Written by Kenna Rose
Social media is dangerous. It’s easy to lose your real life to a virtual one. One school district in Seattle, Washington has decided it’s had enough of students suffering from the designed dangers of social media. In a 91 page complaint filed against the parent companies of the social media platforms TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat, Seattle Public Schools, recently joined by the Kent School district, asserts that these companies have specifically curated their social media sites to be addicting to youth by “ exploit[ing] the neurophysiology of the brain’s reward systems ,” and that “the content Defendants curate and direct to youth is too often harmful and exploitive (e.g., promoting a ‘corpse bride’ diet, eating 300 calories a day, or encouraging self-harm).” The complaint also specifies how as social media usage has increased, so have mental health problems , such as: depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts (revealing that “from 2009 to 2019 there was an on-average 30 percent increase in the number of students… who reported feeling ‘so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that [they] stopped doing some usual activities.’”
The Seattle School District’s detailed complaint alleges that social media harms users in the following ways:
- Social media has been designed to manipulate users’ brains via social reciprocity and
intermittent variable rewards.
- Social media is designed to create dopamine loops to keep users hooked.
- Social media capitalizes on “fear of missing out” (FOMO) to keep users coming back.
- Social media curates the feed to keep users on longer.
- Social media pushes content that is often inappropriate, immoral, and harmful.
- Social media encourages dangerous behavior.
- Social media can cause teens to act disruptively, including sexual behavior, self-harm, vandalism, and violence.
It’s no secret that social media is harmful. That cry has been sounded so often, it’s now apt to fall on deaf ears. It allows every user to be the star of the story. It demands constant attention, so you don’t lose followers or miss new features and stories. It pressures users to show off their best life, rewarding the diligent with likes and follows. Users defend this form of entertainment as an effective way to connect with others, whilst sidestepping the reality that it’s mostly just a waste of time. It’s easy to get on, difficult to leave, and many (if not most) people have developed a habit of checking it whenever they have a second of downtime. Even though the minimum age for most social media is 13, it’s not uncommon for younger users to already be hooked. It’s designed to be addicting, and often lets you stumble (or guides you) into things you can’t unsee and can’t get away from.
Social media is difficult to regulate, hard to get rid of, and deeply enmeshed in American society, making it a problem difficult to solve. The lawsuit filed by Washington’s Seattle and Kent Public School districts is a good place to start – and a glimpse of what it would look like for schools to take the safety of children seriously. Parents, grandparents and church leaders, please take note: Protect kids from the designed dangers social media platforms pose.