Over the weekend, I wrote a lengthy piece over on my professional site about how social media, and regular media, are designed to capture, and keep, your attention. In order to do that, they figure out what you like to see, and keep showing you more of it.
The piece was inspired by this rather lengthy video, in which Max Stossel describes how that works, and why it might just be a bad thing.The video is a bit long, and let’s face it, so many people share articles without reading more than the headline these days, that I feel like asking you to watch the entire thing is a chore, but it is worth it.
It also occurs to me that the same mechanism used by Facebook and other social media may be contributing to mental health issues. As much as I love the fact that we can all use social media to remind ourselves that we are not alone, that there are lots of other people dealing with similar issues in all areas of society, I also need to recognize that the way that these media companies try to keep us looking at their content might actually be hurting us if we aren’t careful.
For example, Facebook and Google know exactly how much time you spent looking at friends vacation photos and wishing you could have as glamorous of a trip, or wishing you could have their looks, or that body. They know how often you read stories about child abuse victims, and statistics on child abuse. They know exactly how many times you’ve been appalled by the death of a child in the news, or liked a rant about how social workers missed child abuse.
They know this about you, and they want you to keep paying attention so that you’ll stay on their sites, whether you’re talking about Facebook, or any other website that you regularly visit. So they show you MORE of it. They keep showing it to you so that you’ll continue to be jealous/obsessed/upset and continue to look at the content until you start to believe that the entire world is nothing but other people with better lives than yours, or that everyone has mental health issues and no children are safe, and on and on.
I can’t imagine that being surrounded by this stuff day in and day out is good for our mental health.
So please, as you peruse the world of social media, keep in mind how these sites are designed and what their goal is. They do not exist to give us a well-rounded view of the world and the people in it. They exist to keep you looking and sharing stuff. Please keep this in mind, and broaden both your online, and offline, horizons. Facebook does not equal everything in the world. It’s a small part of it, the larger world is more complex and multi-dimensional than we can imagine. If your life seems to be more complex than the ones you see portrayed on Instagram, that’s because it is, and so are the lives of everyone else.