Are Tech Companies Doing Enough to Combat Social Media’s Harmful Effects?

Today, we have entire generations of people who do not know life without the internet. Social medial plays a central role in the lives of these individuals. Originally created to serve a purely social function, social media platforms have changed. Many consumers even use sites like Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram as their primary source of news. In addition, social media is an integral marketing tool for many businesses. No matter its function, no one can deny the presence of social media in our everyday lives. The impact of social media is so profound that it is worth considering its negative effects. In particular, social media companies must be cognizant to their platform’s impact on adolescents. Many Americans, mainly parents, feel social media companies are not doing enough. But are they required to do more? Should the government become involved, similar to their involvement in the Facebook privacy controversy?

Negative effects on mental health

Last month, U.S. News reported on a recent study conducted by Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. The study looked at the intersection between adolescent social media use and its effect on teens risk for mental health issues. It found young people who spend more than 3 hours a day on social media have increased susceptibility to certain mental illnesses. Notably, the study reported that “seeing others’ lives on social medial platforms like Snapchat may expose adolescents to idealized self-presentations that negatively influence body image and encourage social comparisons.” While a lot of good things step from the social connections young people make through these platforms, the negative effects cannot be ignored. U.S. News went on to discuss potential solutions to this problem. Johns Hopkins researchers pointed to an American Academy of Pediatrics “toolkit” that can help parents manage their child’s social media usage. While it is important for parents to control the content for their own children, we must consider the role tech companies play, or lack thereof.

Small steps for Instagram

Just last week, Instagram seemingly acknowledged the negative effects the social media site has on its users. Instagram, similar to Snapchat, is notorious for its filters. A few of Instagram’s newest filters have recently included filters called “Plastica” and FixMe.” These filters allowed users to mimic the effects of extreme cosmetic surgery and even markup photos to simulate those a plastic surgeon makes before procedures. Plastica and FixMe were recently removed from Instagram amidst internet controversy. One of the masterminds behind these filters, Daniel Mooney, made a statement admitting that it was not his intention to show a perfect image. Mr. Mooney opined, “I can see where Instagram is coming from, but for as long as some of the most followed accounts on Instagram are of heavily surgically improved people, removing surgery filters won’t really change that much.” Instagram’s decision to remove these filters was seen as a victory for some of its users. In an effort to better understand what companies can do to moderate the negative effects of these platforms, we must first understand what is being monitored and why.

Inappropriate content and privacy concerns

Social media platforms, such as Instagram, pride themselves as a safe and diverse place for inspiration and expression. However, they too have certain policies and guidelines that all users must follow. Instagram’s community guidelines page guides users to appropriate posting. These guidelines include restrictions on spam, nudity, and violent content. Users are asked to report any content that seems to violate company guidelines. The reported posts are then reviewed and any content that does not meet the guidelines is removed.

Is this enough?

While guidelines and policies are important, Instagram’s quality control procedures are not all-encompassing. Parents of young children on Instagram, and most social media pages, are able to monitor their child’s content. These parental controls allow adults to block certain accounts and comments as well as set privacy settings. Although the controls help, it may not be enough. Social media platforms, and Instagram in particular, have become a place for users to idealize the perfect image and perfect life. Although most well-rounded adults understand that this is a distorted reality, young people often do not.

A change is coming

Recently, we have seen the political turmoil surrounding what many believe to be, lax privacy and monitoring policies at Facebook. The U.S. government remains involved in these issues because of their direct impact on American democracy. While these concerns are imminent, there should also be focus on social media’s impact not only the voting public, but on those far too young to vote. Instagram and other social media platforms place their concern primarily on privacy and inappropriate content. This focus is reasonable as the companies must comply with applicable laws. As social media platforms continue to grow, however, we may start to see greater efforts at the state and federal level to implement laws and regulations that lessen the negative effects of social media. While this push has not come yet, it is only a matter of time as new generations brought up on the internet, continue to emerge.