I remember when I first signed up for Facebook. It was 2006 and I was in my second year of University, two years after the original launch in America. I remember a friend at a different University telling me that it was a great way to keep in touch with all of our school friends, having all gone our separate ways. It was back when you had to be a student in higher education to register for an account, though it was rolled out to include everyone that is over the age of 13 shortly after.
I used MySpace a lot. My profile was black with pink writing because I thought I was cool. There were lots of moving images on my profile that I thought told my story, what we’d call memes and gifs these days. I remember having absolutely no idea how to use Facebook. It seemed vastly different to MySpace. But after a few weeks I was hooked and never went back.
That was 12 years ago.
I’m always a little late to the party when it comes to most big events. Google I got on board with pretty quickly, being a student. It took me about 18 months after the founding of Twitter to sign up and get an account. Instagram took maybe 6 months. I didn’t get an iPhone until the 4S came out and I don’t think I used Amazon until I was able to get the app on my phone, having only had a flip phone that didn’t have Internet access beforehand.
Instagram is my favourite app. I see it as my ‘positive place’ because I follow my friends; my favourite celebrities and a whole host of positivity quote pages. I like looking on there and glorying in the happiness that I’ve made that space, because what I see if controlled by me. Someone posts something I don’t like, I unfollow them. Simple. This isn’t so easy on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. You can have friends on those platforms that you really like, but who post things you don’t agree with or that offend you. Thus begins the wrestle of whether or not to remain friends with them and continue being offended, or removing them and risk that backlash.
In the early stages I posted on Facebook a lot, always writing on peoples walls and tagging people in photos. These days I don’t post very often, choosing mainly to tag people in posts I think are funny or that they’ll appreciate. This largely stems from the ‘Facebook boom’ you know, when everyone including your Grandma got a Facebook account, started poking you and posting updates telling the world they were about to have a ham sandwich for their lunch. Or a friend posting about a great tragedy that had befallen them that really should be kept private. I’d look and think; does anyone really care? I then figured that most people probably didn’t care about what I was posting either.
This is in contrast to Twitter, where I followed people that were complete strangers that I thought would have similar interests to me and subsequently post way more than I probably should. These people have never met me, they can judge what I’m saying but it doesn’t matter – how likely am I to ever meet them? This thought is rather ironic now, as I have made a great number of very good friends on Twitter, including my best friend. This hasn’t stopped my behaviour.
This is interesting to me. I only post things on my Facebook that I think are really cool, when I go on holiday, the classic ‘thanks for the birthday messages’ and my medal photos after running a marathon. Of course, I post all of this on Twitter too, plus far more. It’s because I want people on Facebook, people that I know in my ‘real life’, to revel in all the good things in my life, yet those on Twitter get to see every aspect of my life, both good and bad. I post extensively about my mental health on Twitter. Something I’ve never addressed on Facebook.
Because of this, I think it is easy to see why there is a link between social media and the decline in mental health.
You wake up in the morning; you’re feeling a little low. You open your Facebook app and see someone posting about how wonderful their life is. You feel worse, jealous even, because you’re comparing yourself to someone who has circumstances entirely different to you. You post a selfie and you only get two likes. You delete it thinking nobody likes it. Your friend’s selfie has 50 likes. That makes you feel worse. You know that the best thing for you to do is delete the app and revel in your own life, but then you’d be out of the loop and missing out on what your friends are doing, even though this very action makes you unhappy.
Technology is geared up to show you want you want to see these days. To influence your mood and encourage you to spend more time on their platforms. Very rarely these days do you see much from your ‘friends’ on Facebook when you’re scrolling through your news feed. You see adverts, pages your ‘friends’ have ‘liked’ and ‘news’ that has been specially picked due to things you’ve clicked on and read in the past because that is what the data algorithms are telling the techo-boffins back at Facebook HQ that this is what you want to see. This data is used to influence our take on the world, our opinions on important issues and what we want to spend our money on.
In short, we are being subtly influenced by the apps we just can’t bring ourselves to give up.
Pop over onto Amazon to buy something really simple. A book. You have a list of products that are ‘recommended for you’ (Today mine were a foot scrub, the DVD of a book I bought about 5 years ago and a cable for my iPhone). You then buy the book and you are faced with a list of ‘other people that bought this product also bought’ and you see a host of books by the same author, books with a similar plot, books with the same genre… All to encourage you to spend more time on the app, which equals more spending.
Every scrap of data they can gain gears our phones into knowing exactly who we are, how to please us and how to control our way of thinking.
How do we break out of this cycle?
There are many pages littering the internet encouraging us to take a break from social media. Do a 30 day detox, it’ll change your life! Ways to reduce the amount of time per day you spend looking at social media, all of the health benefits to reducing your time staring at your newsfeed. Put down the phone and experience real life!!
The mental health taboo is being slowly broken down. More and more people are speaking out about their problems, how they feel and are looking to seek help rather than suffering in silence. 1 in 4 people are diagnosed with a mental health disorder, whether that be depression, anxiety, OCD or PTSD. This makes this issue very common. More common than we’d like to think.
It has been proven that there is a link between social media and mental health issues and whilst quitting social media may not entirely solve this problem, we all deserve a bit of self love. Break the habit, see the world and don’t take your Facebook news feed too seriously. Chances are, those friends of yours posting photos of their hotdog legs on a beach in Zante are feeling exactly the same as you.