by Sydney Gayton ’23
At some point or another, everyone has probably compared themselves to others on social media. Whether it be a new job or internship posting on LinkedIn, or a perfectly captured candid on Instagram, it can be difficult to not compare yourself to others’ achievements, or what is known as the “highlight reel.” Generally, people post all of the good and none of the bad on social media, which contributes to that so-called highlight reel. This forms an inaccurate representation of a “perfect life,” or feed, at least.
It is not necessarily a bad thing to post only the best and brightest moments of life, even if they are filtered with an editing app; it has become a human tendency. But, again, another human tendency is to compare aspects of one’s own life to the highlight reel of another. This is where the damaging effects of social media lie.
The issue, though, isn’t social media in and of itself. Social media has become a beneficial tool in keeping the world connected, and this has become more obvious throughoutthe COVID-19 pandemic. Families can post pictures on Facebook or Instagram for their relatives to see and FaceTime grandparents that live hours away.
College-aged students in particular compose a significant percentage of social media users. 66% of Gen Z, people born between 1997 and 2012, report that social media is “an essential part of their lives.” In 2021, 42 million Gen Z consumers reported using Snapchat, 37.3 millionTikTok, and 33.3 million Instagram.
In recent years, social media has become heavily criticized for the negative effects it can have on individuals, and not without reason. Studies have shown that heavy social media use is linked to an increased risk of anxiety, depression, and suicide. Social media can, and does, promote negative experiences and feelings of inadequacy about certain aspects of people’s lives, but it does not have to.
When people call social media damaging to their mental health, what is damaging is not the platform, but their use of it. In Bailey Parnell’s TED Talk on this subject, she gives tips and advice to prevent social media from damaging one’s mental health, such as self-reflecting after social media experiences. It is okay to unfollow celebrities or even friends if it harms one’s self-worth. Parnell urges listeners to also model good behavior on social media. Do not contribute to hurtful posts or spread negativity. Social media does not have to harm people; it can lift people up and be a good experience, not one where people feel worse after.
Parnell also says that when we discuss “the dark side of social media, what we really talk about is the dark side of people.” Facebook does not make people post offensive things on the site and Instagram does not force people to post hurtful comments on pictures. It is easy to blame social media sites for some of the negatives that can come with them, but it also seems misdirected. Parnell says she does not want people to stop using social media because it realistically is here to stay, and because of all the benefits it can have; yet, she urges listeners to “practice safe social [media].”
Social media should be viewed as neutral: neither bad nor good. All the negatives and toxicity people attribute to social media platforms are things people have always done, like comparing or bullying, the only difference is thatit is now online. People would not blame their television providers for a bad show or movie the way they do with social media.
The bottom line is that,when used incorrectly, social media can have negative consequences on users’ mental health. A survey conducted by the CDC in 2020 found that one in four Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 have considered suicide in the past month. In a class of 30 students, that would mean seven to eight students have contemplated ending their lives. That is a scary and very serious statistic. So, always remember to be kind to others and yourself, in person and on social media, because behind someone’s Instagram highlight reel, they could really be struggling. Kindly educate someone the next time they say social media is ruining people’s lives, point out safe ways to use these platforms and help redirect the blame from these sites to harmful individuals instead.