Social Media Is Attention Alcohol

Last year, researchers at Instagram published disturbing findings from an internal study on the app’s effect on young women. “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” the authors wrote in a presentation obtained by The Wall Street Journal. “They often feel ‘addicted’ and know that what they’re seeing is bad for their mental health but feel unable to stop themselves.”

This was not a new revelation. For years, Facebook, which owns Instagram, has investigated the app’s effects on its users, and it kept getting the same result. “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” said one slide from a 2019 presentation. “Teens who struggle with mental health say Instagram makes it worse.”

The findings weren’t all negative. Although many teenagers reported that Instagram was compulsive but depressing, most teenagers who acknowledged this dark side said they still thought the app was enjoyable and useful.

So a fair summary of Instagram according to Instagram might go like this: Here is a fun product that millions of people seem to love; that is unwholesome in large doses; that makes a sizable minority feel more anxious, more depressed, and worse about their bodies; and that many people struggle to use in moderation.

What does that sound like to you? To me, it sounds like alcohol—a social lubricant that can be delightful but also depressing, a popular experience that blends short-term euphoria with long-term regret, a product that leads to painful and even addictive behavior among a significant minority. Like booze, social media seems to offer an intoxicating cocktail of dopamine, disorientation, and, for some, dependency. Call it “attention alcohol.”


What is interesting is how much the social media landscape has changed since it started. MySpace, once the frontrunner, has gone. Twitter, with its micro-blogging format, didn’t used to allow videos, but all the indicators show that the best performing content on its platform today includes video and visuals.

Facebook, though the most popular social medium, is not as popular among the young, who prefer Snapchat or Instagram. Facebook is often viewed by the young as something for old people.For Snapchat and Instagram the ‘age gradient’ is extremely steep – the popularity of these platforms drops much faster with age. The majority of people under 25 use Snapchat (73%), while only 3% of people over 65 use it.

The constant search for recognition and attention can have detrimental effects on our lives and leave us hurt or needing more attention. The story of a ‘Mum Blogger’ who felt compelled to defend her son because the pictures she shared of him on Instagram were not generating much reaction is a tragic example.

Various studies have shown that a high use of social media increases the likelihood of people feeling anxious, depressed, or lonely. It has even been shown to increase the risk of self-harm and suicide.

Technically, you can switch off your mobile phone, or you can set up a time limit for your social media use. This will simply prevent you from using these platforms. Of course this is not so easy, as everyone is online, including our friends and families, with whom we would like to keep contact.

This means we should be more ‘news literate’ and more educated about the news and any information we read online. For example, we should always check the source or the profile of the person who shares a suspicious post. We should also read from a wide range of sources, and not limit ourselves. Sharing something without reading it is a no-go.

Social media is toxic because it is addictive by design. Also, it is often called toxic because platforms spread disinformation and they encourage their users to engage with these fake news more than with fact checked ‘real’ news.

From: The Atlantic

Source: Social Media Is Attention Alcohol – Ave Maria Radio


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