The first social media site, Six Degrees, was created in 1997. It allowed users to upload a profile and make friends with other users. Two years later, blogging sites took off. In 2002 Myspace quickly became the most popular site for teens. YouTube launched in 2005, and, shortly after that, Twitter emerged. As these different sites gained momentum, people were reeling from the benefits of social media while also blind to the long term dangers.
Entrepreneurs were growing their businesses. Others were connecting with long lost friends from childhood, and many people were accessing information for their physical and mental health conditions. People living in dangerous and abusive relationships finally had resources to access help. Patients diagnosed with terminal or life-threatening illnesses could turn to their social media to find out the latest about medications and clinical trials.
When Facebook launched in 2004, no one knew the potential dangers and pitfalls it would have on vulnerable populations, such as people struggling with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, loneliness, or lack of a strong support system. People began flocking to Facebook and other social media platforms to connect, spread, and seek information and support.
But along with opening up a proverbial world of possibilities, the world itself had also opened Pandora’s Box. The world was smart enough to quickly realize the negative possibilities brought on by social media use in teenagers but unable to find effective ways to cope with them. Around 2017, psychologists conducted research, mostly among teens, to test the negative psychological impact sites like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram were having on this population’s well being. Thousands of studies found that the more time people spent on Facebook, the worse they felt over extended time periods.
The Social Dilemma
The release of the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma” is the first film to dive deeply into the dangerous psychological impact. Former technological designers from Facebook, Twitter, Google, and related social media sites bravely spoke out about the power these outlets have on the way humans think, feel, and act. They went into detail about how these sites manipulate the way people think about themselves and those around them. From targeted advertising to controlling what information we see on a daily basis, the effect on our belief systems, our happiness, our anger, and our ability to voice opinions has been resoundingly magnified. Social Media-led change has made a positive impact in so many regions of the world and aspects of our society, but it has also shown a propensity and ease of manipulation that’s astounding and alarming. While there are benefits to having easy access to support and information, the pitfalls far outweigh the positive impact for many.
People’s lives have been ruined after being exploited on social media. A violation of one’s privacy, cyberbullying, and stalking are significant issues that wreak havoc on a person’s psyche. Psychologists have been conducting research studies for years on the connection between phone use, social media, and rising suicide rates among teens. One study revealed a dramatic increase in depression in teenagers after social media emerged.
During the last six months of the quarantine, more people spend hours on their phones trying to feel some sense of connection and hope. Some are looking for jobs. Others are spending hours watching videos on TikTok to pass the time. As the Presidential election comes upon us, people are posting their views on each of the candidates. The political polarization has led to more violence, chaos, and misinformation on both sides. As the COVID pandemic has no end in sight, people are taking to social media to express their opinions about school closures, COVID restrictions, economic distress, and the mental health crisis.
The problem with these search engines is that once someone has a preconceived notion of ‘their’ truth, social media often validates the script. For example, if someone believes that COVID is a hoax and they search on google, “Is COVID real or a hoax,” most likely, the sites they are directed to will say “it is all made up.” If someone believes they have cancer because they are having symptoms and they search, “Do I have lung cancer,” the symptoms they are having will match articles about people with cancer.
Many of the technological experts that appeared in “The Social Dilemma” said the inherent intent of social media was not to destroy lives or cause mental distress. However, they also talked about the existential threat and that these platforms need to take responsibility for the negative effects they have on millions of people.
Human Connection is Person to Person
So how can people navigate the web and find appropriate resources and information? In the current climate, spending hours on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or other social media outlets is not the solution. The temporary relief of feelings of loneliness and disconnection is not the long-term solution. Looking to google to diagnose a condition or get help with financial issues will leave people feeling more confused and distrusting of their individual situation.
Sage was created to ward off some of the dangers social media sites have on society. People with different backgrounds are offering great advice. Professionals are joining the Sage community because they are passionate about what they do, and they want to offer support and guidance on a variety of topics. To name just a few, there are topics on career advice, mental health, home improvement, networking, and coaching. Leadership and parenting are also very frequent topics on Sage. Real people are available to give high-quality advice and advocate for the people reaching out. On-demand answers are just a question away. Sages provide real advice instead of answers controlled by a search engine, artificial intelligence, or browsing history.
Spending hours watching videos on TikTok or looking at pictures of “friends” on Facebook is not the answer. Now, more than ever, we need a place where we can reach out to others who have experience working in professional fields, raising children, creating, advising, and mentoring. The goal for Sage will always be to provide quality, informed advice, share human experiences, and propagate the world’s knowledge. Sage cannot diagnose or treat a disorder. Sage cannot find someone a job or make home improvements. Sage cannot tell someone how to parent a child. Sage CAN offer advice, resources, validation, and support. The guidance and support offered by the Sages can empower people to take risks and live a better quality life. Many lives are in shambles due to the economic distress and political divide currently sweeping our country. Reaching out and having a dialogue with others who can offer support and comfort could lead to a sense of calm during the storm!