There is so much discussion happening online about the pros and cons of social media for individuals, photographers, and society in general that we decided to delve into the subject ourselves, conducting our own research which we'll share with you in the first of a series of articles.
10 years ago kids didn’t have their own mobile phones, let alone having their own Instagram account but now it has become a norm, even at school. Talking about the impact that social media has on individuals and, in particular, young minds will never be “enough” as it is a growing problem but the more we discuss it today, the better decisions we can make tomorrow.
Back in 2017 the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) in the UK undertook the "StatusOfMind" survey survey and talked to almost 1,500 students on the impact of social media platforms on young people's mental health. Not surprisingly, Instagram (which has over 700 million users worldwide) appeared to be more detrimental to young people's mental health when compared to other social media platforms. Next in line was Snapchat, another image-based platform. As photographers, we know that every photo has the power to help or harm. So looking first from a photography perspective, what’s happening on these platforms that is causing a negative impact on our next generation?
“Short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that have been designed to be as addictive as possible.” is how Dulkara Martig, outdoor educator and NZ school teacher describes the use of social media platforms by teens. “There's a corridor in school that I call the "robot hallway." You walk down it and literally every teenage boy is sitting with his head in a screen. There's almost no laughter or chatter, just robots.”, she says.
The issue is hidden in unhealthy implicit values that are shared on these platforms with the “help” of photography that restricts the enrichment of people’s lives and their real-life connections. The effect is called “effortless brilliance” – where some people love to show off their personality and mastery by dazzling others. By seeing the social “approval” that those photographs or accounts have in the numbers of likes and comments, we subconsciously tend to desire to become like those other people so we too can get as much attention and approval.
We think “Why them, I'm just as good” then we upload our photo (be it of ourselves or of someone / something else) and when it has much less engagement (without thinking and understanding social media algorithms) we become our own worst judges, thinking we're not as good as that other person who has thousands of followers and likes.
Many people feel oppressed, fearful, and trapped as a result. Quite often they don’t even say anything out loud for fear that someone else will cut them down demonstrating even greater “effortless brilliance”.
Photo above by Thomas Deck: "Always trying to put on a happy face for the social scene. Sometimes we end up just feeling like clowns."
In our attempt to look at the issue of social media from all perspectives, we decided to talk first-hand with Crystal D'Mello, a Year 13 student at Kāpiti College who has a passion for visual storytelling. Crystal is working on her own photo series about the overuse of social media by teens and it’s impact on their mental health.