Here is the full transcript of Bailey Parnell’s TEDx Talk: Is Social Media Hurting Your Mental Health? at TEDxRyersonU conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: Is Social Media Hurting Your Mental Health by Bailey Parnell at TEDxRyersonU
Bailey Parnell – Award-winning digital marketer
I’m fat. Wow, I’m fat.
She’s only nineteen years old, what am I doing with my life? Hey! Two likes! Nice. Do I like this photo? Does she really need more likes? I hope I’m going to be invited to the wedding. One more like, nice!
Welcome to the internal monologue of a typical social media scroll. A monologue that so many of us have every day, but we don’t think about it, we don’t talk about it. In fact, many of us can’t even recognize it happening.
I’m Bailey Parnell, and I will discuss the unintended consequences social media is having on your mental health. I will show you what’s stressing you out every day, what it’s doing to you, and how you can craft a better experience for yourself online.
Just over a year ago, my sister and I took a four-day vacation to Jasper, Alberta. This was the first no-work vacation. I had taken in four years. On this vacation, I was going dark.
I was turning on airplane mode, no email and no social media. The first day there, I was still experiencing phantom vibration syndrome. That’s where you think your phone went off, and you check and it didn’t. I was checking incessantly. I was distracted in conversation.
I was seeing these gorgeous sights Jasper had to offer, and my first reaction was to take out my phone and post it on social. But of course it wasn’t there.
The second day was a little bit easier. You might be thinking I’m ridiculous, but I hadn’t been completely disconnected in over four years. This was practically a new experience again.
It wasn’t until the fourth day I was there that I was finally comfortable without my phone. I was sitting with my sister, literally on the side of this mountain, when I started thinking to myself: “What is social media doing to me? What is it doing to my peers?”
That was only four days, and it was anxiety-inducing, it was stressful and it resulted in withdrawals. That’s when I started to ask questions and have since started my master’s research into this subject. I’ve worked in social marketing primarily in higher education for most of my career. That means I work with a lot of 18- to 24-year-olds, which also happens to be the most active demographic on social media.
The other thing you need to know about me is that I’m young enough to have grown up with social media, but just old enough to be able to critically engage with it in a way that twelve-year-old me probably couldn’t. My life is social media: personally, professionally and academically. If it was doing this to me, what was it doing to everyone else?
I immediately found out I wasn’t alone. The Center for Collegiate Mental Health found that the top three diagnoses on University campuses are anxiety, depression and stress. Numerous studies from the US, Canada, the UK, you name it, have linked this high social media use with these high levels of anxiety and depression.
But the scary thing is that high social media use is almost everyone I know: my friends, my family, my colleagues; 90% of 18- to 29-year-olds are on social media. We spend on average two hours a day there. We don’t even eat for two hours a day. 70% of the Canadian population is on social media.
Our voter turnout isn’t even 70%. Anything we do this often is worthy of critical observation. Anything we spend this much time doing has lasting effects on us.
So let me introduce you to four of the most common stressors on social media, that if go unchecked have potential to become full-blown mental health issues, and this is by no means an exhaustive list.
Number one: the Highlight Reel. Just like in sports, the highlight reel is a collection of the best and brightest moments. Social media is our personal highlight reel. It’s where we put up our wins, or when we look great, or when we are out with friends and family. But we struggle with insecurity because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reels. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others.
Yes, this was happening before social media, with TV and celebrity, but now it’s happening all the time, and it’s directly linked to you. A perfect example I came across in preparation for this talk is my friend on vacation: ‘brb, nap’. ‘Wait, why can’t I afford a vacation? Why am I just sitting here in my PJ’s watching Netflix? I want to be on a beach.’
Here’s the thing, I know her very well. I knew this was out of the ordinary for her. I knew she was typically drowning in schoolwork. But we think, ‘Who wants to see that?’ The highlights are what people want to see. In fact, when your highlights do well, you encounter the second stressor on social media.
Which is number two: Social Currency. Just like the dollar, a currency is literally something we use to attribute value to a good or service. In social media, these likes, the comments, the shares have become this form of social currency by which we attribute value to something. In marketing, we call it the ‘Economy of Attention’. Everything is competing for your attention, and when you give something a like or a piece of that finite attention, it becomes a recorded transaction attributing value.
Which is great if you are selling albums or clothing. The problem is that in our social media, [WE are the product] We are letting others attribute value to us. You know someone or are someone that has taken down a photo because it didn’t take as many likes as you thought it would. I’ll admit, I’ve been right there with you.
We took our product off the shelf because it wasn’t selling fast enough. This is changing our sense of identity. We are tying up our self-worth of what others think about us and then we are quantifying it for everyone to see. And we are obsessed. We have to get that selfie just right, and we will take 300 photos to make sure.
Then we will wait for the perfect time to post. We are so obsessed we have biological responses when we can’t participate.
Which leads me to the third stressor on social media. Number three: FOMO. It’s a light phrase we’ve all thrown around FOMO, or the ‘fear of missing out’, is an actual social anxiety from the fear that you are missing a potential connection, event, or opportunity. A collection of Canadian Universities found that 7/10 students said they would get rid of their social networking accounts if it were not for fear of being left ‘out of the loop’. Out of curiosity, how many people here have, or have considered deactivating your social.
That’s almost everyone. That FOMO you feel, the highlight reels, the social currency, those are all results of a relatively ‘normal’ social media experience. But what if going on social every day was a terrifying experience? Where you not just question your self-worth but you question your safety?
Perhaps the worst stressor on social media is number four: Online Harassment. 40% of online adults have experienced online harassment. 73% have witnessed it. The unfortunate reality is that it is much worse and much more likely if you are a woman, LGBTQ, a person of color, muslim – I think you get the point.
The problem is that in the news we are seeing these big stories: The 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, who took his life after his roommate secretly filmed him kissing another guy and outed him on Twitter. We see women like Anita Sarkeesian being close to shamed of the internet and sent death and rape threats for sharing their feminism.