The Dark Truth of Social Media
I had the advantage of growing up before Social Media was popular; in fact, I didn’t have a smartphone until I went to college. In a sense, I got the best of both worlds. I grew up without having a cell phone or worrying about “what’s the next thing I’m going to post online”, but I witnessed the advancement of technology and the beginnings of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat. While I was in college, social media grew more popular and I felt as though I had some catching up to do since I was the last of my friends to get a smartphone.
Over the past decade, Social Media has exceeded expectations as far as technological advancements. With the click of a button (or tap of a finger), it’s never been easier to order food, shop online, connect with friends and family, and post our lives for the world to see. While Social Media has brought many positives and conveniences to our daily lives, there are also drawbacks. Social Media has created new problems that as a society we don’t quite know how to deal with. The Social Dilemma on Netflix is a drama-documentary series that explains the drawbacks of social media and how it’s starting to affect society.
Looking Back at the Film
There were several moments in the documentary that I could relate to and moments that stuck with me and really made me think about how I use social media. “Snapchat dysmorphia” has been coined by plastic surgeons because people want to look exactly how they look with a Snapchat filter — perfect. No signs of aging, flawless skin, the perfect portioned lips, and nose; this is very damaging to a person’s self-esteem. They think, “why can’t I really look like that?” “Why am I not perfect like that person on social media?” As a society, we have created unrealistic beauty expectations, and anything that defers those expectations is seen as ugly, unfavorable, or unhealthy. I will admit that when I first started using Instagram and Snapchat, my confidence was a bit shaken. I was picking out all of the things I considered “flaws” because these platforms erased them from my face. Social media also highlights the exciting and noteworthy aspects of our lives. We are constantly comparing ourselves to models and influencers because all we see are the exciting parts of their lives. We think we should be doing more exciting things or have more aesthetically pleasing photos; we feel like our lives are not being lived to the fullest because we are not posting online and proving to everyone we know that we did these things.
It was also very startling to hear that suicide and self-harm in young teens (mostly girls) has sky-rocketed since Social Media has become more popular and seen as a necessity to be connected with everyone. In the Social Dilemma, it stated, “Gen Z is the first generation to get on Social Media in middle school.” This generation has grown up with only knowing social media. The intention for likes, hearts, and comments was to “bring positivity into the world,” the intention was never to be used as to whether or not you or your post have value. We feel happiness, acceptance, and validity when we receive likes and comments even though it’s short-lived. Now there’s so much pressure, especially on younger generations, to be constantly posting the next best thing and getting as many likes as possible. If a social media user isn’t getting as many likes as they want or as many likes as someone else, we are programmed to think there is something wrong with us. This all ties into the beauty expectations set by society.
Another problem that was discussed in the Social Dilemma was the surge in misinformation; “We have gone from the information age to the disinformation age.” Social Media platforms are free to their users and anyone can have social media as long as they have an Internet connection. This opens the opportunity for people to express themselves regardless of the information that is put out. It has become increasingly easy for people to create posts or memes with photos and captions with the intention for it to be shared and push a certain narrative. This ‘disinformation’ age has caused distrust between the people and legitimate news sources. It has become harder for people to decipher between what information is true or false. The film also discussed how it’s impossible for Artificial Intelligence to decipher what is fact or fiction — they are simply not programmed that way. Algorithms are created to be good at recommending the next thing to you simply based on other posts you’ve looked at or liked. For example, if you search for information about flat Earth theories, the algorithm is going to recommend videos on conspiracy theories or groups that talk about these topics. “Platforms make it possible to spread manipulative narratives with ease and for cheap,” (The Social Dilemma).
