Plugged In: The True Toxicity of Social Media

Plugged In: The True Toxicity of Social Media

Directed by Richard Grannon (2018)

Film Review

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:

Drug Addiction Relating Topics Social Media

Social Media The Gateway Drug

Social Media Addiction

 


*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.

Why I’m Not on Facebook

Why I’m Not on Facebook

Brant Pinvodic (2014)

Film Review

This is a documentary by a father struggling with the decision whether to allow his 13 year old son to join Facebook. After interviewing the Winklevoss twins, who claim to be the true originators of Facebook,* Pinvodik conducts a weird experiment in which a group of young Facebook fanatics construct a glamorous fake profile for him. When he’s instantly bombarded by “friend” requests, he phones a number of his new “friends” and attempts visits them at home. He’s extremely surprised by the number of celebrities who “friend” him, including Roseanne Barr.

He then consults an investigator who demonstrates how easy it is to access our personal information online – even when we aren’t on Facebook. Within minutes the investigator locates Pinvodic’s drivers license number, tax information and Amazon purchases, as well as the school his kids attend.

Pinvodic finishes with an examination of Facebook addiction. In addition to interviewing a teenager who spends 12+ hours a day on Facebook, he visits a psychologist specializing in narcissism. The latter maintains that Facebook appeals to two of the most powerful human emotions: narcissism and insecurity. By making ordinary people feel famous and significant, it enables them to become stars in their own limited universe.

In the end, the filmmaker concludes Facebook has both advantages and drawbacks. It can help people find jobs, kidney donors and long lost friends. On the downside are its addictive potential and the immense amount of personal information it collects for the benefit of US intelligence and corporate advertisers.


*The twins eventually sued Mark Zuckerberg, who currently runs Facebook, and won a $65 million settlement Winklevoss Twins Win Facebook Settlement