Our phones are melting our minds! Well, maybe (just maybe, though) not the physical phones, but all those apps inside of them are doing a bang-up job of banging up our brains. In the age of hyper-connectivity and endless informational updates, our mental health is ending up with the shortest end of the digital stick.
So why do these online interfaces leave us feeling so icky? Sure, those tiny dopamine hits that pop along with each new notification definitely add to the addiction factor, but each app has its own specific dangers lurking within its kelp forests of code. Identifying why each little square block can make us feel so, well, little, is the first step in bettering our relationship with what feels like the unavoidable world(s) of social media.
The Fountain of FOMO
Instagram is an obvious culprit when it comes to social media monsters. The never-ending scroll of over-edited highlights seems positive at first – at least they aren’t snarking all over the place like those angry Tweeters, right?
Well, it turns out that watching a hyper-curated highlight reel of everyone we know’s (and a lot of people’s we don’t) luck-glossed lives amps our innate FOMO feelings up to untenable levels. The increasingly commonplace Instagram face and laughably see-through attempts at authenticity have infected the app and the popular culture at large; perfection, even if it’s Facetuned, is the name of the #authentic game.
Facebook started this whole ruckus way back in 2004, and has definitely come the closest to destroying civil relationships with people from your hometown – and also western democracy – in the 1.5 decades since.
All those angry birds and minion memes posted by distant relatives and nearly-forgotten high school classmates took on a way darker tone in the lead up to the 2016 election, when Russian troll tactics were able to successfully influence American politics on a national scale. Facebook continued to step in it over and over in 2018, and took even more hits as politicians on both sides of the aisle ramped up attacks last year in preparation for 2020. Their sketchy record on misinformation didn’t get much shinier after announcing they would allow politicians to lie, and pay to promote those lies, across the platform.
This social site has gotten super, duper political, and leaves users feeling irritated with people they actually know. Oh, and they’re selling our digital souls. When exactly was Facebook not making us depressed???
Twitter has a reputation for being a particularly nasty corner of the ‘net when it comes to feeding the outrage machine that instigates oh so many uncomfortable online interactions. The snarkiest takes (especially from celebrities or politicians) perform the best, so a certain lack of empathy is already embedded in the structure.
Whereas people on Facebook are fighting with humans they’ve actually met in the real world (mostly), the ones on Twitter are going for the throats of random accounts from across the world, a huge percentage of them bots designed to incite the very reactions they get.
The tight character limits imposed on Tweets (280, up from the original 140) are a killing field for the arts of nuance and keeping things in context, so it’s easy enough to find an opportunity to ‘dunk’ on someone, even if they don’t particularly deserve it. The platform’s historic tolerance of hateful rhetoric doesn’t exactly make it feel any cozier.
Video After Vine
TikTok is the new kid on the block, but has thrown up some seriously impressive stats in its short time on the scene. In just two and a half years since its outside-China launch, TikTok’s user base has swelled to an astounding 1.5 billion accounts, adding more than 500 million new members in 2019 alone. So far, the biggest issue for the video giant has been ties to the Chinese government. Other than being a total time suck, TikTok actually seems to be a comforting corner of the internet, where weirdness is rewarded and the teens are leading the charge into a whole new world of humor. Sure, it can be #cringe, but if that’s the worst of it, TikTok might be alright after all (tbd on the Chinese government interference thing).
As we grow into the digital social universe we’ve created, the warnings about mental health in the online realms are coming faster and harder than ever before. Thankfully, that also means we’re learning what behaviors to avoid and which to encourage when it comes to maintaining your sanity in the Wild West of the web. Stay safe out there!