Us and Our Relationship with Social Media
In the film, the case is made that human willpower can’t be expected to compete with some of the most sophisticated AI on the planet. So what does that mean exactly and how can we, as a society, develop a healthier relationship with social media? The film made a point to talk about the goal for tech companies and social media platforms is to compete and keep our attention. Everything we do online is watched, tracked, measured, and used to build models to predict our actions online. While social media is free for us to use, in order for these companies to make money, advertisers pay these companies to advertise their products and services to users who have shown similar interests based on their online habits. While this can be convenient, it has also created an addiction. “If something is not a tool, it is demanding attention from you” (The Social Dilemma). Something as simple as a notification, an email, a text message, can force us to drop everything we’re doing to respond. Companies and advertisers see this and take advantage of that in order to make money since users are not paying to use these Social Media platforms. Now, the big question is how do we form a healthy relationship with social media?
I’m sure you’ve heard of the “terms and conditions” that pop up while you’re online or creating social profiles. How many people do you know actually reads through that and fully understand what it means? In order to build a healthier relationship with social media, we need to fully understand what our social media accounts fully entail. No one wants to read a long, boring message filled with legal jargon. When we create a Facebook or Instagram account, we are given an interactive virtual tour of how to use the app in detail. What should be focused on in these virtual tours is how to protect your information, scam tactics, and exactly what information platforms are using in order to make future recommendations. In order for users to understand, this virtual tour should be interactive and necessary in order to create an account.
The Social Dilemma spoke a lot about how social media is affecting younger generations; they’re taking fewer risks, having life milestones later in life, and increases in depression and anxiety all stem from social media. It’s difficult for youth to understand that not everything is as it seems online. Social media, while it was not the intention of the creators, has set unrealistic expectations of how we should look and live our lives. I think it’s important for society to relinquish these expectations we have set; you don’t need perfect skin or perfect facial features, you don’t need to spend every weekend going somewhere expensive or exciting. We are forgetting how to actually live our lives and do things that we enjoy and now just thinking of the next thing we should be posting. I think it is important for the education system to introduce some kind introduction to social media classes for middle school and high school students. It’s important for our youth to understand what they are truly getting into and how to be safe online. It’s also important to learn how easily posts and photos can be altered to look a certain way. Since I grew up without social media and it became more popular as I got older, it was so new that we did not know what we were doing and we had to learn as we went along. Social Media is something we use every day and is not going to just go away — what will happen next is the real question.
Social Media and Me
I love social media — Instagram is one of my favorite platforms to use. I have also made it a habit to not let it control my life, and I am much happier due to that. I see my social media accounts as a way to connect with my friends and family, for inspiration and creativity, without feeling the pressure to post all the time. This took some practice on my part; I had to teach myself not to live my life for the purpose of social media. I found myself constantly thinking about what I’m going to post next or looking for the next opportunity to get the next “Instagram worthy” photo. I think I could not use my phone for 24 hours, but a text message from a family member or friend would entice me to reach over for my phone. When I first got a phone, it was before smartphones were popular and the only thing I had my phone for was to text my friends and family. Now, I enjoy getting texts from my family and friends simply because I’m curious to see what they have to say; that would tempt me the most to look at my phone.
I mentioned before that I use social media for inspiration and creativity; this is true, and I use it for my other hobbies. I really enjoy drawing, reading, and playing video games. All of these hobbies still spark inspiration and creativity for me, but I like social media because it shows me what other people like or what other people like to create. I think it’s amazing that we can use social media to see how other people all over the world with different backgrounds and cultures live their lives. If I could keep only one social media app it would be Instagram. Most of the people I know have Instagram and post frequently enough for me to stay connected. My Instagram is also very consistent and does a good job at recommending posts that I will like. I also love to see photographs and short videos; those tend to keep my attention more than long videos like those on YouTube.
Over the years I have learned to constantly keep checking my privacy settings on my social media accounts because things in this industry are constantly changing. It’s important to understand what information is being put out online and to keep that information safe. After watching the film, I feel comfortable in the settings I currently have and the things that I post across my social media accounts. I do think this film is important for everyone who uses social media to watch and help gain a perspective of how social media is affecting society and younger generations. An addiction to social media has been created and we are slowly seeing the effects from it. As well as the tech companies, we as a society need to acknowledge these issues and create solutions to these drawbacks that we are continuing to see. Social media is going to be around for a long time, it has thrived over the past decade and we are constantly wondering what could possibly be next.