Do you hate being addicted to your phone but check your feeds anyway? Spending a few minutes browsing through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat feeds is enough to make anyone anxious. The anxiety of social media is the sweet poison that has everyone hooked, from toddlers with phones to self-conscious teens, millennials and the supposedly wise elderly. Don’t believe us? Ask your gramps to uninstall Whatsapp for a day, and hear the lion roar.
Anxiety of social media
Social media influencers aren’t immune to this affliction, so mere mortals like you and me have a slim chance of escape. Take the case of Laina Morris aka the ‘Overly Attached Girlfriend’ viral meme. If you don’t remember that hilarious meme, here’s a snapshot of one of its many variations.
Well, in 2019, Laina quit Youtube forever. Laina was a regular part-time job holder when the meme happened. She became an internet sensation overnight after she posted a goofy parody of Justin Bieber’s song Boyfriend in response to a contest. She sang her version without blinking for three minutes straight, while staring into the camera. Her video broke the internet and Laina accidentally became a viral meme after people were posting her picture with captions of what an Overly Attached Girlfriend would do. This was back in 2012.
It was all hunky-dory for a year or so. Laina made a tonne of other parody videos and spoofs that also went viral. She was invited for red carpet events, including the American Music Awards, appeared on Jimmy Fallon’s talk show. She became a Youtuber and social influencer with 1.2 million subscribers. The depression and anxiety of social media use caught up with her over time, though. She was seeing a therapist for nine months, but the ennui persisted. Laina was unable to function productively. She decided to go on medication and took a break from Youtube in 2017.
A year later, the way out was clear: She’d have to part ways with the platform permanently for her own well-being. She broke up with Youtube in 2019. In a tearful no-holds-barred goodbye video on her channel, the influencer spoke about the highs and lows of this social media-induced affliction:
“I was posting videos and I still really, really wanted to, but at the same time, I would be posting a happy, upbeat video and then I would have like a breakdown and then I would edit the video, post the video and have another breakdown.”
More disconcerting than Laina’s mental breakdown is the TikTok suicide that has shocked the entire world this week.
What is the TikTok suicide about?
TikTok is banned in India so we are safe, for the moment, from a viral suicide video that was initially live-streamed on Facebook. The clip was then copied and uploaded on TikTok, which is racing against time right now to take down the disturbing imagery. The suicide video was uploaded on Sunday yet a platform as prolific as TikTok has not been able to rid itself of the byte on its own database. Inadvertently watching such content could damage the mental health of countless young users.
Blame it on the platform’s cutting-edge algorithm and reco system that was built to make content viral. It’s designed in such a way that you can’t avoid unwanted footage. The default “For You Page” on the app recommends viral videos by users you may not even be following. However, TikTok doesn’t condone self-harm and, in fact, takes you to a Suicide Prevention Lifeline and support if you search for self-harm or suicide videos. Seeing how this mishap occurred in the same week as World Suicide Prevention Day 2020 – which was observed yesterday – one couldn’t be more careful.
The Social Dilemma
Coincidentally, Netflix released a documentary on the anxiety of social media this week as well. The Social Dilemma is a docudrama streaming on Netflix since September 9, which ropes in Silicon Valley insiders to show us how deep the virtual rabbit hole really goes.
I got to know about this film when its trailer showed up in my Youtube feed (the irony is not lost on me). For a change, Netflix was not hawking another rom-com or gangster biopic. I have escaped the clutches of social media a few years ago, and have managed to stay clean. So, The Social Dilemma piqued my interest about the inconvenient truths it would reveal.
Filmmaker Jeff Orlowski hung out with a bunch of tech wizards who were instrumental in shaping Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google into what they are today. All of them rue the way they let computer algorithms manipulate people’s thoughts, emotions and spending habits for the profit of the companies they worked for. In fact, they don’t allow their kids to use a smartphone for the psychological damage they know it will cause.
The anxiety of social media is the tip of the iceberg. The film shows you how these platforms aren’t just selling your data to the highest bidders, they are changing your behaviour and ideology itself, so you’re hooked on the system like a gambler at a casino. You can log on but you can never leave!