Excessive use of social media is dangerous. But why do teens keep on spending too much time scrolling down through Facebook, posting photos on Instagram, or escaping reality through TikTok? They consciously know that it wouldn’t help them in the long run, but they keep doing it. In this episode, Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen dive deep into social media’s impacts on teen mental health and companies’ profiting from comparison and chaos. There’s totally a link between social media and increased risk for depression and anxiety. And yet, companies continue their online platforms without considering the harmful effects. Find out why and learn how teens can use social media more deeply than just comparing.
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Profiting From Comparison: How Companies Profit Off Of And Affect Teens In Social Media
A Deep Dive On Teen Mental Health And Social Media
In Apple Podcasts, our show This Might Get Uncomfortable is in the mental health category. I have had conversations with people online sometimes about our subject matter, which tends to be extremely diverse. Whitney and I constantly strive to represent a wide array not only of subject matters, research findings, articles, and things that pique our interest, make us curious and enrage us. Overall, the base coat, if you will, on the wall of this show, to use an analogy, is definitely the foundation of mental health, physical health, how we can find clarity, balance, and well-being in this world.
One of those subjects that Whitney and I have talked about a lot here on the show is the subject of how technology and emerging technologies, social media, smartphones, and big tech companies are affecting our collective mental health. Also, our sense of community, sense of connection or the lack thereof, in human society. Since we are talking about tech, the algorithms being what they are, when I start to click on articles about mental health and technology, I start to see more articles about mental health and technology.
One time, one floated across my newsfeed and I immediately sent it to Whitney because sometimes we will see things and be like, “That is a perfect fit for This Might Get Uncomfortable.” What we are going to talk about is a natural extension of the subject matter that we covered in previous episodes. We talked about the ramifications or thoughts and feelings of documentaries such as The Social Dilemma, Childhood 2.0, Fake Famous. Also, how platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, the entire universe of social media, and portable digital technology are not only reshaping and rewiring our brains and our brain chemistry. More so how it’s affecting young people, Gen Z, teens, and even adolescence and younger than that.
We are seeing kids younger and younger these days having access to and learning how to use things like iPads and iPhones at very young ages. This article that floated across my newsfeed that Whitney and I are going to dig into is from the Wall Street Journal. It says, “Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show.” My first reaction to that was like, “Duh,” not in a conspiratorial way. “You are kidding me. A billion-dollar corporation knows that its products and its technology are harming people. Shocker.”
I say this not to sound anti-corporate but if we look at the track record of big corporations in the United States, it’s not exactly a gleaming track record for big tech, oil companies and pharmaceutical companies. They know that their products are harmful either to the environment, the Earth, animal life or human life but they continue to release, support the market and promote these products. Why? It’s because they are extremely profitable. Let’s get that out of the way right away.
When we are digging into this, keep in mind, Facebook is aware their technology and their platforms are harming people but they are clearly not stopping because they are making a whole lot of money. I want to cover that before we dive into here. I don’t want to read this article in its entirety because it is long but I do want to dissect some of the screenshots and the files from some of the internal documents that are embedded in this Wall Street Journal article. It’s interesting. There are screenshots from what it looks like, a slide presentation from something called the teen mental health deep dive. It’s not shocking but it reinforces what we suspected, which is these companies know what they are doing and they are not stopping it.
At the beginning of this article, it highlights a young woman’s journey of mental health. Her name is Anastasia Vlasova. It talks about how she started seeing a therapist and she had developed an eating disorder. She had a suspicion in a clear idea of what had led to it, which was her time on Instagram. It says here she joined the platform at age thirteen and was eventually spending three hours a day entranced by the seemingly perfect lives and bodies of fitness influencers who posted on the app. “When I went on Instagram, all I saw were images of chiseled bodies, perfect abs, and women doing 100 burpees in ten minutes,” said Miss Vlasova, who lives in Reston, Virginia.It's well-known that Instagram is a place where people tend to post their highlight reels and where people expect you to post about your life. Click To Tweet
Around this time, researchers inside Instagram, which is owned by Facebook were studying this kind of experience in teenage girls and asking, whether it was part of a broader phenomenon. Their findings confirmed some serious problems. It says in this slide presentation from Facebook’s internal message board, which was reviewed and received by the Wall Street Journal, “Thirty-two percent of teenage girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse. Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and how they describe themselves. For the past three years, Facebook has been conducting extensive studies into how its photo-sharing app, Instagram, affects millions of young users and repeatedly. The company’s research has found that Instagram is harmful to a sizable percentage of them, most notably teenage girls.”
From the internal presentation, “We make body image issues worse for 1 in 3 teen girls.” Summarizing research about teenage girls who experienced these issues, “Teens blame Instagram for increases in their rates of depression and anxiety. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups. Among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of British users and 6% of American users traced the desire to kill themselves back to Instagram,” one presentation showed.
It gives me chills reading this, Whitney because it confirms what we have seen in those previous documentaries. It gives me chills because the company is aware of this and it doesn’t appear to me they are doing shit to change it. It hurts my heart to read those things. I know you have talked a lot about your struggles over the years with disordered eating. You have talked a lot about your experience as a woman feeling all of this pressure to conform to a body standard.
