Teresa Winger, Co-Founder
Numerous amounts of studies have been released about the effects of social media on mental health, bullying and teenagers. In addition, there are multiple media theories that relate and justify this theory. Specifically, Images of Women in Advertising by Anthony J. Cortese, Mind and Media by Hans Magnus Enzenberger, Digital Media by Bob Stein, and Culture and the Unconscious by Claude Lèvi-Strauss. In combination of these theories and the studies tested, the theory of social media being a catalyst for bullying and mental illness greatens.
Anthony Cortese’s theory of Images of Women in Advertising is a cultural ideology that is created by the advertising industry that tells women that they will not be desirable to – or loved by – men unless they are physically perfect. Women have been subjected to becoming “sex objects” by advertising and fashion industries, causing anxiety in woman because they fear that men only desire this idea of perfection (Berger, 69). By viewing pictures online of airbrushed models give impressionable teens the idea that that is what they must look like. And with the growing popularity with “selfies” and Instagram, there is an ever growing pressure for these pictures to be edited and covered in filters to the extent that the natural and original photo is not good enough. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, “numerous correlational and experimental studies have linked exposure to the thin ideal in mass media to body dissatisfaction, internalization of the thin ideal, and disordered eating among women.” While mass media is not the sole contributor, research has shown that the exposure and pressure from media leads to these behaviors. In a BBC article, Kelsey Hibberd discussed the pressure and bullying she experienced from others on social media. This caused her to be extremely conscious of the tiniest things about her body and even changed her hair and stopped eating so she could fit in. She describes the bullying she endured from ages 11 to 16 as “absolutely awful” and states that “it was all about my body and how I looked … I would have been subject to much more abuse if I’d had more friends on social media.” So, her use of social media gave others the power to bully her and consequently resulted in her insecurities.
Hans Magnus Enzenberger’s theory Mind and Media is about the result of the rapid development of mass media making the mind become “industrialized.” The idea that we completely control the contents of our minds is just an illusion and the contents of our minds are and will always be a product of society (Berger, 92). Without realizing, people are heavily influenced by media and most of their mind is consumed by media and content from media. Studies have shown that the popular social media sit Facebook has been linked to depression in children and teens. According to the AAP report, ‘Facebook Depression’ may result if “young users see status updates, wall posts, and photos that make them feel unpopular. Social media sites may have greater psychosocial impact on kids with low self-esteem or who are already otherwise troubled.” Therefore, for those who are already struggling, viewing the activity on social media can deepen their troubles and can consume their minds. Megan Moreno, an assistant professor of pediatrics and adolescent medicine states that “if an adolescent is experiencing feelings of depression and seeks out media to match those feelings of depression, then yes, Facebook and other social media can contribute to feelings of depression.” Enzenberger’s theory ties into these studies because without realizing it, social media can control how we think and behave and will influence our decisions. And the need to constantly compare ourselves to others and to look how society wants us to look, proves that our minds are a product of society. This helps my theory because it shows that media have a strong influence to how we think and what we think of ourselves. In addition, to having a strong contribution to feelings of depression, especially increasing those feelings for those who already suffer from it.
Bob Stein’s theory Digital Media approaches new digital media from a moral point of view and asks “what are we going to use these technologies for” and “what kind of society do we want to live in?” And he believes if we don’t ask these questions then we are going to end up in a bad place (Berger, 97). This theory supports my theory because if social media is becoming a place for cyber-bulling and is contributing to feelings of depression and body dissatisfaction, then “we are going to end up in a bad place.” Are we using these technologies to compare ourselves to others? Do we want to live in a society where teens are getting bullied and are harming themselves because of something they saw online? In an article from cnn.com, stories are discussed “about cyber-bulling, with kids running away, hurting others and even taking their own lives.” Even if social media doesn’t directly contribution to feelings of depression, being a victim of cyber-bullying can eventually lead to the feelings of depression. For example, this article discusses the “researchers’ review of 10 studies that explored the link between social media victimization and depression all showed – without exception – a significant correlation.”
Claude Lèvi-Strauss’s theory Culture and the Unconscious stresses the importance of the unconscious elements in the human psyche. He believes “we are either blind to the unconscious imperatives operating in our psyches and our behavior, or because we refuse to recognize the reasons why we do things, that we need social scientists to probe beneath the surface of things and find out why we dress in certain ways, eat certain things … and do all kinds of other things” (Berger, 24). This theory supports my theory and ties together the previous theories discussed. Lèvi-Strauss’ theory encourages the research of the unconscious and to determine why people do the things they do. This helps to support the notion that constantly being surrounded by social media pressures can be the reason why teens develop low self-esteem or why ‘we dress or eat certain things.’ Many times we refuse to recognize the reasons behind our behavior and feelings but we need to dig into our unconscious to be able to come to terms and change our harmful activities.
I would study how one’s viewing of other’s posts on social media effects themselves and their attitudes and moods. I would study how one’s use of social media influences their thoughts and outlooks on themselves and, therefore, how they compare themselves to everyone they see on social media. I would test this with those who suffer from mental illnesses, like depression and eating disorders, and bullying to see if the use of social media promotes these behaviors. In addition, I would test this with those who spend a large amount of their time on social media to see if spending so much time indulged in other people’s lives stimulates these behaviors. Also, I would test this with those who don’t use social media, with and without mental illnesses, to compare the effects. I would do this through interviews, surveys, and observations. I would create a survey asking questions on whether or not the use of social media creates feelings of insecurity, sadness, an increase of cyber-bulling, and so on. To start I would ask demographic questions, how often they use social media, and if they suffer from bullying or mental illness. I would test interviews with similar questions as the survey. Here, I would ask them to further describe the effects and behaviors caused by social media. For example, the specifics of the effects, like how it makes them feel or if they would agree that social media plays a part in their illness. I would use observations test the use of social media on those who deal with bullying and suffer with mental illness against those without to test if there is a correlation or causation. The evidence of those who use social media being affected greater than those who don’t, will prove this theory. If the use of social media deepens the feeling of depression or motivates the need of an eating disorder will prove this theory. But if there isn’t a significant difference between those who typically use social media with those who don’t, then this will disprove my theory.
In conclusion, while it may not affect everyone and may not be accurate with every case, social media has shown to be a catalyst to feelings of depression, eating disorders and low self-esteem. Social media has also acted as an easier way for cyber-bullying, and in result leading the victims to these feelings, which brings us back full circle. We need to realize that advertisements should not determine how teens should look and feel about themselves. Media and society should not control the minds of teens and we need to watch how they influence these teens because it creates a society where teens are hurting themselves. We need to acknowledge our subconscious to discover why we experience these feelings and emotions in order to prevent ourselves from being controlled by society and mass media.
Berger, A. A. (2006). 50 ways to understand communication: A guided tour of key ideas and theorists in communication, media, and culture. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
Media, Body Image, and Eating Disorders | National Eating Disorders Association. (n.d.). Retrieved April 07, 2016, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/media-body-image-and-eating-disorders
Ring, M. (2015, August 26). Teen depression and how social media can help or hurt. Retrieved April 08, 2016, from http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/05/health/teen-depression-social-media/
Roxby, P. (2014, October 13). Does social media impact on body image? - BBC News. Retrieved April 07, 2016, from http://www.bbc.com/news/health-29569473
Van Pelt, J. (n.d.). Web Exclusive. Retrieved April 08, 2016, from http://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/exc_080811.shtml