Watch Does Social Media Actually Cause Depression? Technology & The Future of Mental Health

ByArlen Simpelo

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[Narrator] We’ve all seen the headlines

that social media is bad for our mental health,

but is that really true?

Here at Self, we want to know

how should we navigate a future in which social media

is becoming even more integrated into our lives?

♪ I get one look from you ♪ [upbeat music]

♪ And my chest goes, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom ♪

My name’s Jeff Hancock, I’m a Professor of Communication

at Stanford University, and I’m the Founding Director

of the Stanford Social Media Lab.

Every day I would find a paper

that was coming across my desk, it’d be,

Hey, Facebook or whatever social media, causes loneliness.

And then the next day it’d be,

Facebook reduces loneliness.

And so I was really puzzled,

I wanted to know like where the data leading us,

hundreds of studies, tells us, first of all,

is that any effect of social media looks to be quite small,

and that those small effects can be negative and positive,

in some ways seem like a trade off, that net neutral.

[Narrator] We know that data

is only part of the picture though.

What about for someone who goes viral?

That doesn’t seem like it would feel very neutral.

[funky music]

My name is Kate Glavan, I’m originally from Minnesota,

and I’ve been in New York for about five years now.

Now I’m doing social media full-time,

so that is my full job.

I never hit like a million views on like, one of my videos.

So it was just casual stuff,

and I posted about dating here and there.

I posted something like,

I’m getting ready to go on a date.

I was like, I’m going on a date with this guy,

we’re gonna get coffee.

And then I go on a second date with the same guy.

And so I go back to TikTok, I log in, and I’m like,

Hey guys, I’m going in a second date

with this tall boy from the Midwest.

I’m going on the second date with this guy,

the tall Midwest boy.

And I get tagged in a video on TikTok.

And it’s a girl describing that,

Hey, you know, women of New York City,

if you have gone on a date with a guy named Caleb

that works at West Elm,

and he is a furniture designer, stay away.

Turned out, this guy that I’ve been seeing

is apparently really shady.

And he apparently has ghosted a lot of women,

and all these girls are like, in the comment section like,

Oh yeah, he did the same thing to me,

he did the same thing to me.

Like, I feel so bad for Kate that this is her guy.

So I get a text from Caleb, Is this gonna go viral,

like, what do you think?

And I was like, People have the attention span

of a squirrel, I think this is gonna

be like, old news tomorrow.

Like, you clearly are just a bad dater,

you ghosted some girls,

you sent the same playlist to a lot of girls.

It’s not that big of a deal.

You know, no one really cared about the story,

at that point.

I went on and I just was like,

Hey guys, so another cursed thing

happened to me in the dating world.

I was on the date with the West Elm Caleb

that you’re seeing the videos about.

And like, after I made that video,

the hashtag like, #westelmcaleb started,

and there were hundreds of videos.

Some people were entirely just exposing

his entire dating profile.

So what he looked like,

his name, his occupation, everything.

And I felt started to feel super uncomfortable.

I was like, This guy’s life,

you know, his photo is everywhere.

And I made clear, in my original videos,

that I’m not sharing his name, not sharing his employer.

I did not share a single photo of Caleb

while I was going on dates with him, right?

But now that it was like, in the cultural zeitgeist

that West Elm Caleb was a thing,

his photo was already out there.

So it was just this really weird pace

where TikTok picked it up so fast.

So this is kind of a big part of our society,

is wanting some way, at scale,

to seemingly hold people accountable.

My name’s Angela, I study social media,

and specifically how our mindsets about social media

can influence our mental health and wellbeing.

The idea of public shaming has been around

since the very, very olden days,

think like medieval times when people would throw

tomatoes at people, right?

I think the big difference between then and now

is not just the venue of how it’s happening.

Like, instead of being thrown tomatoes,

you’re being thrown like, mean Twitter comments,

or snarky retweets, or something like that.

And also the scale and speed at which it can occur.

[Kate] There were just so many videos,

and then that’s when brands started jumping on it.

Brands were like, talking about like,

Use #WestElmCaleb for 30% off your order.

Why are people consuming

something that happened to me on a personal level,

like it is this week’s episode of The Bachelor?

It just made no sense to me that people were consuming this,

people were like, How dare you dox him?

Like, I hope you die.

Like, people were sending me death threats in the DMs.

This one Twitch streamer like,

did a 20-minute rant about me.

My face became a meme all over the internet,

but if it’s not you, you can kind of tune in

and then tune out.

But for me, it was like, this is my life.

Those people were trying to piece together where I lived,

and like, figure that out.

And it felt like a lot of invasion of privacy stuff.