You are not a teenage girl, but we have talked about and surmised that if Instagram and Facebook were around at the time that you and I were teens, holy shit, the amount of pressure. I want to hand it back to you because certainly, this is a dense and intense subject we are talking about, where teens are tracing Instagram to their desire to kill themselves. That’s why I left it. That’s probably as heavy as it gets.
Sadly, it isn’t surprising. Perhaps that’s because we have talked about this so much and seen the documentaries. We can’t get numb just because something seems obvious to me. This mindset, “That’s just the way it is,” is dangerous. It’s interesting because it tends to be the case for us as human beings, that we experiment a lot. Sadly, people are impacted negatively by something because it is widely adapted before we even understand the harm.
The connection with smoking, as the article brings up at one point, is a good one. Another one as a side note that I found interesting and this is more COVID-related, I saw this compilation video of people reacting to Seat Belt Laws. Also, how outraged people were when seat belt belts came into law enforcement and how you are required and you can get a ticket. It’s for your own safety. This compilation showed this video of people saying, “Seat belts are uncomfortable. They are going to mess up my clothes.”
The point of the video is to compare that to people wearing masks and their reaction like, “Masks are inconvenient. They are uncomfortable. They mess up my makeup. I can’t breathe,” whatever else. It reminded me of how resistant we are to something that might be good for us. It’s hard for people to change until they are forced to change.
It reminds me of this because if we don’t have regulations around social media usage, a lot of people are either ignorant or they are enjoying it too much. I have talked a lot about my relationship with TikTok as an adult woman who specializes in well-being and studies all these articles. I find myself frequently using TikTok as a coping mechanism. I go through ups and downs with my mood, as many people do.
One time, I was like, “It’s Saturday and I’m tired. I just want to lay around and not do anything.” The only thing that felt interesting to me was to use TikTok. I was on TikTok for a while and I thought, “I’m not enjoying this but I am still doing it.” I walked away, put it down and thought, “Maybe I should read a book,” and then I’m like, “I don’t feel like reading the book,” then I’ve got back on TikTok. “Maybe I should watch a TV show, a movie or go take a walk,” and nothing appealed to me. All I want to do is sit there on TikTok, consciously knowing that it wasn’t helping me in the way that I was reaching out to it for.
You could say the same thing about drugs, cigarettes, and a lot of other things that we know aren’t good for us but we do anyway because they give us enough of a good feeling or they have become such a big part of our lifestyle that it’s hard to imagine not doing or using these things. Just like you, Jason, I often think about my relationship with social media as a content creator and there are a lot of positives to it for me. I have also been doing it for a long time and developed my own relationship with it for the most part.
There’s another percentage in my brain that has this automatic knee-jerk relationship with social media that doesn’t feel like it’s best for me but I’m doing it because everyone else is doing it. I’m doing it because it feels good or it gives me a temporary sense of happiness. Along with that, I’m aware that the comparison trap is there and what’s brought up in this Wall Street Journal article is how harmful the comparison can be. It’s well-known that Instagram is a place where people tend to post their highlight reels. It’s a place where people expect you to post about your life.
I sometimes feel like the odd one out for not posting frequently. I don’t know what I think people think but it’s this deep fear that I’m an outcast because I don’t frequently post on Instagram. The reason I don’t post is that I don’t want to always post my Highlight Reel. I absolutely do not want to participate in a system as a woman posting the best photos of myself. For what reason? This is the thing that’s important when I look at articles like this. I think about, “Why is it that we are looking at these things but some people are posting these things?”
You and I, Jason, have had friends, and probably still do, that participate in this. Posting the best photos of themselves, editing them often, and using angles, lighting or whatever they possibly can to get themselves to look a certain way in that still photo. First of all, it doesn’t capture the essence of who they are as human beings. This is part of the reason that I feel uncomfortable posting a lot of times, especially photos of myself. I’m like, “That’s not me.” That was a moment in time that was captured of me but if I start posing, editing, and doing all these things to manipulate myself, that’s not who I am. I don’t want to falsely represent myself, A) For myself, but B) For other people. I don’t want to participate and make everybody think that I look like that all the time.
When you see the behind the scenes of photoshoots, for example, and some of the lengths to which fitness influencers will go to pose a certain way, look a certain way, manipulate their bodies or having a company edit them in a certain way, it’s sickening. We can’t help but believe those images until we stop and think differently from them. I imagine that a lot of young women see those images and believe them right away. Some of them may not even realize how fake they are.
Even when you know that something has been altered, enhanced or manipulated in order to convince you of something else, I don’t know if our brains can fully protect ourselves from that comparison trap. This is why I unfollowed a lot of people. I started to tune in to the gut feeling that I get when I see something that brings up the comparison trap. I know what it feels like in my body so clearly now and a lot of people do. I have started to train myself to hide those types of posts and unfollow those types of people or never follow them, to begin with.
On TikTok, you can say, “I’m not interested in this.” I’m starting to curate the algorithm more so that I don’t even get exposed to that stuff but it’s hard. Part of the point of this article, and it’s not just Facebook and Instagram is that these algorithms will find a way. You have to stop and wonder, “Why are they so determined to show us things that are bad for our mental health?” Is it malicious? I hope not but it’s the blatant thing sex sells.
