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.
We see these stories once it is too late. What about the everyday online harassment? What about that ugly snapchat you sent your friend with the intention of it being private, and now it is up on Facebook? ‘And so? It’s just one photo, it’s funny’ ‘Just one mean comment, not a big deal.’
But when these micro moments happen over and over again, over time, that’s when we have a macro problem. We have to recognize these everyday instances as well. Because if they go unchecked and the effects unnoticed, we are going to have many more Tyler Clementis. The effects are not always easy to recognize.
How many of you have noticed the notifications at the top of my screen? How many of you, like me, are bothered that they’re not checked? OK, let me check them for you.
Okay! Just one small example of what this can do to you. Maybe you simply cannot focus because your notifications are going off the handle, and you need to check. That need, eventually becomes addiction. Regarding social media, we are already experiencing impairment similar to substance dependencies. With every like, you get a shot of that feel-good chemical, dopamine.
You gain more of that social currency. So what do we do to feel good? We check likes – just one more time. We post – just one more time. We are anxious if we do not have access. Doesn’t that sound like every drug you have ever heard of? Yeah! So when that grows, when your social media use goes unconfronted over time, that’s when we see the rising levels of anxiety and depression: the FOMO, the distractions, the highlight reels, the comparisons. It’s a lot, and it’s all the time!
The Canadian Association of Mental Health found that grades 7-12 students who spent two hours a day on social media reported higher levels of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. For those of you doing the math, that’s as young as twelve years old.
Here is the thing, I like social media. I do, I love it. Hearing what I’ve said today might make you think I want you to get off of it. But I don’t. I don’t think it’s going anywhere, so I’m not going to waste my time telling you to spend less time on social media.
Frankly, I don’t think absence is an option anymore. But that does not mean you can’t practice ‘safe social’. Everything I have talked about today has nothing and everything to do with social media. I mean, social media is neither good nor bad. It’s just the most recent tool we use to do what we have always done: tell stories and communicate with each other.
You wouldn’t blame Samsung Television for a bad TV show. Twitter doesn’t make people write hateful posts. When we talk about this dark side of social media, what we really talk about is the dark side of people. That dark side that makes harassers harass; that insecurity that makes you take down a photo you were excited to share. That dark side that looks at a picture of a happy family and wonders why yours does not look like that.
So as parents, as educators, as friends, as bosses this dark side is what we need to focus on. We need preventative strategies and coping strategies so that when you have your low days – because you will – when you’re questioning your self-worth, you never get as low as Tyler Clementi – and the many others like him.