Opinion

Social Media is Destroying Mental Health, and it’s Far Worse Than We Think

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Posted: May 09, 2022 12:01 AM
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
Social Media is Destroying Mental Health, and it’s Far Worse Than We Think

Source: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

The advent of social media has brought a dilemma — we want the benefits it brings so badly, but at the same time it is destroying our mental health with all the hate and criticism. The old saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words may never hurt me,” has finally become outdated, because whoever coined it never predicted a constant barrage of hate 24/7, seven days a week. Our bodies aren’t meant to handle this level of insults and criticism, which increases with more “friends” and platforms (Are they really friends if they’re constantly criticizIng you, bringing you down? It’s overdue to call them “connections”). 

At the same time, social media has added so much busyness to our lives that most of us don’t have the time to constantly research and keep up with it; how to stop the nonstop notifications, some which are related to our jobs that exacerbate the anxiety. It seems like every day there’s a new reason to notify you popping up from some platform, ridiculous time-wasting dots always in red to make you tend to them, like “you haven’t posted in awhile,” or “thought you might be interested to see what Joe has posted,” etc. Those notifications on Facebook used to be blue, but the company changed them to red when psychologists found that people were more likely to click on them if red. And piling on, we’ve all learned by now that even our real friends say hurtful things on social media that they would never dare say to our faces, popularizing the phrase “armchair warrior.”

It’s turned politics from the days of friendly, fun, educational entertainment like William F. Buckley Jr.’s Firing Line to cancel culture and threats. Although we all know that most “threats” are merely words, not threats of violence, people have become so thin-skinned due to being in a constant state of anxiety from social media that they are no longer reacting rationally. The left is canceling conservatives for using words that clearly do not intend violence, but are meant metaphorically. 

I happened to scroll through all 54 responses to a rather innocuous tweet by an elected official the other day, and was disturbed to see that every single one was rude. That elected official, along with others I’ve talked to about this, said he never reads any responses on social media — smart guy. But most of us don’t have that discipline; our interactions have become part of our jobs or hobbies.

You take a perfectly normal person, who has lived an exemplary life, perhaps someone in Christian ministry, and put them on social media where they add a couple thousand connections. Having worked hard to keep their nose clean, they are unequipped to deal with the onslaught of personal insults. They can’t keep up with filters, so when they wake up in the morning and check their phone, the first thing they see is hate. Then they are constantly pinged all day long with more hate. They can’t sit and enjoy a dinner with friends because of the incessant interruptions. Many people don’t set up filters since they are worried they might miss an important message from loved ones or work, and it’s not that easy to set up those filters adequately. And it doesn’t even have to be pure hate, even regular criticism 24/7 is demoralizing. 

When the left complains about being triggered, and we mock them as snowflakes, they are merely reacting to this new phenomenon of 24/7 criticism by predictably blaming the right. Yet they conveniently omit the fact they are contributing to it with their increased level of viciousness. 

Some attention is finally being given to certain unhealthy aspects, but not the hate directed at conservatives. Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen testified to Congress regarding Facebook algorithms that are biased toward inflammatory content. Instagram is triggering mental health problems among teenage girls with its airbrushed photos of too perfect looking young women. Another correlative problem is the constant messages from too many people, no one can keep up with the barrage (notice how many people announce they are no longer using Facebook Messenger), which drives up anxiety, constantly worrying about angry attacks when failing to respond to someone in a timely manner.  

Unfortunately, a lot of this abuse flies under the radar, because not everyone is active on social media and sees the effects. Some of the older members of Congress aren’t good at it, so they may not fully grasp the seriousness of the problem. 

A new study came out which found that the average British man rates their mental health only a 6 out of 10, and feels down three times a week. And women are more likely to suffer mental health problems from social media than men. 

There’s been some awareness of how mental health has gotten worse due to people being locked down during COVID-19, which has hit on how the lack of physical human interaction hurts people, but it’s mostly glossed over the fact that it’s also because of increased social media exposure.

The end result is depression, anxiety and more serious mental health problems among everyone who isn’t a Luddite. People now act out these manifestations by slamming the other political party — and sometimes even their own, because they’ve become super sensitive, manic and less able to control their emotions. It’s considered socially acceptable to lash out in politics, but not in other ways such as screaming at your spouse, so it’s an easy avenue for many to vent their mental illness, which in turn contributes to someone else developing mental illness.  

Instead of shutting down the abuse, big tech shuts down viewpoints on the right. One elected official told me he thinks one solution is to stop investing in social media companies that do little about the abuse. Many of us don’t invest in companies that promote a left-wing agenda, so why not expand that to companies that hurt mental health?