. You line their pockets with every ad you view and help build their algorithm every time you interact with content. Simply using social media creates a societal pressure for others to join you and pushes the social and personal sphere into an environment built to exploit for profit.

Of course, social media is not without its benefits, and with the tactics these companies have been using, it can feel difficult, if not impossible, to delete your accounts. But the next time you find yourself late-night doomscrolling in your room, remember that logging off is doing yourself, and society, a favor.