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Social Media is a Major Cause of the Mental Illness Epidemic in Teen Girls [Content Made Simple]
Issue #299: Meta Verified, Chatbots, and more.
TOP OF THE WEEK
We are now 11 years into the largest epidemic of teen mental illness on record. As the CDC’s recent report showed, most girls are suffering, and nearly a third have seriously considered suicide. Why is this happening, and why did it start so suddenly around 2012?
It’s not because of the Global Financial Crisis. Why would that hit younger teen girls hardest? Why would teen mental illness rise throughout the 2010s as the American economy got better and better? Why did a measure of loneliness at school go up around the world only after 2012, as the global economy got better and better? (See Twenge et al. 2021). And why would the epidemic hit Canadian girls just as hard when Canada didn’t have much of a crisis?
It’s not because of the 9/11 attacks, wars in the middle east, or school shootings. As Emile Durkheim showed long ago, people in Western societies don’t kill themselves because of wars or collective threats; they kill themselves when they feel isolated and alone. Also, why would American tragedies cause the epidemic to start at the same time among Canadian and British girls?
There is one giant, obvious, international, and gendered cause: Social media. Instagram was founded in 2010. The iPhone 4 was released then too--the first smartphone with a front-facing camera. In 2012 Facebook bought Instagram, and that’s the year that its user base exploded. By 2015, it was becoming normal for 12-year-old girls to spend hours each day taking selfies, editing selfies, and posting them for friends, enemies, and strangers to comment on, while also spending hours each day scrolling through photos of other girls and fabulously wealthy female celebrities with (seemingly) vastly superior bodies and lives. The hours girls spent each day on Instagram were taken from sleep, exercise, and time with friends and family. What did we think would happen to them?
Finally. We have real reason to believe the relationship between social media and our present teen girls’ mental health crisis have a causative relationship. This is huge.
THE TRIVIA QUESTION
Google is the most popular website in the world. What’s the second most popular website in the world?
Answer at the bottom.
HITTING THE LINKS
Good perspective on the latest news re: Meta Verified.
On Sunday, Meta became the latest and largest major social media company to announce a paid version of its products with the “Meta Verified” program. Facebook and Instagram will each charge users $12 a month for a blue verification badge, more protection against account impersonation, access to “a real person” in customer support to help with common account issues, and — most importantly — ”increased reach and visibility.” That means users who pay will have their content shown more in search, comments, and recommendations. The company is testing the feature in Australia and New Zealand this week and said it will be rolled out in the US and other countries soon.
For more than two years, Instagram has been rebranding itself as a video platform, pushing short-form video format Reels in an effort to expand beyond its roots as a photo-sharing app and compete with TikTok. Creators, brands and publishers duly changed their tactics, adopting video strategies to stay relevant as their typical content no longer performed as well, even as video formats struggled to take hold.
Yeah, this is going to be super interesting to watch.
Misinformation can flow into AI models as well as from them. That means at least some generative AI will be subject to "injection attacks," where malicious users teach lies to the programs, which then spread them.
The misinformation threat posed by everyday users unintentionally spreading falsehoods through bad results is also huge, but not as pressing.
THE FUNNY PART
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Trivia Answer: YouTube