Social Media is Attention Alcohol



In The Atlantic, Staff writer Derek Thompson writes in an interesting piece that Social Media Is Attention Alcohol. In his article, which is based on a internal Instagram study, which was reportedly obtained by The Wall Street Journal. According to the study:

“Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse. They often feel ‘addicted’ and know that what they’re seeing is bad for their mental health but feel unable to stop themselves.”

Derek quotes a similar Facebook investigated study:

“We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls. Teens who struggle with mental health say Instagram makes it worse.”

One slide from a 2019 presentation (source: The Atlantic)

Quoting summary of the Instagram study, Derek writes:

Here is a fun product that millions of people seem to love; that is unwholesome in large doses; that makes a sizable minority feel more anxious, more depressed, and worse about their bodies; and that many people struggle to use in moderation.

Derek calls this as “attention alcohol”:

What does that sound like to you? To me, it sounds like alcohol—a social lubricant that can be delightful but also depressing, a popular experience that blends short-term euphoria with long-term regret, a product that leads to painful and even addictive behavior among a significant minority. Like booze, social media seems to offer an intoxicating cocktail of dopamine, disorientation, and, for some, dependency.

Derek writes that even Facebook acknowledges the problem highlighted the reported in the Wall Street Journal. In a response, Karina Newton, the head of public policy at Instagram reportedlly stood by the company’s research.

“Many find it helpful one day, and problematic the next. Many said Instagram makes things better or has no effect, but some, particularly those who were already feeling down, said Instagram may make things worse.”

Finally, offering some solutions Derek writes “How do we fix it? We should learn from alcohol, which is studied, labeled, taxed, and restricted. Similar strictures would discourage social-media abuse among teenagers.”