If we start to break down, it’s not a gender thing, although I feel like it happens more with people who present as female. It’s that pressure and knowing that sex sells. If they look a certain way, they may get more attention and that attention can turn into money or success. Simply feeling desired could be an ultimate goal. We feel so empty. If we are validated and people believe us to be beautiful enough, we will finally feel full. I can tell you from my experience, that’s absolutely not true. It does not deeply serve me and that’s why I don’t want to participate in that.
That pressure, though, is tough. I imagine for the teenagers who are the subject of this article, Jason, we remember what it’s like to be in high school and the pressure we felt when social media didn’t even exist for us. We could maybe avoid the people that made us feel uncomfortable at school. We don’t have to hang out with the popular kids. Maybe we want to but we could choose to sit on a different side of the cafeteria, avoid them as possible, and not go to the parties. We could choose to take ourselves out of those situations.
On social media, sometimes the algorithm shows us things that we don’t want to see or maybe our urge is to see and obsess over people who are so strong. It’s also brought up in this article that teens wanting to spend more time on platforms like Instagram but lack the self-control to do so because they feel so addicted. They know what their seeing is bad for their mental health but they feel unable to stop themselves. That’s different than in-person experiences.
Let’s say you are in high school and maybe there’s a person in school that you find yourself in comparison with. Whatever quality of theirs, you are comparing yourself to and feeling less than or better than. You can’t stock them in the way that you can on social media because they are going to see you staring at them so you are probably not going to do that or not do it much. You probably can’t follow them around, look at everything that they are doing and ask them about their lives.
The in-person experience is vastly different than social media. If that person chooses to take a ton of photos of themselves and post them, write in-depth captions, post stories and do all this oversharing that people tend to do on social, you could spend your entire night after school stalking this person. You know every detail about them. It’s addicting. Clearly, it’s not good for your mental health. Maybe the social media platforms know that this is what keeps you on the platform and they are profiting off of it, so they are thinking, “It’s not so bad. They will be fine. They are enjoying it. They wouldn’t use it if they didn’t enjoy it.” This is going to continue to become a massive issue. If it’s hard for me as an adult woman, I can’t imagine how hard it is for a teenager who hasn’t fully mentally developed.
I want to go back to a lot of great points you made, Whitney but one in particular where you said you don’t think they are being malicious. It’s a fine line. If you think about their revenue model, which is based on advertising, it’s not the only revenue model that Facebook and Instagram have but they make a lot of their revenue from their advertising. What is the line between maliciousness and strategic business offerings?
You talked about pre-social media. We would be around watching TV as kids and we would see ads for Bud Light, Chevrolet, Dove body soap, Grape-Nuts or whatever was on in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Those ads were not targeted in such an expert and exacting way as they are now. Digital technology, algorithms, the technology that tracks us and learns our interests, our psychographics, the things we are interested in. Advertising is so much more insidious now in the digital realm because it’s targeted with such precision to stick its finger right in our inadequacies, fears, and the things that we feel awful about ourselves.
The difference here is, it’s not that you didn’t see commercials for Bowflex, Jazzercise, and all that shit pre-social media. We did see those. The difference now is that they have so much more information about us online that when those ads pop up, it is as if they are speaking right to all of our fears and insecurities. That is the hugest difference since the advent of social media. When you say you don’t feel they are being malicious, I may disagree in the sense that they damn well know that they are making billions of dollars on this targeted, exacting, laser-focused advertising. It preys on all of those things I mentioned but they don’t stop it. Why don’t they stop it? It’s too profitable. Why would they stop?Teens blame Instagram for increases in their rates of depression and anxiety. Click To Tweet
In the article, there’s a section about a nineteen-year-old who searched Instagram for workouts, and then the app started to show her tons of photos of how to lose weight, the ideal body type, and what she should and shouldn’t be eating, and now she can’t escape it. I found ways to “combat” the algorithm but that’s a temporary thing. Meaning, I have to be mindful about who I follow and what I type in the search engine. Not everybody is going to realize that and some people are going to type things in innocently, not realizing that the algorithm is going to then be like, “She’s interested in this. Let’s start showing her other things.”
As easy as it sounds to ignore that, our brains work differently. If you start seeing all these ads about the ideal body type, it’s a subtle messaging of like, “You are not quite ideal yet but we will show you how if you watch this, buy this and follow this person.” We have to also call out the people that are profiting from it by being content creators. This is something I’m becoming increasingly passionate about and mindful of. Given all the work you and I have done over the years, Jason, with brand sponsors, I have had this gut reaction of hesitancy to working with brands and it’s still confusing to me. At some level, it’s being wary about what I promote because I don’t want to be part of that world of convincing someone that they need a product or service to be whole as a person.
A lot of content creators are profiting deeply off of that and they may not even realize it because the brands are so good at messaging the creators and enticing them with more exposure, opportunities, money, great experiences, and all of this feel-good stuff, what you and I both experienced, Jason. Luckily, there aren’t a lot of brands or services that I have worked with that I have regretted working with but I’m sure if I dug through, there are some questionable things. There are some things that I promoted.
Certainly, I spent a lot of time talking about weight loss and all that stuff. I thought it was an innocent thing but in hindsight, I feel differently about that now. I certainly don’t want to promote weight loss. Even though I’m a big advocate for the keto diet, for example, I’m mindful about how and when I talk about keto because keto is often associated with weight loss and I don’t want to promote weight loss. That’s a whole other subject matter but that’s not why the keto diet has become such a big part of my life. That’s not the main and only reason for it.
