The dark side of social media - & how to use it more mindfully
Updated: Apr 15
When Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp stopped working for a significant amount of time a few days ago, it reminded me of how much I rely on these channels for my job as a freelance Social Media Manager. Imagine if there had been a big disaster and all content had disappeared? What if those platforms went away forever? I'd have to focus on Twitter, TikTok and LinkedIn marketing for clients.
As well as the power outage, there's increasing criticism facing Facebook and Instagram for the way that both channels operate and for the damage that they're doing to our mental health, especially the younger generation. Algorithms built to be addictive and unable to stop the spread of the majority of 'fake news'. Plans to launch an 'Instagram for Kids'...
I agree that there is a dark side to social media and the use of phones in general. I'm part of a generation who can remember the time before and after the internet. When phones and social media increasingly became part of our everyday lives, there was little time to consider what this meant and whether this would be a healthy thing for human kind.
I am so glad that social media didn't exist during my childhood or teenage years. I look back at my high school years and know that I already suffered from low self-esteem. The thought of the likes of Facebook and Instagram existing...presenting countless opportunities to compare myself to others...would have been disastrous for my mental health.
I think more attention and action needs to be taken to protect, especially the young, from this darkness. Educating children and teens in school about the damage social media can have, and how to use and view it in a healthy way, would be a good start.
What I will say in support of Facebook is it is home to some incredibly supportive groups. I am a member of two amazing examples: Doing it for the Kids (for freelance and self-employed parents to connect) and The Village Parenting Community (for parents and parents-to-be to support one another and show solidarity with an explicit NO JUDGEMENT rule. Run by a wonderful clinical psychologist, Dr Emma Svanberg). I honestly can't emphasise enough how much the support that I have received from both groups over the years has helped me. There are often times when I'm facing a real challenge in parenting my two kids and the first thing I'll do is share a post about it on The Village Parenting Community. That total strangers take the time to offer one another free advice and solidarity every day in groups like these, is something that needs to be highlighted when we have these conversations about the impact of social media on mental health. There is a lot of good happening too.
I'm aware that because of my job, I'm a big advocate of the importance of social media for brands to generate buzz and sales, and I couldn't do my work without it. But I am increasingly careful to work with the right type of brand and never represent one that operates in an industry that can impact the mental health of others, especially the young.
Recently I was approached by a beauty PR agency that was interested in me running its socials. After browsing its client list I noticed a lot of them specialised in lip-fillers, injectables and other Kardashian-esque treatments that delay the process of ageing... I had to ask myself: is this something that I should be promoting? And it's not, I'm afraid. No disrespect to anyone that enjoys such treatments, but I find it disturbing to see particularly young girls feeling like they need to have these treatments to be accepted and to look beautiful. And it's social media that contributes heavily to the awareness of such procedures and the pressure to have them done.
What's key is to use social media mindfully. Ask yourself whether your use of it is making you feel good or bad. Be aware of the toxicity that can exist on all the platforms and try to avoid it. Follow content that inspires you, tap into supportive communities and make sure that you take time to have a digital detox and put down your phone on a regular basis.