Can We Reverse The Impact of Social Media?

Netflix’s new documentary, The Social Dilemma, is an alarming wake up call about how social media giants have changed the way we think and behave.

“A false perception of perfection”

They say that most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions. This seems no truer than for the masterminds behind our favourite social media apps. When interviewed, the inventor of Facebook’s ‘Like’ button was trying to spread positivity. However, as we know now, this kickstarted an endless search for validation. In fact, the underlying biology of this occurs in the form of dopamine hits, meaning that this cycle is neurologically addictive.

We’re told that the notifications we get about our friends’ activity online creates “positive intermittent reinforcements”. This is the same psychological trick that gets gamblers in Las Vegas to keep pulling slot machines. Yet, even the minds behind these apps aren’t immune. Tim Kendall, the former president of Pinterest, openly admits becoming addicted to his own product.

The impact of this can be devastating, especially for the younger, more impressionable generations. According to the documentary, US hospital admissions for non-fatal self-harm have gone up by 189% among 10-14 year old girls since social media became mainstream. The rate of suicide has gone up by 151%.

“A chance to reset”

At the end of The Social Dilemma, the interviewees offer some advice on how to get free of social media’s grip. Turn off all notifications, or even delete your apps. Leave your phone in another room when you go to bed. However sound the advice, it will not solve the underlying issue. Thus, we look to education to help the future generation. 

Caroline Allams and Manjit Sareen founded Natterhub, a gated social media platform designed to teach primary school children about online safety.

“Nobody in the world of tech set out to create a monster,” says Sareen, the company’s CEO. “We know that social media can be a tool for great things, and a source of joy for people. But left unchecked, it’s a tool that has been abused and created an awful lot of anxiety and esteem issues in children.”

Allams instists that “children need to be educated around social media. We need to reinforce skills like kindness and empathy, and give children the resilience to deal with the bumps in the road.

“This is a chance to reset the way we look at social media. If we can teach the next generation to think differently about these tools then they can grow up into adults with the determination and the ability to create systemic change, and improve our behavioural and emotional relationships with technology.”