I certainly have been impacted by this whole weight loss world and I still continue to be. It’s hard. Especially for someone like me who has a history of disordered eating, I have to be mindful. That’s exactly why I usually don’t follow any of those types of influencers. I don’t want to see their perfect bodies. There’s one in particular who I have had as a strong acquaintance. I’m not sure if the word friend would pertain. I try to use the word friend carefully but I would say at least borderline friend, an influential fitness person. I noticed that I was feeling incredibly triggered by this influencer’s content. This influencer’s body got slender noticeably to me and I found myself going, “Look how slender this person is.”
Every time I would see this person’s content, that’s what I would think and I would find my brain going, “Maybe you should see what this person is doing.” That’s where my brain will go, and then I have to notice it, stop it, and then ultimately avoid that person because I’m triggered by them. Is this person a bad influence? Maybe not universally but for me, not a positive influence. I have seen countless influencers that are capitalizing off of all of these things that you are mentioning too, Jason. There’s this whole system that people are participating in and pushing, not to mention all of the teenagers out there who aspire to be influencers.
If they are seeing these people getting tons of validation, money, gifts, experiences, buying their own homes, and all of the Highlight Reel shit they see from influencers and they think, “I want to do that,” they start to model themselves after those influencers, and the cycle continues. Meanwhile, these platforms are all benefiting from it because those creators are bringing more traffic. The brands are benefiting from it because the brands are making all this money from these creators.
It’s like this bizarre ongoing world that we are in beyond the personal effects. It’s it goes beyond somebody seeing a post and envying somebody else’s life. What starts to happen is the modeling behavior. “This girl is posting this photo and this pose. She looks great and people are liking it. I’m going to try doing that same post.”
You and I have talked about this, Jason. When we were starting Wellevatr, I will never forget one of the videos we did and the talks that we gave was how there were those standard facial expressions and poses that people would do and everyone was copying each other. When you step back and look at it, you are like, “This is bizarre.” You see this on TikTok. Everyone is doing the same dances and using the same music. It’s because they see it working for somebody else or they want to do better, and then that becomes this ongoing competition. You can’t get out of the comparison trap at that point.
Even if you are not participating in it, you see other people doing it, which is brought up in this article. In one of the focus groups that Instagram did, teams were saying, “I felt like I had to fight to be considered pretty or even visible.” That’s what you see. I felt that, too. The amount of time that I have spent because I thought I had to fight to be considered pretty and I had to fight to be visible on these platforms amongst all these other people. I ended up in the comparison trap because I was seeing people succeed at things that I didn’t feel like I was succeeding with. It’s not a good feeling.
It brings up something that I noticed that I thought was interesting and I want to preface what I noticed when we are talking about the intersection of commerce, digital technology, and what people’s intentions are, whether that’s the corporations or the content creators. Before I say what it was though, I remember years ago, Whitney, reading a quote from Baron Rothschild. The Rothschild family is one of the oldest, most powerful, richest families in the world. They are a European banking family that has been involved in commerce and banking for hundreds of years, for generations.
There are also some interesting ties to the Federal Reserve in the US. The Federal Reserve is a privately held corporation and is not a branch of the US government. It’s partially owned by the Rothschild family. All that being said, Baron Rothschild, who is credited with being the patriarch of this banking family, said, “Buy when there was blood in the streets.” You could take that literally in the sense that one of the best times to invest is during the war, which is probably one of the reasons that the United States has perpetual war. We have been at war since the country started.
That’s a side note but it’s also a metaphor, Whitney, for buying when there was blood in the streets. It doesn’t have to mean literal blood but it could mean that people are bleeding out mentally. People are bleeding out because they feel like they are worthless. People are bleeding out because they are confused and afraid in the middle of a pandemic.
There are so many articles about investing when the world is in chaos. There are a lot of people in this world now that are making billions of dollars from fear, chaos, death and sadness. It is an insidious approach to making money that when there was “blood in the streets,” whether that’s literal or proverbial, that’s the best time to invest your money. I could go down that road for a long time.Our brains work very differently. Click To Tweet
My point is this, I saw an influential documentary filmmaker, author, and content creator who has gone on record to say, “COVID isn’t real. This is all a manufactured system to grab, control, and oppress humanity and all of that,” which may or may not be true. I’m not here to refute that or give it credence. What I am saying is there are a lot of people I have noticed who are like, “COVID is bullshit. The vaccine is bullshit. It’s all bullshit. Buy my immunity supplement. We have the most powerful immunity supplement on the market because all that other stuff is horseshit. Instead of spending your money there, give us the money and we will make sure that you never have to get a vaccine and never have to worry about your immunity ever again.”
I’m not against people making money but when there was “blood in the streets” and people were afraid and confused, and you try and profit off of it, my initial reaction is, “Fuck you. You are no better than anyone else if you are doing that strategy. You are preying on people’s fears.” I try and have compassion, Whitney, but it’s hard sometimes because I feel that certain people don’t even maybe realize that they are preying on other people’s insecurities and fears.
