Social media makes the very damaging action of comparing oneself to others very difficult to avoid. Photo by Almix on

Before we begin, I should clarify that the solution is probably not to do away with social media altogether. It may seem like the obvious solution. 

However, there is an inescapable utility to keeping up with social media in some capacity. After all, there is minimal separation between our online lives and our real lives. 

That said, social media’s detrimental effects on the mind become more and more observable, especially as many people’s media habits, in general, have changed drastically following lockdown. 

While social media platforms already gave us a method through which to escape from our lives, they also served the purpose of connecting us to others. 

Even if our friends and favorite celebrities aren’t exactly with us, it can satisfy certain social urges while not bringing us into the proximity of others. This supplementing of social interaction can be more addicting when outside factors are hindering social lifes. 

These suspicions of the addictive nature of social media platforms particularly, Facebook and Instagram, were more or less confirmed during the Capitol testimony of Facebook insider Frances Haugen

In her report, Haugen outlined the many ways in which Facebook, and by extension, Instagram, intentionally courts younger users and damages their mental health in various ways that Facebook’s very own researchers recorded .

Social media is proven to be addictive in many ways, and a lot of this is by design. 

As algorithms get better and user interfaces become more convenient with constant feedback, the experience of infinitely scrolling through social media provides users with a continuous sense of gratification as they are being fed content from hundreds to thousands of users almost instantaneously. 

It is also very satisfying to post to social media and find validation from friends and possibly even strangers. The more followers or subscribers one has, the greater the amount of proof. 

However, this parasocial dynamic becomes harder to maintain for an individual as one’s following grows bigger. There are greater expectations for these people to portray a manufactured aspect of their lives, with have many consequences. 

 When describing a social media presence as manufactured, it is essential to know that the process of “manufacturing” an appearance is just a part of posting to any social media platform. 

There is an almost mandatory level of curation and effort that goes into even the most seemingly casual Instagram posts since, after all, people post for public consumption. 

The social media experience is also very harmful in how it forces users to perceive other users, especially about themselves. 

At the same time, people generally understand that the average social media feed is closer to a work of fiction or a reality show than documentation of one’s everyday life. 

Suspension of disbelief is integral to this experience. To fully enjoy and immerse ourselves into our social media feeds and the lives of our friends and those who influence us, we must cut the part of our brain off that rationalizes how the photos and videos come out the way they do. 

Prolonged interaction with this mindset while viewing people who are part of the “real world” can give individuals a skewed sense of reality, and it would be naive to say that anyone is immune to these effects. 

The Haugen report,  submitted to the Wall Street Journal, detailed how Facebook and Instagram have been incredibly troublesome, especially for young girls. 

One leaked study showed that 17% of teenage girls have said their eating disorders have gotten worse since using Instagram. Another study showed that around 32% of teen girls felt worse about their bodies after using the app. The reasons for this should be evident enough. 

The same barriers of class and aesthetic beauty in our real lives are further amplified by the wide range of people we see on social media. 

Many of the most popular faces on these platforms are the most famous people on earth. The idea of a platform in which regular people have to, in effect, compete with famously wealthy people would necessarily breed this type of insecurity. 

The very architecture of social media feeds has observable effects on its users, namely the infinite scroll. Platforms like Twitter offer users an endless stream of automatically generated content as they scroll. 

With so many users and tweets at any given moment, as long as someone has an internet connection, they can scroll through the app infinitely. This feature of these apps has given way to the prevalence of doomscrolling

The term came into prominence in 2020 and is used to describe the act of intentionally and consistently scrolling through bad or disheartening news or information. The reasons for engaging in this somewhat masochistic act are relatively simple. 

People need distractions, and it can make people feel less alone to see that others experience suffering in the same way. 

News journalism already plays on the tendency for people to seek out or pay attention to awful news. 

Still, when factoring in the speed at which information can come out, and the increasing number of people who consume their news through social media, the process is much more intense and harmful than it would be in a more limited format.

Depending on the range of one’s feed, this act of doomscrolling can also extend to consuming the bad news or depressive thoughts of an individual user or friend, further compounding the destructive nature of the social media landscape. 

The unfortunate truth is that social media and smartphones as a whole have almost completely integrated with our own real lives. 

There are observable social, political and economic shifts as these platforms become more accurate. It is more or less impossible to be in the loop without access to social media, and there is a definite social utility, especially on an individual level. 

Constant notifications play on our FOMO and knowing that other people engage will naturally make us want to do the same. However, what  people need to address the power that many large tech firms wield regarding  the level of transparency to the public, is none. 

In the meantime, it is crucial to understand the manipulation of reality that happens on these apps. While we cannot remove ourselves from its effects, understanding how it works can encourage a healthier relationship with social media.