Thirty-three US states filed a lawsuit against Meta for collecting data on children and significantly contributing to damaging the youth’s mental health. The complaint stated, “Meta has harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens. Its motive is profit.”
A mental health crisis followed the pandemic and the resulting surge in social media presence. Analysis constantly proved the correlation of social media to degrading users mental health, especially circling areas of body image, self-esteem, pressures to conform, and the need for validation. One study published by JAMA Paediatrics showed that around 20% of adolescents showed major depressive symptoms in 2021, but less than half received treatment for them.
As time goes on, people become increasingly aware of the tactics corporations use for user engagement as they become more blatant and reflect the exact biases and partialities that push for more. Besides the outside factors, the complaint elicited five inbuilt features of Meta-owned Instagram that pointedly were “harmful and psychologically manipulative” as they would “induce young users’ compulsive and extended use”.
Recommended Algorithms, which carefully curate the content presented, pushing in advertisements and popular topics and arranging it in a way that will keep you conditioned and invested, were the first on the list. The content available on social media is laced with addictive components and intricately designed by many factors, unlike its sometimes effortless and natural visage.
The Likes feature literally provides a count to form the basis for comparison with peers and non-peers too. In an age where one’s digital workspace is both an informal and curated display of one’s life and a workspace, it can be easy for boosted and visible top stats to cloud a young person’s judgement about themselves and foster an obsession to know where they stand.
Notifications are available for every single other feature, including new content, likes, follows, messages, and more, that make it impossible to stay away and gnaw at that sense of fear of missing out.
Photo filters have outright modified facial features and skin colour to fit algorithmic (or western) ideals. Many users and creators have now grown accustomed to posting their faces only as long as the filter is layered on, leading to users being unable to differentiate between what is altered and what isn’t. This has further contributed to body-image issues and insecurities about self-image.
The final feature listed in the complaint was Instagram Stories, which stay on only for 24 hours, compelling users to stay online so they don’t miss out.
Although Meta introduced many features to prioritise and ensure the protection of children’s safety and health, the complaint alleges that they are ineffective, as they are most often presented as changes that can be made to the default settings.
While social media has provided vast grounds for experimentation, connection, and figuring out one’s identity, the ill effects often overtake the upsides. Experts recommend taking social media vacations and taking breaks to intentionally notice the differences between the virtual and real worlds.