“We’ve got this natural organic thing and it’s good for you,” but you are doing it in a time when people are afraid and freaked out and you are trying to profit off of them. It’s not just the corporations, the digital media companies but also the content creators are taking advantage of people and taking advantage of their fear.
There’s so much more I want to dig into in this Wall Street Journal article but there’s one thing that I forgot to mention, Whitney. This is something that I wanted to do an episode on and it completely slipped my mind. It’s a good time to bring this up. Back in June of 2021, the entire country of Norway passed a law that makes it illegal for advertisers and content creators on social media to use filters and retouch their photos. An influencer or an advertiser will have to declare if their figure or their features have been edited and if they have used a filter through a government-approved label. It’s the first country in the world that I’m aware of that banned retouching and filters.
There are some interesting articles saying why adding labels won’t work. “This isn’t going to happen. This level of transparency and honesty is going to backfire.” Norway’s whole point, though and the reason I’m bringing this up was to try and fight these unrealistic beauty standards because they saw the effect on the mental health of their citizens. It talks about how Norway referenced a 2016 study that found exposure to doctored Instagram selfies directly led to lower body image and mental health issues among adolescent girls.
It’s cool in a way. Some people may not feel. It’s called the Marketing Control Act in the country of Norway. They said that the regulations are scheduled to go into effect in July 2022. Some people might look at that and go, “That’s against freedom of speech.” It’s a different country but maybe certain people in America will be like, “That’s against the First Amendment. We should be able to do whatever we want.” I’m curious how that hits you. I know it doesn’t take effect until July of 2022 but do you feel like that’s a good thing for Norway to do on the whole as a country? Do you feel that in the US, it’s a possibility that we might be able to do something like that here?
It’s certainly not a bad thing but I don’t think it’s going to make enough of a difference. This is a complicated issue. This is a huge part of our culture. It’s changed the way that we relate to one another and the way that we feel about ourselves. It’s not a simple solution. In that article, it talks about how Instagram gave the option to not show likes because they thought, “Maybe if people aren’t so focused on the number of likes that they get, they will feel better.”
I opted to turn that feature on but I often wonder, “Does it make me feel better?” It does a little mainly because I’m a content creator, so the numbers can get to me but it’s not like it solved that huge problem. Also, in this article, one of the most fascinating parts of it was how an executive was commenting about how people use Instagram because it’s a competition. That’s an interesting perspective on it. It’s a competition. How many followers can you get? How many likes can you get? How good can you look in the photos? How much money can you make? What brand deals can you get? It’s incredibly competitive.
That competitive nature is built into our psyches and programmed by our society because this whole idea of comparison is such a big deal for us. We compare ourselves in school, like what grades we are getting. We compare ourselves to what college we get into, what jobs we get, how much money we make, and what our relationships are like, on and on. Using social media as a Highlight Reel is because it feels like a competition like, “How good is my life compared to yours?”
The more I talk about this, the more I realize why I hesitate to post on social. It doesn’t feel that great anymore. The Wellevatr Instagram account is different. I feel elated by sharing quotes by our guests, which is what we do if you haven’t visited our Instagram account. It’s things that resonated with me or us and points that people made that I thought were wise. I feel so good celebrating these other people when I post that.
Sometimes I feel good celebrating the things that I do and I see in life on my other social but for the most part, I could take a ton of photos and videos, which I do naturally. In terms of posting them, I often stop and think, “Why am I posting this? Am I posting this because a brand wants me to?” Sometimes that’s true. I don’t like that pressure so I generally avoid those relationships. “Am I posting this because I’m trying to prove something about myself? Prove how great my life is, I’m attractive, I’m successful, I know what I’m talking about and all that stuff. A lot of times, I step back and I’m like, “I don’t need to do any of that because it doesn’t get me what I want. Also, my life is good without having to prove myself on social media.”
There are a lot of these misconceptions about what social media will do for you and I haven’t found a lot of those things to be true. A huge exception is social media has connected me to some incredible people and it’s usually through text-based chat. I started communicating with this guy named Michael on Twitter. I love Twitter because it is so text-based. It’s not about these photos and videos most of the time. I met this guy because I was posting about my cryptocurrency coin and he bought my coin.
For those that don’t know, I’m on this platform called Rally. It’s a platform for content creators to start their own economies, which is neat. It ties into this conversation because Rally is on a mission to give the creators more power and not be so dependent on some of these platforms. Ironically, Rally is a platform, so I’m sure there are a lot of self-serving interests for them. As a whole, they are trying to empower and change the system. I launched a coin called the WELL coin. It’s a huge passion project for me rooted in well-being.
This guy, Michael, bought my coin and messaged me on Twitter. We were having a conversation about it. He had the greatest heart. It was one of many conversations I have had through direct messaging. I have had a lot of those on Instagram. In fact, my favorite feature of Instagram is the Direct Message. We have show followers message us often and it brings me so much joy. I have people messaged me on Eco-Vegan Gal and my @WhitLauritsen account. That’s what I care about. Truth be told, Jason, that’s why I post and that’s what’s most rewarding. It’s not the likes or the public comments. It’s the private messages that I get from people.
Saying this out loud is giving me a new motivation and clarity about posting. That’s also why we do this show. We are here to talk openly, authentically, vulnerably, and truthfully about issues we care about. When we hear from people through social media, it is why we have a social media presence because not everybody is going to want to email. One of the main reasons I stick around on social media is because of those conversations.
