The world as we know is bound by social media. This invisible yet omnipresent thread connects billions together, with 60% of the planet’s population active on some form of social media. As a matter of fact, it can almost feel mandatory to use social media in order to thrive in society. Without it, relationships with family and friends may falter, job opportunities can be lost and one can feel cut off from the going-ons of the world around them.
The greatest issue with social media, however, does not lie within the platform itself. It is how we use it in our daily lives. Nearly 40% of Generation Z uses social media more than four hours a day, and interact with their peers much more online than in person. I, myself, often find myself scrolling through my social media feeds not out of genuine curiosity, but force of habit. This generation’s casual usage of social media may make it seem par for the course, but in fact, we may regret our desensitization in years to come.
Oftentimes, our casualization of social media belies the true nature of internet platforms. We tend to shoot off tweets, TikToks and Snapchat stories without conceiving that every viewer is another real human being. This is especially evident on more public platforms like Instagram and X, where posts carry a permanent digital footprint. Not only can this present a risk of jeopardizing real-world events such as potential job opportunities, as well as a risk of serious harassment like even I have faced on social media, but it also gives opportunities for bad actors to use personal information nonchalantly placed on social media.
Very few people who use social media tend to grasp that with as little as a name and state, one can find someone’s personal information extremely easily. Take note of the rise of swatting attempts on more public figures. It’s true that we are not IShowSpeed or Ned Luke, and shouldn’t expect to be swatted in our lifetime. However, the underlying message here is that what they’ve presented on social media gives bad actors enough power to find where they live and gambit their lives.
Beyond the risks to security social media can present is the risks to one’s mental health. Consider how desensitized we have become to images once seen as nightmarish; my own feed on X has been dominated by images from the Israel-Hamas war as of late. I, personally, care passionately about the war and its implications, but I often find myself reflecting on how I’m no longer rattled by bodycam footage of Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre, or videos of children slaughtered by Israeli airstrikes. Even recently, the algorithm of X has been elevating fight videos to my recommended feed, which often end in bloody violence and death.
The very nature of social media platforms and algorithmic content gathering can also trap users in echo chambers. Being an informed citizen means exposing yourself to the marketplace of ideas, and social media can often cage you within a generated feed that shows you only what it thinks you want to see. This can also generate opportunity for harassment, evident in the rise of “stan culture” in social media that oftentimes turns their fandom into venom for celebrities and normal social media users alike.
Of course, asking Gen-Z to turn off their phone and delete their social media accounts is an impossibility. Social media, beyond the doom and gloom, is still the revolutionary invention of our times allowing us instant connections with millions and is virtually necessary for one to thrive today. However, mindfulness and wisdom within social media usage is crucial. Always be wary of the information that you share online, especially on public platforms like Instagram and X. Be sure to analyze your privacy settings and be cautious of who you let into your digital circle.
Along with this, keep in mind to critically analyze all content you see on social media. Whether it’s news updates, the postings of a friend or just shared memes, remember that there is always more than meets the eye. Most importantly, it’s important to set boundaries in all aspects of your social media usage. If you find yourself “doomscrolling” for hours through negative content, don’t be afraid to take a day of digital detox. Despite the weight social media carries in the modern world, your mental health and the going-ons of your real life must always stay paramount.