If you ask a “Red Pilled” guy what he thinks about social media, he’s likely to launch into a tirade. In the Red Pill world, social media and dating apps are making life worse for men — by making women feel too good about themselves.
As they see it, social media like Facebook and Instagram and dating apps like Tinder offer women endless validation every time they post a new selfie, causing so-called simps and other thirsty males to shower them with praise in the form of likes, compliments and the occasional (or maybe not so occasional) dick pic.
I’ve written about this issue before; it’s a common trope in Red Pill land. It’s also utter bullshit — an assortment of studies have found that while social media can lower the self-esteem of men and boys, it lowers the self-esteem of women and girls far more.
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt — author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion and The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure — has a provocative (and rather disturbing) long article in The Atlantic detailing the effects of too much and too early social media on the female psyche. And unlike the Red Pill whiners, he’s got studies to back up his conclusions.
Social media gets blamed for many of America’s ills, including the polarization of our politics and the erosion of truth itself. But proving that harms have occurred to all of society is hard. Far easier to show is the damage to a specific class of people: adolescent girls, whose rates of depression, anxiety, and self-injury surged in the early 2010s, as social-media platforms proliferated and expanded.
Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, as Haidt himself acknowledges. But this particular correlation is quite striking.
Much more than for boys, adolescence typically heightens girls’ self-consciousness about their changing body and amplifies insecurities about where they fit in their social network. Social media—particularly Instagram, which displaces other forms of interaction among teens, puts the size of their friend group on public display, and subjects their physical appearance to the hard metrics of likes and comment counts—takes the worst parts of middle school and glossy women’s magazines and intensifies them.
So what proof does he have to back up these claims? Looking at an assortment of studies on the subject, Haidt concludes:
Something terrible has happened to Gen Z, the generation born after 1996. Rates of teen depression and anxiety have gone up and down over time, but it is rare to find an “elbow” in these data sets––a substantial and sustained change occurring within just two or three years. Yet when we look at what happened to American teens in the early 2010s, we see many such turning points, usually sharper for girls.
And it’s not just that Gen Z youth are simply more willing to talk about mental illness than older cohorts; as Haidt reports,
researchers have found corresponding increases in measurable behaviors such as suicide (for both sexes), and emergency-department admissions for self-harm (for girls only). From 2010 to 2014, rates of hospital admission for self-harm did not increase at all for women in their early 20s, or for boys or young men, but they doubled for girls ages 10 to 14.
If you prefer your bad news in graph form, here you go:
Haidt’s article is a chilling read, with the data pointing to Instagram as the worst offender in the “destroying teen girl’s self-esteem” category. Unfortunately, while Haidt pushes several proposals designed to try to counter social media’s malign effects, none of them seem adequate to the task.
We’re facing something quite dire: we’re addicted to technology, in he form of social media, that does as much to damage our psyches as a pack-a-day cigarette habit does to our lungs. Yet it’s almost impossible to give up, for good reasons or bad.
Haidt’s article is a sobering one — it’s not going to cheer you up from a bad bout with Instagram — but it’s well worth reading in its entirety.
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