Is Social Media Addiction One of COVID’s Greatest Fallouts?
Our collective health has been impacted by the pandemic in ways that may not be so obvious
Last year, Netflix released a movie call The Social Dilemma. I believe it’s an essential movie for people of all ages, but it’s especially critical viewing for families with children who spend time on social media. I’ve recommended it to many people, most of whom found it as compelling as I did.
The point of the movie is to expose how social media platforms are designed to nurture an addiction to content that affirms and amplifies the user’s preexisting biases and beliefs, to the point of obsession. Social media companies do this because they make money from addicted users.
The unfortunate by-product of this design is millions of social media users who have become radically indoctrinated on issues that interest them, due to an endless stream of information that always reaffirms what they already believe, without presenting opposing ideas or information. Such indoctrination leads to an absence of critical thinking, entrenched biases, and for some, mental health issues.
It’s a profoundly unfortunate coincidence that the peak of unfettered social media influence and the rise in addiction to these platforms has perfectly coincided with the worst pandemic in a century. These two ingredients are the recipe for the misinformation disaster that we see unfolding around us.
Some might argue that social media has played a vital role in sharing timely and important information throughout the pandemic. Sure, but social media doesn’t report on any news that isn’t equally available through other unbiased and credible Internet sources.
I would argue that, beyond COVID itself, social media has been the second-most harmful—and deadly—element of the pandemic.
It is singularly responsible for both the breathless hysteria about overblown fears of COVID as well as the massively damaging and misinformed campaigns against safe and effective vaccines. It is also largely responsible for the unreconcilable division that has emerged from all matters related to COVID.
There is plenty of room for debate on all sides of the issues related to COVID. But these debates are best had among well-informed and respectful parties. Any debate is a waste of time when those engaged are informed only by what they read or saw on Facebook, regardless of what side of the issue they fall on.
Yet this is very often the case. We have received countless emails, letters, and phone calls on matters related to COVID and vaccines from self-declared experts whose exclusive source of information is—you guessed it—social media. This is a sad but true reality.
Research has discovered that social media users experience a surge of dopamine, a neurotransmitter released by the body that causes a feeling of pleasure, when they engage with these platforms. This is the root cause of social media addiction, and it is at the heart of why social media can be so powerfully manipulative and personally devastating.
If you spend lots of time on social media and find that you have become deeply entrenched in beliefs—especially beliefs surrounding COVID—that are putting stress on your relationships and straining your mental health, it may be time to step away from your accounts for a while. It’s great to be fully engaged in important topics of the day but arming yourself with balanced information from a variety of credible sources will leave you far better served than having your eyes glued exclusively to social media.