This is an opportunity, too, because it ties in so well. I have been developing a program called Beyond Measure, which I have talked about a few times on the show. That’s exactly what happened with Michael. We talked on Twitter and I said, “Michael, I started this community called Beyond Measure. You would be an amazing part of it. Would you like to come to check it out?” Beyond Measure is invite-only at the moment.
I could tell Michael was a little unsure but also curious. He said yes and he showed up to our live call. We have live calls every Saturday for Beyond Measure. It was so delightful to get to know this man, who a few days ago was a stranger, just someone on Twitter. That is what lights me up, those deep conversations that start on social media, and then go off of it to become a connection. It’s not about people trying to compare themselves. It’s the exact opposite. It’s about people connecting and showing love and supporting each other.Facebook is aware their technology and platforms are harming people, but they're not stopping because they're making a lot of money. Click To Tweet
This Beyond Measure project has brought me so much joy. I felt pressure to promote it on social media and do all these big things with it. It became an organic, slow process that is resulted in deep meaning with incredible people. If you can use social media in a deeper way, it comes back to the original meaning of it where it’s not about money, comparison, manipulation, fear and all of that nonsense. Social media can bring up so much fear and sadness. When social media is used for self-expression and connection, it’s a remarkable thing. My hope is that that’s where social media goes.
Now, we are at this point where we see a lot of advertisements on there and we are probably going to experience that for a long time. We are going to continue to have people sharing their lives in a way to get something out of it from someone else. It also reminds me of MLMs, Jason. I don’t know if you have heard of this but there’s this documentary that’s being talked about a lot called LuLaRich. It’s about this brand called LuLaRoe. I don’t know if it’s still operating. It might be. It’s this infamous MLM and they were known for their leggings, dresses, and these women who buy these clothing and sell them.
The documentary is on Amazon Prime. It’s a four-part series sharing the whole history and how it’s impacted, people. We have talked about MLMs on the show a few times and generally don’t have a lot of positive things to say about them. Mainly because MLMs start off with a good mission. Jason has done an MLM, I did an MLM, and I know friends that are in MLMs currently. I see that the reason behind it is that desire when you believe in something to share it with others and make money.
LuLaRoe was known for helping women generate income while staying at home and being with their families. That was the way that they convinced people to be part of this company. At the core, there’s humanity in there. What would happen and the main reason that you and I did not resonate with it is that the deeper you’ve got into MLM, the more you realize that you were being used as a pawn to find as many people as possible to join in to make more money for this big company. That’s why it’s called a pyramid scheme, too. It ultimately benefits the people at the top and a lot of people are being manipulated, and then it harms relationships.
The number of people that I know that have done MLMs has changed the way I felt about them because I don’t trust them. I feel like they are always trying to convince me to join. I have a friend who joined an MLM. I love this friend deeply and I have had to set a lot of boundaries for myself. Whenever she brings up this company, I’m going to divert the conversation away from it because I don’t want this to harm our relationship. I’m going to be mindful.
I know deep down that she’s doing this to generate money for her and her family. I understand it. I know that she believes in the company. I don’t think she fully sees it as an MLM. I pray that that does not impact our relationship because it sucks when it happens. It sucks to see people feel used and abused by these things. A lot of these people do that through social media. The profiting and the choices that people make to generate income for themselves is a slippery slope.
There’s nothing wrong with making money but we have to be mindful about how we are making money and how that’s impacting us, our friends, our family but the world at large. That’s probably the big shift that we are going to have to make a certain point. Maybe it will explode. It’s like, “Can we save ourselves from the impact of these things?” It’s chaotic and so many people are benefiting from it. Is it going to implode or is it something that we are going to have to deal with for the rest of our lives? I’m not sure.
I don’t know either but there are a lot of interesting theories about where human evolution is heading. We have definitely talked about some rather esoteric subjects here on the show of uploading our consciousness into quantum hard drives and having our consciousness exist beyond the depth of our physical bodies.
I was having a conversation with my mom about the new Apple products that came out. We were laughing and reminiscing about when our family got our first real personal computer. Not like a Commodore 64 in the ‘80s with the floppy disk and super slow but a real “modern-ish” personal computer. It was a Compaq and it was the mid-‘90s when I was a freshman in college. This was 1995 or ‘96 when we’ve got our first real actual PC.
Now, many years after we’ve got that computer, you can get an iPhone 13 Pro Max, Ultra or Uber. The names are ridiculous. The biggest, baddest iPhone 13 comes out at the end of September 2021. It can be had with 1 Terabyte storage in a phone. For any of us who have been tech geeks like Whitney and myself, know that that is insane to think about in a device of this size to have a terabyte of storage. It does make me wonder, Whitney, in our lifetime, the next 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 years if we are blessed with having that long of a life, what in the name of God are we going to see by the end of our lifetimes? It boggles my mind.
The other thing that that brings up, Jason, is when that announcement was made, I used to pay close attention to Apple announcements and I didn’t know until it was happening that it was happening. You and I are texting about, “Did you see the new iPhone?” I found myself thinking, “It has been three years. I have had the same phone. It’s fine. This new iPhone has such a great camera.”
