Social media ‘brain hacking’

Everything I’ve hated about myself — from my hair, to my body, my accomplishments, my relationships — stemmed from what I’ve seen on social media.

It goes without saying that social media is a part of most Americans’ lives. I don’t know anybody who isn’t on social media. It’s fun. It’s a way to connect with people we haven’t had time to see or talk to. We can just look at each other’s latest activity and we’re all caught up. Realistically, we don’t really have time to sit down and talk to everybody we know.

But just like any privilege, social media networks has a downside many people are failing to see. Former Google design ethicist, Tristan Harris, who now works for a non-profit initiative called Time Well Spent, coined the term “brain hacking,” in relation to how technology and social media networks can control the way we think.

In How Your Brain is Getting Hacked by Tristan Harris, he writes about how Facebook controls what we see and how long our posts are shown on other people’s timelines. In the video, he says that Facebook can extend the exposure of your photo depending on how many people have ‘liked’ it. Social media should not have this much control. Social media networks need to disable specific features that do nothing but get users even more addicted.

Instagram, on its own, has the potential to be destructive without the added pressure from ads. It’s a timeline of highlights, where people show the best moments, which can create the illusion that life can be and should be seamless. I, myself, choose what I post very carefully, making sure that it looks perfect and that it will get some engagement. Even though I don’t post every day, most of my idle time is spent scrolling through my Instagram, looking at my friends’ posts and posts on the “Search and Explore” page where Instagram chooses what I see.

Then, I compare everybody’s perfect moments with my worst moments. Even though nobody on social media has ever pressured me to be something I’m not, seeing photos of my friends or even of strangers my age travelling, doing things I can’t and being everything I’m not, has made me feel inadequate. Being on social media has influenced me to think that what I have isn’t enough. That I need to work hard to be like everyone else and, at first, I thought that was justified.

Working toward a goal is a good  thing. However, when you start adapting the mindset that achieving what your friends’ lives look like on social media is an attainable endeavor, then you’re going to end up disappointed. Nobody’s real life looks like an Instagram profile, and I definitely went through a massive amount of stress and anxiety before I finally realized this.

It isn’t right to tell people to stop posting positive photos. But social media can definitely change some features starting with ads.

As a communications intern, I’ve had experience being on the back end of Twitter and Instagram ads. When creating ads, you choose the type of people who will see them—from their age group, location, and language. You can even go as far as to choose what type of device they use to access their social media, their behaviors, interests, financial income, and political views.

When I was creating an Instagram ad for my job, what really struck me the most was the fact that for Instagram, the youngest age group who can see ads is 13. This is harmful because teenagers are easily influenced.

A study by SAGE Journals found that 48 percent of teens who spend five hours per day on an electronic device have at least one suicide risk factor, compared to 33 percent of teens who spend two hours a day on an electronic device. Teenagers who are very active on social media should not be exposed to ads. It’s unnecessary.

Social media networks are the best tool for bloggers, upcoming artists, and small businesses to grow their branding. It’s perfect for anyone who’s starting out in any field. You can showcase yourself at little to no cost. To these users, the ‘like’ button and ads are critical to their success.  Yet, when it comes to personal profiles, social media networks can disable the ‘like’ button, to stop controlling posts that we see, and to adjust the audience targeting in ads to 18 years old as the youngest possible.

Social media consumers need to take the time to go outside instead of constantly being online. Not everything needs to be posted on your Instagram. We all have the responsibility to use social media responsibly and productively. We can all socialize better.

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