This week the Wall Street Journal released an investigative report about Meta after uncovering leaked internal documents reflecting the impact of social media on its users. What may be most surprising about the report is not so much the impact that social media has on its users, but rather the blatant awareness that the company has of the problems Facebook and Instagram are causing amongst its users and their failure to do anything about it. The report reveals further insight into a growing digital mental health and addiction epidemic.
What Do Meta’s Internal Documents Say?
Meta’s internal research admits that their social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, are harmful to mental health. Specifically, they cite an awareness that they “make body issues worse,” especially among teenage girls. They also found that their users find Instagram responsible for an increase in the rate of anxiety and depression, and some users directly linked their suicidal ideation to the use of the social media platforms.
Meta also found that their users often feel ‘addicted’ to the use of their platforms and found their engagement with the platforms to be ‘compulsive.’ Users have awareness into the negative impact that the social media platforms are having on their mental health but “feel unable to stop [using social media] themselves.”
Why Is Social Media Addictive?
Why would somebody have awareness that their engagement with social media is making them feel depressed or anxious yet continue to use the platform anyway? This is addiction in a nutshell. Many alcoholics are well-aware of the harm that alcohol is doing to their mental health, physical health, relationships, career, and other such important life areas yet they continue to drink alcohol anyway. They feel compelled, driven by obsession and compulsion. Social media is no different.
Social media is addictive for many reasons, but the primary reason being what is at the core of every addiction – the human brain. When an individual engages with a social media platform they get a rush of dopamine through viewing content or receiving engagement through a “like,” “follow,” “comment” or other such interaction with fellow users. Over time social media users can become dependent on this rush of dopamine to feel a sense of pleasure. Social media is also addictive due to user’s fear of missing out (FOMO), use social media as a way of seeking attention, a false sense of connection to fill a loneliness void, as well as a way to fill up boredom and idle time.
What Are The Dangers Of Social Media Addiction?
The average person with internet access spends approximately 2.5 hours every day on social media. This habit formation results in self-control problems in which individuals are unable to regulate or moderate their social media use, thus resulting in digital addiction. Digital addiction can result in low mood, depression, and anxiety, among other mental health concerns. In extreme cases, digital addiction can also result in death when individuals use their digital devices while driving or engaging in other high-risk activity, or can lead to suicidal ideation and suicide. Digital addictions can also lead to poor relationships or problems at work or school. It can also lead to lifestyle problems such as poor sleep, which can then exacerbate anxiety, depression, stress or other mental health issues. These are only some of the dangers of social media addiction.
What Can I Do If I’m Addicted To Social Media?
The first step is awareness of the problem and a desire to do something about it. Once you have acknowledgement of the problem and a willingness to change, there are a plethora of tools and resources at your disposal. Some individuals may need to abstain completely from social media while others may be able to moderate their social media engagement, or some may need to take a digital detox (a break) for some time until they can resume reasonable social media use.
Some practical tips include:
- Find replacement activities
It is challenging to break a bad habit without replacing it with a good habit. Boredom and idle time can often lead to compulsive social media use. As such, it is important to occupy your time by engaging in something beneficial such as a hobby, reading, exercising, spending time in nature or with family, or engaging in other forms of self-care.
- Use technology to help fight technology addiction
There are various tools on phones or in apps themselves that can help with screen moderation such as uninstalling addictive platform from the digital device, setting time-outs on certain platforms or on internet connection, placing restrictions to addictive platforms as well as setting and monitoring screen-time use for digital devices or for particular social media sites.
- Create a plan for your social media use
If your goal is moderation, set a time limit on your digital device or on your social media app. Be particular and consistent with the days and times that you are willing to engage with your social media platform. Having a structure and schedule surrounding social media as well as your life as a whole can be very helpful.
- Find support
Human connection is important in mitigating mental health concerns and addictive behaviors. It is also helpful to have a support system in place who is aware of your problems surrounding social media and who can encourage and guide you towards health. Mutual support groups including digital Twelve-Step groups or SMART Recovery can be very helpful in not only finding support but also in learning additional tools to help navigate your problems surrounding digital addiction.
- Seek out professional help from a digital addiction specialist
If you are having continued problems with digital addiction and are unable to navigate the problem on your own, support and guidance from a digital addiction specialist may be helpful. Seek out a licensed therapist or psychiatrist who specializes in digital addictions. Digital addiction specialists can help you learn tools through therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or other behavioral therapies, and can address underlying issues that may be leading to your digital addiction or mental health issues.
If you're interested in learning more about digital addiction, including the signs and symptoms of digital addiction, read, " Is My Daughter Addicted to TikTok? – Signs of Digital Addiction and Methods of Treatment."
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