I was first introduced to social media when my daughter was in junior high school.  “MSN” she called it, explaining how it worked and reluctantly showing me some of the conversations. Gazing at the screen, I saw some things that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  I couldn’t help but feel we had arrived at the top of a very slippery slope.

From a professional perspective, I celebrate social media as a tool that gives organizations like HANS unprecedented ability to connect, disseminate and mobilize.  We can now reach more people with an abundance of information we couldn’t have imagined when HANS was conceived in the early 1980s.  In fact, sustainable, grassroots, bottom-up, market-driven transformation now absolutely requires the reach and audience only social media can provide.  There’s tremendous value in this.

But in celebrating the positive aspects of social media, we must not deny its dark side.

There is no shortage of mental health issues that have been determined to correlate with social media: increased anxiety, diminished attention span, depression, social media addiction, eating disorders and body dysmorphia, social isolation – not to mention the potential risks to physical health due to constant exposure electromagnetic fields and a lack of activity. None of these are acceptable, but what most concerns me is the potential for loss of “self”.  How do we form authentic identities and develop values in a society in which we’re so heavily influenced by external forces that have nothing to do with our lives or our inherent selves?

My most cynical self looks at social media as the culmination of all that’s wrong in the modern world, condensed, packaged, and by individual choice, practically appended to most of us.  I see our very cores being penetrated by values, experiences, desires, expectations, narratives, and reference points that aren’t our own.

I sometimes enjoy mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, usually in an effort to quell my own anxieties, peeking into other people’s lives, vicariously drawing inspiration from them.  Trouble is, I’m looking at an image but not seeing the whole picture.  Because they’re able to showcase only the pieces of their lives that best support their agenda and most appeal to what we want to gratify in ourselves, we elevate them, emulate them, and leave our own individuality and creativity in the dust. Influencers, they call them.  People who have attained a status that mandates them to tell me I need something even though they don’t know me, don’t know that I exist, and therefore certainly don’t know what I need.

Deeply disturbing is that fact that those influencers with the largest, youngest, and likely most impressionable audiences are the ones whose inspiration is ultimately most damaging to our mental health.  Household names are promoting corsets and appetite suppressants.  This is the last thing society needs.

What to Do?

  • If you’re a parent, maybe start by acknowledging that this is a potential mental health issue that brings up specific concerns through each phase of a child’s life into early adulthood.
  • Be conscious of what healthy authenticity and identity require – from infancy on.
  • Understand that early exposure to some types of social media will set your child up as a targeted consumer.
  • Teach your child to think critically and examine the motives behind the messages they choose to hear.
  • Cultivate more self-awareness and provide less opportunity for external influence and comparison.
  • Try to create psychological boundaries between your child’s reality and how they perceive what they see on social media.

Resources
If you’re a parent, this is very helpful:
https://www2.viu.ca/humanresources/documents/dangersofsocialmediaonyourmentalhealthq12017.pdf

For you authenticity seekers:
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/startup-your-life/201809/identity-in-the-age-social-media

And we’ll let Bill Maher have the last word:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDqoTDM7tio