Plugged In: The True Toxicity of Social Media
Directed by Richard Grannon (2018)
This documentary examines the apparent link between widespread social media addiction and the spike in suicide rates among teens under 17. Depression has increased 70% over the last decade, with suicide rates increasing by 50% in girls and 30% in boys. In the same period, hospital admissions for eating disorders have doubled. This appears to relate to pervasive social media emphasis on personal appearance and staying thin.
The filmmakers interview pediatricians, psychologists, social media activists and teen victims of cyberbullying. They also examine whistleblower claims about Facebook deliberately designing platforms to produce the same dopamine* triggers that mediate addiction. The obvious goal is to create compulsive desire to spend more and more on Facebook, as well as Instagram and WhatsApp (both owned by Facebook). The more time you spend on Facebook, the more ads you see and the more profit you generate
Adults who regularly interact with teens will only be too aware of their constantly pinging smartphones. In many cases, they seem incapable of giving real life interactions their full attention. Psychologists worry we are setting up a whole generation to transition to adulthood with defective social skills.
The film also explores the tendency of these platforms to reinforce personal narcissism and of all social media platforms to reinforce confrontation, aggression and hate speech.
I was surprised to learn that as of 2018, 60% of all social media posts were selfies. The teens interviewed reveal their selfie posts are rewarded with more likes than any other posts. At the same time, they report problems with chronically low self-esteem for failing to measure up to their friend’s posts.
While not mentioned in the film, I have had concerns for several years now that social media addiction may actually be a gateway drug – setting young people up for other dopamine-related addictions (amphetamines, cocaine, heroine, and nicotine). The deadly opiate addiction currently plaguing the US and other developed countries may be no coincidence.
At number of addiction specialists seem to agree with me:
*Dopamine is neurotransmitter that stimulates brain pleasure centers. Rats wired up to self-administer dopamine to their brain pleasure centers will keep pressing the lever until they drop dead from starvation and dehydration.