Facebook has been facing scrutiny after whistleblower Frances Haugen exposed tens of thousands of documents detailing the social media company’s toxic effects on users.
In particular, the findings highlighted that Facebook knew that Instagram, which it owns, was significantly hurting teens’ body image and mental health.
The issue has finally brought a new spotlight of attention to the potential harm users face and could signal the start of a desperately needed new era of regulations, ending the lawless, wild west state of social media. Social media is still a very recent invention, and there is little agreement on what those regulations would entail.
No discussion about social media would be complete without mentioning its benefits, and indeed they are unrivaled. Communication is quick, friendships are easy, and the sense of community is abundant. Ultimately, in its best intentions, social media is a way of bringing people together.
Of course though, social media is also a way of creating and preserving a pristine image of oneself for everyone to see. It is here where things get messy. (When looking at Facebook and Twitter, things also get messy in the areas of hate content and fake and harmful misinformation, but I am focusing on the platforms most students use, like Instagram, Tik Tok, and Snapchat, where damage to body image and mental health is a more prevalent issue).
Though it is natural to compare yourself to others, it can become unhealthy and damaging, especially when you’re online seeing perfect pictures of people.
We all know that the pictures people post are heavily manipulated. We all know that no one posts pictures detailing the low points in their life. However that doesn’t alleviate any bitter feelings of envy or want you can feel when glancing through your feed.
Also, when people post idealized photos of themselves, unrealistic body standards are created. These determine what is considered right and what isn’t. When teens realize they don’t look like what they see, it causes a slew of problems: insecurities, depression, harm to body image, and as a result, damage to mental health.
According to research done by Facebook, these problems were reported especially by teen girls who used Instagram. To change themselves to fit the “ideal” body type presented on social media, some turn to unhealthy behaviors, like disordered eating. Clearly, something is wrong and needs to be changed. As social media platforms continue to grow quickly, faster than we can research their impact, they remain one step ahead. And as teens begin to use social media earlier in life, the stronger that impact will likely be.
Countless studies have found a correlation between time spent on social media and body image insecurities. This doesn’t mean social media is bad, it instead means you need to change how you use it. After all, social media is designed to be addicting, like a drug. It’s unrealistic to ask anyone to stop using social media. Instead, if you notice yourself feeling depressed or bad about yourself after using Instagram, take a couple days off. You might be surprised about how it feels.
Taking a break from social media can clear your mind and help you focus on work. If you can’t stop using social media and must stay on to communicate with people, limit your time on it. And of course, unfollow any accounts that make you feel insecure or anxious about how you look.
These will all help you feel much better about yourself and there is absolutely nothing better than that. Sometimes all that is needed is taking a step out and looking around.