And so I just got really frustrated,

’cause I knew I couldn’t delete the app,

I couldn’t delete TikTok, it was my job.

So that was my experience going viral,

and wouldn’t recommend it, I would say.

[Narrator] That sounds really overwhelming,

but we’re also curious how social media

affects different communities.

Given factors like systemic racism,

some groups must be more likely than others

to have negative online encounters.

Well, I think people, middle-aged like myself,

don’t have so many struggles with social media.

We’re kind of in this in-between place,

and dealing with a lot of other things in life,

like kids, and ailing parents.

Teenagers are going through a really difficult

developmental period.

Physiologically, they’re going through a lot of changes

related to their hormones.

Older adults also are struggling with some aspects.

There’s a disinformation campaign about getting money,

like a lot of fraud.

Or if it’s about persuasion and voting,

they’re most likely to vote, most likely to volunteer.

They also have less digital literacy,

they’re a little less familiar

with a lot of these new technologies,

and that can make them a little bit more vulnerable.

For communities of color,

social media can increase their exposure

to racist incidents, whether that’s directly,

or indirectly, targeted harassment, negative comments,

racist comments, I’m sure we’ve all seen them.

Hi, my name is Toni Adeyemi,

I’m the Co-founder of BLM Digest and Toni On Tap.

My relationship with social media

before the pandemic was definitely a little toxic.

It was a lot of giving myself out,

and not really focusing on myself.

When I moved to LA, that was a time for me

to explore myself, and to really figure out who I was,

I had…

I was making YouTube videos, and making a lot of content,

and really exploring things like,

how I’d grown up in a very white environment

and kind of what that effect had on me.

The protests were going on for Black Lives Matter,

and everything, where it was an overwhelming experience

to see the world talking about something

that it didn’t seem like the world cared about before.

It felt like there was finally a chance

to create some change, and to create something bigger,

and to do something.

Post George Floyd, I started just expressing myself more

vocally, especially on issues on race,

and on issues on oppression,

on issues of bias, of issues of stereotypes.

And when I started posting more,

and talking more about race,

and race relations in America, especially,

a lot of people started following me.

And with those followers also came a lot more messages,

DMs, comments, opinions.

A lot of people were sending me,

Hey, look at so and so that got killed in this state.

Like, can you post about this?

Hey, look at this unfair police brutality incident here,

can you post about this?

And for me it became very hard to separate like,

my phone from my reality.

Yes, I wanted to help, and yes, I wanted to share,

but for that to be your entire feed,

or for that to be your entire inbox,

it takes a toll on your brain.

The virality of that content is known

as something called viral Black death,

where being re-exposed to that

can be really traumatizing for individuals

who have to live with this on a daily basis.

[Narrator] Can being connected online

also have positive effects on our mental health?

Social media can have really beneficial effects

for people who may be struggling with negative

mental health, or other types of challenges.

Being able to find and connect with people on the internet,

who share their experiences, and share their perspective,

can be really empowering and uplifting.

For young people, what an amazing way to express oneself.

And I just love watching TikTok,

and seeing what young people can do.

I know there’s a lot of concern about it,

but wow, they are amazing.

And the tools that platforms like TikTok make available,

just allow for so much creativity.

It allows young people to connect,

it allows young people to get a sense of,

what are the things out in the world

that might be of interest to them, right?

And so I think that’s really powerful.

For older people, they’re in a phase

where they’re losing friends,

it’s harder to stay connected to family.

And people, especially as they retire,

and social media allows for them to maintain

those social contacts.

I’ll be in touch with my mom today

who lives in British Columbia, Canada,

and we’ll share photos of like,

what my daughter was doing yesterday.

And that keeps us connected.

It’s pretty difficult to think of anyone

that would imagine that being negative, in some way,

just because it’s on social media.

[Narrator] So we know that social media

doesn’t affect everyone equally.

And a lot of that isn’t in our control,

but is there anything we can do

to help maximize our positive experiences?

At a high level, basically we find that your mindset

about social media predicts your wellbeing,

more so than the actual amount of time

that you spend on social media.

It’s really this belief of,

Am I fundamentally in control of my use?

Can I use it to achieve my goals in a meaningful way?

Or do I feel like I’m helpless to its influence,

or totally addicted?

These beliefs or mindsets can actually be more important

in shaping your wellbeing,

than the amount of time that you spend on it.

Some things that I kind of recommend for people, you know,

just to kind of try out for yourselves, if you want,

is first developing that reflective questioning

of your own social media use.

So when you pick up your phone and you go on Instagram,

really having that quick thought of,

Is this something that’s serving my goals?

Is this something that’s meeting my needs?

