“Distracted by distraction by distraction.” – T.S. Elliot; How Social Media Companies Consciously Affect Society.

Photo credit: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/400602

Photo credit: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/400602

Allie Daudelin, Contributor

They’re much less comfortable taking risks. The rates at which they get driver’s licenses have been dropping. The number who have ever gone out on a date or had any kind of romantic interaction is dropping rapidly. This is a real change in a generation. And remember, for every one of these, for every hospital admission, there’s a family that is traumatized and horrified.” In this quote, Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist shared the effects social media has had on Generation Z.  While some may claim that technology keeps us connected to each other, social media platforms negatively affect all people because it is a melting pot of addiction and increases mental health issues. 

Many people have been aware of the negative effects on mental health caused by social media, but people often neglect to look further into how social media is programmed. Platforms have designed their apps to target a part of the brain many people are unaware of. This part of the brain is known as the ventral striatum. When humans experience a social reward, a rush of dopamine and oxytocin is experienced, or in medical terms, a positive intermittent reinforcement. Receiving the positive feeling of dopamine creates an unconscious habit. By using psychological methods to create an addiction to social media platforms, companies are able to increase interactiveness on apps which benefits them economically. Significant interaction with social media platforms caused a 151% increase in suicide among middle-school-age girls. More effects from social media usage include alienation, election hacking, inability to focus on current issues, and mass chaos due to fake news.  Therefore, social media negatively affects people.

Social media removes the barriers set by needing to meet people in order to form bonds. It also presents a place where people can find others with shared interests and form new friendships. While social media can form new friendships, it is very much capable of disrupting previous friendships. Many are often familiar with the phrase, “once it’s online it’s out there forever.” Younger generations who have access to social media might not understand the consequences presented by using social media. 

Cathay O’Neil with a Ph.D. in mathematics states, “ I like to say that algorithms are opinions embedded in code… and that algorithms are not objective. Algorithms are optimized to some definition of success. So, if you can imagine, if a commercial enterprise builds an algorithm to their definition of success, it’s a commercial interest. It’s usually profit.” Algorithms are used by all social media companies as a way to constantly increase interactivity with their platforms. Often people see this in the form of recommendations or ads of things you have previously talked about with friends. These large companies like Instagram, Uber, Twitter, Facebook, etc. are all driven by economic and shareholder pressure. Shareholders constantly push economic gain on the companies, which drives them to constantly create addictions to their apps. People are most profitable to social media platforms when interacting with an ad or a post. A direct example of this is that fake news travels 6x faster on Twitter than on any news channel. The way algorithms are designed with only commercial interest in mind shows the little thought incorporated for society. The constant notifications and more aspects driving you to interact with the app promote addiction to social media. 

Social media companies’ biggest goal is to make consumers more addicted to their apps. Constantly being on social media can present a big issue regarding mental health issues. With increasing mental health issues, suicides in young girls also increase rapidly. Going to a private school, I have seen firsthand the damage that upset young adults can cause to one another. Would you want future generations to experience these struggles or do you think they are just another part of growing up?