The storage becomes an issue because I take photos and videos. If you want to have a nicer camera with higher quality, it’s going to take up more space so you need more space. That and the battery power are the three reasons why I have been considering getting that phone. It’s an expensive phone and I have been reflecting on, whether or not I want to get it or when I want to get it. Do I need to take better photos and videos? Not really. My camera takes fine photos and I have another camera. I have this 4K camera. For those that watch our YouTube channel, each of us invested in these nicer cameras but that’s because we record for the show. It’s not a need but it ties directly into something we are passionate about.
Now, I’m not making money off of my photography unless I work with a sponsor to post on social media and that doesn’t fully resonate with me. I don’t need to post TikToks and Instagram Story videos and all this other stuff. Do I need an iPhone 13? No. When I think about all the storage, “Do I need all the things that are taking up the storage on my phone? No. Do I need the longer battery power? Is it better for me to have a phone that doesn’t last as long? Do I need to spend that much time on my phone every day?” When you stop and ask yourself these questions, maybe it’s better to have an older phone.
It’s almost as if they are creating these phones, I don’t want to say for influencers. In the scheme of the human population, people who would label themselves as a content creator or influencer, it’s a significantly small portion of the human population that would label themselves as such. God knows if there are any actual statistics on this. The way that you are describing is cinema mode. It’s like 4K at 24 frames per second in cinema-quality.
I saw some of the footage and I’m like, “Jesus Christ. This is on a phone.” From a technological perspective, it is remarkable. Who’s using this and why are we using this? Why does the average person need a 4K video at 24 frames per second in cinema-quality? It’s like a filmmaker shit now, which is part of the reason I geeked out because you and I have the film school background. It was like, “Can you imagine having this when we were in film school? It would have been insane.” We are not in film school and we are not filmmakers anymore.Human beings experiment a lot. People are impacted negatively by something because it is widely adapted before we even understand the harm. Click To Tweet
Maybe there’s that part of me that’s like, “I could use it for all this stuff.” I had that mental dialogue, but then I thought, “I don’t think I’m going to use it for that shit.” From a technological perspective, there’s something called planned obsolescence that is part of the business model of certain corporations. Meaning, the rate of technological progress accelerates exponentially to the point where after 3 to 4 years, because of the iOS updates and things, they start to force you to upgrade because the older technology on your device doesn’t work well with the upgraded software. The software starts to outpace the capabilities of the hardware, essentially forcing you to upgrade the hardware to match the capabilities of the software.
This is an actual strategy that companies employ. Automakers did it years ago. Tech companies are doing it. You can’t tell me that this shit is meant to last ten years. I don’t know anyone with a smartphone, be that an Android device or an iPhone that has had it last a decade. I don’t even know if it’s possible unless you don’t update the software. If you don’t update the software, you could do it, but then you are going to miss out on the features, the security updates, and all the great and cool shit you can do.
Planned obsolescence is absolutely a part of the business strategy. It’s like, “Do I need a new phone?” I do not. I noticed myself being wooed by the shiny new object syndrome like, “It’s got cinema mode, Jason.” I’m like, “What’s cinema mode? I need cinema mode. No, I don’t. What the hell am I going to? Do Oscar-worthy cat videos?” It’s a cool idea. I probably would use it for cat and dog videos.
Who are you going to show it to? I found myself thinking, “I wish I had the iPhone 13 when I went to the national parks.” I took all these photos and videos that are sitting on my phone because I don’t feel called to share them on social media. Maybe one day I will. The number of photos and videos I have taken over the years that I have never shared with anyone else and they are just sitting there taking up space, which I have to pay for an iCloud storage, a hard drive or whatever else is insane. It’s better for us to not take photos because we will remember them more. When we take a ton of photos, our brains go, “I don’t have to remember that because it’s in a photo.”
I don’t know if it harms our memory or prevents us from remembering in detail. Taking photos and videos could be detrimental to the present moment. Speaking of which, I saw this video. It was some silly video of people at the opening of Universal’s Halloween series, which is also nuts. They have Fright Nights or whatever they call it. Maybe it was Six Flags. One of those theme parks opened up and you can go to their Halloween scary nights.
It was footage of someone holding up their phone and recording the start of it. They were in a crowd behind people. From their perspective, you could see all these people in front of them holding up their phones. Almost every single person there was capturing that moment through their phones. I was watching that clip thinking, “This is nuts. All these people are focused on recording something to share on social media or to watch later instead of savoring the moment.” That has become the average experience.
On the other hand, Jason, given that September 11th, I was watching a lot of footage of it and looking around all the people that did not have phones. In 2001, cell phones were something that a lot of people had but used for phone calls. Most phones did not have email. Most phones did not take great photos. I remember a flip phone I had. It was not something you would use. You would bring a separate camera with you. You would only bring that camera to capture specific moments because the battery life wasn’t great or the memory cards didn’t fill that much. Maybe you had a disposable camera and you could only take 30 photos.
Years ago, you were intentional about what you captured. During September 11th, the footage was mainly newscasters recording this and professional photographers or people that enjoyed taking photos capturing some pictures. If that were in 2021, what you would see in that footage is hundreds or thousands of people standing in the streets in New York City with their phones up, capturing the moment.