And is this something that I can better leverage

to help me get to where I want to be?

The second thing that I actually really encourage people

do is curating and taking control

over your social media feed.

However, there’s a lot of features

that you, individually, can use to better curate

that for yourself.

So for example, if you’re seeing an influencer,

and you notice, Every time I see this influencer,

you know, I kind of like their content.

Maybe they show me some yoga stuff,

but I feel bad where I start noticing

that I’m comparing myself to them,

every time I see them.

You can unfollow, or consider blocking that person

from your feed.

On the other hand, if you find a creator,

or some other content that makes you feel really good,

maybe it’s really inspirational.

You can go ahead and engage with that more,

teach the algorithm to follow your likes,

and your desires, and your interest.

I think ways my social media use has changed

since the situation was that

I’ve shared a lot less personal information.

I feel very empowered to be able to have that platform

to talk to so many young girls.

And I wanna go to bed on time,

I wanna find a good way to move my body,

and I wanna listen to podcasts.

I wanna be worldly, I wanna not take any shit from men

that I go on dates with, I wanna be independent.

So I think the impact I feel is when I do have

the younger girls that look up to me,

that’s probably the most wholesome.

And then I think that keeps me grounded of like,

this is doing something.

I made sure to basically unfollow

any account that didn’t spark joy.

That was part of my thing, was curating my feed,

following a lot of Black creators,

Black, both content creators, authors, artists, et cetera.

Just to have that energy in my feed

was something that was really important for me.

I stopped posting on my stories as much, as far as like,

you know, just my general, like what I was doing.

In general, I really just figured out the ways

in which social media could be used

for community building, for healing.

[Narrator] This is all such great, actionable information,

but it can’t be all about personal responsibility.

Does public policy have a role to play

in a healthier future when it comes to social media?

For us to have dignity in the digital age,

it requires all three: personal responsibility,

corporate responsibility, and government responsibility.

The corporations have a huge responsibility

to get rid of the extremism, to not have functions

or algorithms that are gonna amplify hate,

that are gonna amplify sexism.

But ultimately, it’s government’s responsibility

to make sure that our data isn’t taken,

in ways that manipulate us.

To make sure that these public forums

have a diversity of viewpoints,

so that we aren’t just talking in filter bubbles.

To make sure that people feel respected in online spaces.

[Angela] There is a very strong need for education

around how to thoughtfully, and meaningfully,

and deliberately engage with social media.

Honestly, starting from a very young age,

there’s a lot of things that we teach in schools.

It used to be home economics, now it’s health class, right?

That we’ve determined, as a society,

is really important for children to learn about

as they develop and come of age in a changing world.

kids tend to get on social media as early as age 8,

and they’re definitely on social media

way before they know how to drive.

We need to rise to that need,

and provide children with the skills, mindsets, and tools

for engaging with social media,

and other technologies, in a healthy, adaptive way.

The metaverse, and our ability to be

in these kind of immersive worlds,

will intensify the kinds of effects that we see.

So it’s gonna allow therapists, for example,

to do even more powerful interventions for people

that need help.

At the same time, negative things like bullying

will also be intensified, it’ll feel that much realer

when somebody is being mean to you.

So I think it’ll just intensify

all the aspects of of human life.

My name is Carleigh Berryman,

and I’m the CEO and Founder of Viva Vita.

We provide virtual reality for seniors

and senior communities.

They have the chance to travel around the world,

or relax in nature, different scenes.

And also to see things like art and music.

The opportunity to actually bring together the residents

and their families, their grandchildren,

in a virtual environment to spend time with one another,

and maybe play games, or travel, or do something fun,

I think that that holds a lot of promise.

[Female Speaker] First you’re gonna look at

swimming with the dolphins.

Ooh. Does that sound

all right to you? Yeah!

[Female Speaker] All right. Does it feel comfortable?


Oh here they come.

Seems like I’m underwater.

Oh, that’s a good one.

[quirky music]

Ooh, wow.

That was like right there.

There’s too many of them swimming.

I hear them talking.

[Male Resident] It’s better than just watching them on TV.

Yeah, especially when it comes close.

When do I come up for air?

Humans have always been worried about new technologies,

and for good reason, they do change us.

One of my favorite examples is Socrates,

who is worried about a new technology

coming online at the time, the alphabet.

He was worried that, because we could externalize

our memories, it would change who we are.

For them, the Greeks at that time,

our memory was what it meant to be human.

And he was right, we don’t go around reciting

900-line poems anymore, so we’ve changed.

But I don’t think anybody thinks

we should go back and get rid of the alphabet.

The alphabet brought a lot of positive things,

as well as that change.

[soothing music]