Some argue that social media is one of the primary causes of a record outbreak of emotional instability, human discord, chronic anxiety, etc. To back this claim, they may point to studies that show a correlation between the rise in these platforms that coincides with a swift and sharp increase in anxiety and loneliness.
Despite this correlation, I beg to differ. For one, correlation does not equal causation. While social media may be a conduit, it is not the cause of our disunity, discomfort, or decline in mental well-being.
I argue that our society lacks a strong and supportive social-emotional infrastructure, which means that essential skills like emotional intelligence are an after-thought in a culture driven by pure logic—which, ironically, strongly lacks it.
We cannot be logical until we fully embrace and master our emotions. Contrary to popular belief, mastering our emotions is not about ‘sucking it up,’ denying them, or getting ‘over’ what we are feeling. Instead, it is about fully understanding, tracing, and effectively processing all our emotions; it’s the ability to see how our emotions, gone unaddressed, hinder us from being logical because we use them to rationalize our irrational decisions.
This level of understanding takes self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and knowledge that many of us aren’t privy to at no fault of our own. We don’t know what we don’t know. Our subconscious mind guides nearly 95% of our daily decisions and thoughts. Meaning that our beliefs, experiences, and ego (meant to protect us from ourselves and the outside world) have a significant role to play in what we ‘consciously’ decide.
Without this awareness, we tend to view our symptoms as the problem. In the case of social media, we blame these platforms and similar tools we have created for the issues we face. However, they merely reflect our society's current state and collective mentality.
While social media algorithms often display more controversial topics of conversation, they do so because, unfortunately, controversial topics often get the most engagement and reaction. I believe this says a great deal about our inability to have constructive, level-headed conversations and the fact that these platforms use our lack of emotional intelligence (EI) against us. It’s the combination of the two that has led to these platforms being so problematic.
What's the actual problem?
The best way to solve a problem is to reverse engineer it—starting with the outcomes we do not like—aka the symptoms—and tracing them back to their root.
In the case of social media, most argue that it results in:
1. Human disunity
4. Unrealistic depiction of life
When we explore the above issues, we will discover they ALL stem from personal issues.
Human disunity primarily results from our inability to acknowledge and accept the differing beliefs, opinions, and behaviors of another. The more polarizing another’s beliefs or actions are to our own, the harder it is to relate to them or view them as someone deserving of respect. Kevin deLaplante takes a deeper dive into the effects of tribalism and how the middle ground of tolerance seems to be dissipating due to our unwillingness to attempt to understand others. This resistance is heavily driven by fear, guided by our ego to protect ourselves and see anything or anyone who has opposing beliefs as an immediate threat.
When our EI is low, we tend to lack the awareness that our perception is our reality, not a collective, all-encompassing reality. We may assume that someone is a ' bad' person or wrong if they do not think and act as we do. However, this is just our ego unwilling to accept that we do not hold all the answers or potentially the best answers.
To overcome human disunity, as it relates to social media, is to refrain from creating, responding to, or sharing any form of toxic or biased posts. If we fail to comment or engage in petty, dogmatic, and controversial conversations, we can reverse the effects of the algorithms that feed us more of what we engage in.
Misinformation can come in blatant lies that hold no truth and are meant to fuel disunity or biased partial truths (selected information; lack of full context). For example, I saw a post on Instagram claiming you should never cook with Teflon pans because they are toxic, cause cancer, and other serious health conditions. The individual supported this claim by citing a study conducted in 1999 that found that 98% of Americans had traces of PFOA in their blood. PFOA is a chemical compound linked to chronic kidney disease, liver disease, thyroid disorders, testicular cancers, low birth weight, and infertility. However, the social media post failed to mention that PFOA is not in Teflon itself but a coating once used on Teflon pans and banned in 2015. The social media post also failed to mention that even the ingestion of Teflon (if the pan is chipping) is harmless and only becomes dangerous when heated to 570°F or 300°C. At its highest, a stovetop reaches a temperature of 375°F or 190°C. You would never come close to cooking at a temperature that posed a threat.
As you can see, this social media post was a partial truth, meant only to convey a biased narrative that Teflon is dangerous and, if used, you will get PFOA into your bloodstream and likely experience serious health problems. These posts are rampant on the internet. However, misinformation has always circulated in either written or verbal form. Crashing the internet won’t change that. It will only change the amount of exposure one can be subjected to, but what we are exposed to is our choice.
If we want to find accurate information, we can. It took a mere 5-minutes of research to verify whether the post was true. Unfortunately, when we lack EI, we tend to rely on those we trust to verify the information for us and automatically assume it is true. This assumption is extremely dangerous, and social media makes it easy to spread these mistruths or partial truths to the masses.
Harassment, trolling, and cyber-bullying are a result of individual insecurities. When we lack awareness of this fact and have insecurities, they can seriously affect our mental well-being. Social media is a quick and easy outlet for individuals who feel compelled to boost their ‘confidence’ by bringing others down. To reduce the effects of insecure projection, we must realize that it is a projection of the perpetrator’s insecurities and not an accurate reflection of their target.
The only reason the remarks and actions of these individuals have such a powerful influence on their targets is that, at some level (conscious or unconscious), these individuals believe what is being said about them. Otherwise, it wouldn’t impact them. How others’ words affect us is a powerful indicator of how we feel about ourselves. For example, if you are in good shape and are confident in yourself and someone called you fat, you likely would laugh it off because you knew it wasn’t true, or you are confident enough in your self-image that it didn’t bother you. However, if you are in good shape and are still insecure about your looks, that same comment could lead to unhealthy eating habits, depression, and in extreme cases, suicide.
Displaying an unrealistic depiction of life also results from a lack of self-awareness or personal insecurity, making it easy to default to the conditioned social pressure to conform and constantly appear relevant, happy, and ‘successful.’
Our society is so heavily conditioned that we fail to recognize what conditioning looks like. For example, we may fail to realize that the pressure to keep up with trends (fashion, home décor, vehicles, etc.) is an incentive to maintain a ‘healthy’ economy—ignoring its adverse effects on the environment and our psychological and financial well-being. We have also been conditioned to perceive those who break free from these behaviors and ways of operating as odd, weird, ‘lame,’ etc., which works to discourage others from following suit.
Insecurity is a conditioned response too. None of us work born insecure. However, when we are consistently reprimanded for falling short of society’s expectations, directed away from our natural passions and strengths because they aren’t ‘realistic,’ or made to feel from a young age that our authentic self isn’t good enough, we begin to develop conditioned insecurity.
We are left as a society that lacks awareness and understanding of who we are and what we want and have been made to believe that being happy and financially successful is the only admirable and acceptable standard.
Social media is not our problem. Our lack of connection to ourselves is the problem, born from the deprivation of an egocentric system that thrives on our ignorance.
However, if you are reading this article, you are no longer in the dark. The next move is yours. How will you proceed with how you choose to live your life?
Related articles: "Social Media Addiction: Signs, Side Effects, Treatments, and More," provided by Bicycle Health.