Content media

Dangerous content

As a college freshman researching the damaging effects of social media on teenage mental health and a survivor of a high school and eating disorder raising awareness of harmful dietary culture practices, we have seen firsthand how detrimental social media can be to the mental health of our friends and peers. We’ve also studied the latest neuropsychology behind these effects, and we’re concerned.

The value of our experience in the field cannot be ignored. At the height of my Instagram usage, I (Caroline) can’t count how many times the first thing I saw at the top of my feed was a “What I Eat in a Day” video. The words were spelled out in a funky font and light pop music played in the background as a young woman explained her diet. A few more scrolls and I came across an infographic outlining the “good and bad” foods to eat while in a calorie deficit. These food-related content feeds made it much harder to recover from my eating disorder, as the foods recommended by my doctors always appeared in the “do not eat” column of these infographics. Later, I realized that Instagram’s algorithms were increasing dangerous content that drove teens to extreme diets because the company was making about $228 million a year from followers of pro-eating disorder content. .

The algorithms are designed to engage users and keep them on the platform for as long as possible, regardless of the mental health effects. A 2018 study indicated that frequent users of image-based social media platforms reported more anxiety, depression, and body image issues than less frequent users. Neuroimaging studies echo similar findings. Brain activity in centers that stimulate emotion and attention increases when viewing digitally distorted images of bodies. As teens endlessly scroll through social media platforms for fear of missing out, increased attention to idealized body types increases the risk of developing body dissatisfaction, anxiety, and depression.

Moreover, since social media platforms are designed to provide users with information that they pay more attention to – by liking, commenting or watching an entire video – these algorithms can create emotionally damaging content bubbles that feed adolescents with the very images that contribute to development. mental health disorders. Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to these negative effects. The emotional centers in our brains develop faster than the decision-making and impulse-control centers, so rather than tapping into our heightened emotionality, is it too much to ask that social media be designed to keep our minds in good shape? health ?

Although we are vulnerable, we are not helpless. And as many teens will tell you, if you had to ask, not all social media platforms are bad. From virtual school years during the pandemic to friendships becoming remote during the freshman year of college, social media has been an essential tool in keeping us connected with the people we love.

It’s time for policy makers to help us help ourselves.

Excerpt: “Government can (and should) make social media platforms safer for young users”.

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