by Helena Spydell
Though it has only been prevalent for a short period of time, social media has revolutionized the way humanity interacts. Gone are the days of physical human connection, which have all but been replaced by texting and other functions of the cell phone. Now, almost every person in the world is just a click away, allowing humanity to experience more interconnectedness than ever before. The shift from “old fashioned” methods of communication to social media’s domination of every one-on-one interaction was complete, swift, and deadly, especially for the youngest generation.
Generation Z was the first to grow up with social media as a looming presence at all times. Thus, its constituents were the first to fully experience the effects it has on the growing brain. Though social media is not the first technology deemed evil to the generation raised in its shadow, it has had the most targeted, adverse consequences on its victim of choice. By observing the effect of social media on this generation, it is clear that it does nothing but establish a thick fog, one which completely surrounds its users and leaves them utterly alone. Though there are positive benefits stemming from the way social media connects the people of the world, it ultimately leads to isolation amongst the people who use it most, contributing to mental health issues that are more pervasive than ever before and establishing a feeling of loneliness that comes with being chronically online.
One symptom of the social media epidemic has been the imposing mental health crisis amongst the youngest generation. Prior to the invention of Facebook, suicide rates amongst youth were nonfluctuating. After, according to data from the CDC, they rose 57%. Many researchers attribute these statistics to the fact that social media creates a constant flow of comparison, which slowly chips away at the mental health of the user and increases their likelihood of developing anxiety and depression. This comparison also goes hand-in-hand with the exponential increase in body image issues in recent years. Unrealistic beauty expectations are all too accessible on social media, and they seep into the impressionable minds of young people on apps such as Instagram and TikTok.
Social media, in general, is especially bad for women. A study by FHE Health found that almost 9 out of every 10 women compared themselves and their bodies to images on social media, while only 12.93% of women found this comparison to be favorable. Thus, it’s evident that social media promotes and amplifies a constant self-hatred and an unhealthy obsession with perfection. In addition, social media causes the viewer to disconnect themselves from reality and forget what real, unfiltered people naturally look like. This leads to the extreme prevalence of eating disorders amongst young women, who are suffocated by feelings of inadequacy in the face of the flawless “standards” they are exposed to. All of these mental health issues - depression, anxiety, and eating disorders - are part of a cycle of isolation. Social media and the sense of isolation it generates is a direct cause of mental illness, which in turn results in more feelings of isolation. This creates an endless feedback loop that further destroys mental health.
Though social media has the ability to connect its users to millions of people, it is the users who are most constantly connected that often feel the loneliest. During the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine, I was, like the rest of the world, physically disconnected from my friends and all at once stopped having any sort of interaction with others. Thus, I turned to social media. I was able to communicate with my friends and establish connections via the apps on my phone, and I enjoyed it - for a little while. Soon enough, however, I found my daily screen time to be ever-increasing, and the connections that I made over text started to feel false. I was constantly on my phone, constantly checking social media, and yet a piercing, overwhelming feeling of loneliness shrouded my everyday life in misery. I was starved of human connection, even on days when I had a hundred notifications from my friends. After quarantine, when my friends and I look back on the hours we spent online, we come to a consensus that the connections we had felt were completely false. And we weren’t alone. The isolation we felt - which rotted our self-esteem and devastated our mental health - is all too prevalent throughout the world, and it is due to the false sense of connectedness that social media gives its users.
Social media, one may argue, is humanity’s greatest connector. After all, it has done the world a substantial amount of good, all through its powers of communication. It has shined a light on crucial issues that would have otherwise stayed buried. It has exposed individuals to cultures and people that they would not have encountered otherwise. However, these positive benefits do not outweigh the negative effects that social media inflicts upon society as a whole. The mental health issues that prevail across the world, the feeling of isolation that plagues users - these are symptoms of the unshakable loneliness that social media imposes. As opposed to being “the greatest connector,” social media is unfortunately “the greatest isolator” that has ever touched humanity. The world must first undo the damage social media has dealt upon its users; only then can its benefits prevail.