I don’t know about you, Jason, but I remember some things vividly about that day but I also have a lot of blank spots. I don’t remember the timeline. I know where I was when I heard about the planes hitting the towers but I don’t remember if I saw on television the buildings coming down or if they had already come down. There are gaps in the day that I don’t recall. It’s interesting. Had I had a camera that I was using during that day to capture it all, would I remember less? How could that have impacted me if that were happening now?
I think about what COVID has been like and how people have documented COVID. In a way, it’s nice to see other people’s experiences that they share on social. I use platforms like TikTok to stay in the know. On September 18th, 2021, the top news story that I’m following is the Gabby Petito story and I’m using TikTok to stay up to date on it. I’m grateful for people posting about these things. I’m grateful for people sharing their experiences on social. I don’t think social is all bad but we have to consider how we are using it. Using these devices and communicating with one another and the purpose it serves and the long-term damage is the biggest question. There are a lot of question marks around all of this.
Your point in bringing this up is the question marks for us as consumers. What is happening behind the scenes with all these big corporations that are driving this? What is TikTok thinking about? Are they highlighting the Gabby Petito story for entertainment value? As we talked about in a previous episode, that’s sickening that we are using a missing girl story for entertainment.
I have to step back every day and ask myself, “Why am I paying so much attention to this story? Is someone’s suffering benefiting me on an entertainment level?” To be frank, yes. Do I want to participate in that? I’m not sure, to be honest. TikTok is certainly benefiting from it. All the time that someone like me might spend on TikTok entertaining myself, distracting myself or coping, they are making money from that. They are, of course, going to keep it going. They are not going to stop us. They are not going to encourage us to pause and think twice about what we post and what we watch.
That’s the big thing here. Closer to the end of this article, the original article we referenced in the Wall Street Journal about the mental health effects of Instagram on teenage girls talks about some of the findings in this internal review and internal study. It says, “Social comparison is worse on Instagram.” It states that Facebook deep dive into teen body girl images in 2020. Noting that TikTok is grounded in performance while users on Snapchat arrival photo and video sharing app are sheltered by jokey filters that “keep the focus on the face.”
In contrast, Instagram primarily focuses heavily on body and lifestyle. The features that Instagram identifies as the most harmful to teens are at the platform’s core. “The tendency to share only the best moments, a pressure to look perfect and an addictive product can send teens spiraling toward eating disorders, an unhealthy sense of their bodies, and depression,” this internal research states. It warns that the Explore page, which serves users photos and videos curated by their algorithms, can send users even deeper into content that can be harmful. “Aspects of Instagram exacerbate each other to create a perfect storm,” the internal research states.
Here’s where I want to leave it. The research has been reviewed by top Facebook executives and was cited in a 2020 presentation given to Mark Zuckerberg, according to the documents. Here’s where it gets interesting. “At a congressional hearing this March 2021, Mark Zuckerberg defended the company against criticisms from Federal lawmakers about his plans to create a new Instagram product for children under the age of thirteen.”
When asked if the company had studied the app’s effects on children, he said, “I believe the answer is yes.” They know what they are doing. They are not going to protect you. They are not going to shelter you. They are not going to be compassionate about your mental health. They are here to make money and make a lot of it. The onus is on us as citizens to figure out how to navigate this mental health minefield together to discuss it and figure out strategies.
I don’t know that we have a solution at the end of this episode. We usually don’t end with a solution. It’s clear to me reading this that they know what’s happening. They know how it’s affecting people. Their Chief Executive is denying it. It’s fucked up for a lot of reasons. It’s an ongoing discussion of how do we manage this? How do we protect ourselves? How do we engage when the tentacles of it are deeply embedded in the consciousness of our culture? It’s not going anywhere anytime soon because there’s too much money in it. What do we do and what can we do?
It’s an ongoing conversation of realizing that we are easily addicted to it. “Can we limit our screen time? Can we acknowledge our addiction? Can we have a healthier relationship with it?” It’s an ongoing question. We’ve got to take our power back and figure it out somehow if we are going to continue as a human species. We certainly have climate change, COVID, and financial issues with the world. This is up there with those issues in my mind because of the division, how it’s ripping people apart, and how it’s increasing suicidal ideation.
We are curious, dear reader, how you feel about this. Maybe you have a teenage son or daughter. Maybe you are witnessing how it’s affecting them or like us who are grown adults, how it’s affecting us. We always love to hear your thoughts, perspectives, and musings on the subject matter. You can email us. Whitney and I are at [email protected]. That’s our direct email address. You can also send us a direct message on Instagram or any of our social platforms, it’s @Wellevatr.
Thank you for making it through this deeply introspective and somewhat heavy episode. We are appreciative of your perspectives. Whitney, as always, thank you for weighing in with so much sagacity and perspective on this because it is concerning and disturbing. As humanity, I don’t know what we are going to do about it but we’ve got to figure it out. Until next time, thanks for getting uncomfortable with us. Thanks for reading. We will catch up with another episode!
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- This Might Get Uncomfortable – Apple Podcasts
- Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show
- Why Experts Say Norway’s Retouched Photo Law Won’t Help Fight Body Image Issues
- @Wellevatr – Instagram
- @WhitLauritsen – Twitter
- WELL Coin – Whitney Lauritsen
- @EcoVeganGal – Instagram
- This Might Get Uncomfortable – YouTube Channel
- [email protected]
- @Wellevatr – Twitter
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