Scientists, as well as prominent Facebook associates and employees, are questioning whether or not it’s remotely possible for social media to ever fade away. The question is just as valid as a challenge to early suggestions some ten years ago or less that social media would merely be a fad. They question this, though, only because they fear that it might be best for everyone if an end to the social media era did come to fruition because of the litany of adverse effects it’s been proven to have on people. New research finds that children as young as 10 years old fit the psychological profile for addicts with regard to social media and that their happiness directly correlates with how many likes they get.
The study found that some kids actually alter their behavior in real life in service of their social media profiles. Conducted by British Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield, the study analyzes children within the range from age eight to age 12. Longfield says that children are being exposed to massive emotional liability by social media companies, and she adds that these kids start secondary school lacking the ability to cope with the kind of severe pressures they’ll face online by way of sites and apps like Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp. These three, in fact, were found to be among the most popular networks accessed by children within this age range despite each one allegedly requiring users to be no younger than 13 to create a profile.
Young people admitted in response to the survey involved in the study that they plot out their lives, including trips, outings, and hangouts in the real world based on the pictures they want to take with one another to display their friendships and their seemingly exciting lives. They also make these plans as a means of ensuring that they get a certain minimum threshold of likes from certain people for their posts. The study found children to be very insecure about their relationships in the event that they didn’t get responses to social media posts in a timely manner and that they were only “starting to feel happy” when the likes started pouring in.
Children from age ten to 12 were found to be “concerned with how many people like their posts” to such an extent that they had become dependent on it for social validation, indicating a trend of increasing intensity as children get older. Sean Parker, infamous former president of Facebook and original investor, claimed just last month that Facebook’s “dopamine-driven feedback loops” were “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” He added, “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
The Silicon Valley entrepreneur also told Axios in that interview that Facebook “literally changes your relationship with society, with each other.” He added that “It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways.” Chamath Palihapitiya, a more recently former Facebook executive, was interviewed by CNN and admitted to feeling guilty for inflicting Facebook on the world, particularly in light of the damage that Facebook was co-opted to do during the 2016 US presidential election. “Nobody ever thought that you could have such a massive manipulation of the system,” Palihapitiya added. “You can see the reaction of the people who run these companies. They never thought it was possible.”
Longfield’s study dealt with eight separate groups of 32 children each, and all were between the ages of eight and 12. Findings indicated preteens and teens were following a progression of increased anxiousness over the need for validation from social media as they got older. By age 11, in fact, children were found to be exceedingly cognizant of their own social media reflection, an external self-image that less accurately represents the self than the fabrication that already exists in every human mind regardless of social media’s influence. Arguably the most intense pressure involved in this for these children, according to the study, was the need to have popular posts.
The study also found that social media superimposes metrics onto the perceived inadequacies that have already been plaguing children since antiquity. For example, the feelings that many normal children have when comparing themselves to celebrities — from body image insecurities to an overwhelming sense of unpopularity — are greatly exacerbated by these mediums that boil these things down to numeric values. Showing children just how many friends and likes celebrities get is only one example, but it also extends to their own peers who may similarly exceed them to lesser extents.
Longfield said that this creates a risk of raising an entire generation of kids who grow up “worried about appearance and image as a result of the unrealistic lifestyles they follow on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, and increasingly anxious about switching off due to the constant demands of social media.” She adds that children are also pressured to inundate their minds with social media content in that they don’t feel they can afford to miss anything creeping across their Facebook timeline that other people might catch and talk about later. It’s “this push to connect — if you go offline will you miss something, will you miss out, will you show that you don’t care about those people you are following, all of those come together in a huge way at once.”
Other studies from the UK indicate that it’s highly unlikely these societal ills will abate. Social media appears to be more than a trend or fad and is ostensibly here to stay. Research indicates that it instills narcissism as a new opiate of the masses, so to speak. President Trump is often referred to by critics as narcissistic, particularly for his incessant tweeting about news and media coverage of himself. Those who ascribe to this opinion of the President of the United States consider it an obsession with his own media reflection and the feedback loop that it creates. Regardless of whether or not there is any truth to this, such appears to be the case for many people, including the children within the target age range for Longfield’s study.