The Social Dilemma – Our Society is in Crisis

Web 2.0 has made my life easier from creation software, YouTube videos that have amazing visuals to explain difficult concepts, to giving students unique exploration experiences with things like gizmo and google products that provide collaborative opportunities for incredible creation. Yet, it has come with a major cost of our health. These tools mentioned are littered with advertisements for these companies to make money. You say, just ignore the advertisements! But it goes so much deeper than this. These companies and social media apps have put together teams to create products that manipulate you to use their products more. These companies do not care about you or our kid’s health or well being. I am not exaggerating when I say if something doesn’t change, they will continue to kill us.

In the Social Dilemma on Netflix, they stated in 2010 and 2011 teen girl non-fatal harm increased by 62% and preteen girl self harm increased by 189% and the percents are similar for suicide rates in this group as well. This is largely due from social media apps. Through my Educational Psychology Masters, I studied mental health issues specifically in teen girls, and a lot of literature spoke about the upsurge of anxiety and depression in this group. A probable cause of the rise in anxiety is females are more likely to look for support around their health over males as well the stigma around anxiety is decreasing; hence more people, especially women and girls, are self-reporting more often and seeking help (Booth et al, 2016). On the contrary, another reason discussed for the anxiety increase was the rise in smart phone, and social media usage ((McRae et al., 2016; Phillips & Yu, 2021; Fatania, 2019). It is also causing other mental health disorders such as eating disorders and body dysmorphia (Himanshu, 2020). Teenagers and anyone on social media are bombarded with filtered images and picture-perfect lives. This is not what real life is. It is not glamorous, or perfect, it gives a false sense of what life is like, hence the increase of these disorders.

We are addicted to our phones, and this is by popular design of these companies. “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product”. “The gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behavior and perception that is the product.” These quotes are from the Netflix documentary from two people explaining the terrible schemes these companies use manipulate people to use their products.  Companies use algorithms to learn about who you are and what you like to keep you using their app or platform. They can then advertise to you and make money. This is horrible for your health. One you are in a sedentary position doing an activity that does not challenge your mind nor does challenge your body. We are moving less and sitting more. We are also sleeping less. Robert (2011) focused on teenagers and their sleeping habits and found due to lack of sleep there was an anxiety increase. He hypothesized the lack of sleep could be correlated with the increase in smart phone and social media usage also.

The other horrifying aspect of this technology is confirmation bias. Google is built to put the highest paying item at the top of your search list, along with what it thinks you will agree with or like. People read the top item rather than finding factual information. People are having trouble finding objective information due to the amount of ideas out there that do not have any science backing. People just believe what they read and do not critically think about who wrote it, who made it, and is it correct. Our society is going backwards with the amount of radical hate groups, and groups of people with blatantly incorrect ideas around many scientific topics. The scariest part is this is leaking into politics. There is a major political divide in our society due to this allowance of subjective ideas with no scientific backing. It is alright to feel a certain way and have opinions but when these opinions are being placed on all people, they need to have scientific evidence that demonstrates it is best for the greater good.  Objective truth is important. Instead of rights being stripped away from people our government should be focused on having regulations on companies to ensure their company is doing good for our world. We regulate many markets, and we should regulate social media.

Technology isn’t all bad, it is actual amazing how it has made our lives easier. According to the Netflix documentary the “like” button on Facebook was meant to spread positivity and I believe that they did have good intentions. I enjoy my social media to see what my distant friends are up to as well as post my own photos and keep digital albums. However, when people at the head of these companies know that there is a major issue and continue to do it regardless of how many people they hurt, they need to be stopped. This is what our government needs to regulate but with the political divide I am very scared for our future as a society. But until these regulations happen, try to support kids through understanding that these apps are addicting, how to help regulate their use, and how to get back to the basics of socializing with friends with real life physical interactions.