Recent scrutiny of social media has focused heavily on the issues of privacy, content ownership, and mental health. Numerous studies have suggested that extended use of social media can have detrimental effects on psychological wellbeing.
It is unsurprising that users are seeking modifications from social media platforms to reduce the risk of bullying, gaslighting, unhappiness and seclusion. Whilst it can be difficult to respond to all of these issues, social media sites are making efforts to protect users’ mental wellbeing by providing new resources and regulations.
Some of the most prominent are listed here.
Online communities are playing a key role in the fight against mental health issues by providing users with access to professionally curated resources. Since the pandemic began, most major platforms have made available a centralised repository of pertinent information and advice.
Instagram has recently addressed the negative body image concerns that have been raised about the site by releasing a series of tools, endorsed by experts, to help those who may be struggling with eating disorders or related issues. This central location, which appears in response to user searches for phrases linked to eating disorders or the sharing of material that relates to these issues, provides access to hotlines, counselling services, and detailed information.
This year saw the introduction of Facebook’s mental health resources, which were designed to supplement the current content available in the Emotional Health Resource Center. The updates included global mental health recommendations and advice from the World Health Organization, alongside resources from a range of organisations across the globe to help with stress, sadness, and anxiety.
In 2023, Pinterest launched ‘Compassionate Search’, a tool providing resources relating to mental wellbeing, initially in the US and subsequently rolled out internationally. This feature appears when a user searches for terms related to stress, anxiety or sadness, providing links to helpful materials.
TikTok and Snapchat have both launched their own distinctive ranges of tools. TikTok has created new tools to connect users to groups which tackle issues such as low self-esteem and eating disorders. Snapchat has also unveiled a range of resources entitled ‘Here for You’, which aims to offer proactive in-app assistance to individuals struggling with mental health issues.
Greater Than Mere Data
As one would anticipate, consumers have greater expectations than just gaining access to data from other organisations. Individuals expect social media companies to have more stringent regulations and stronger control measures to help prevent the most common issues, as they are ultimately accountable for what occurs on their platforms and to their users. To our satisfaction, platforms are steadily introducing some exciting new features.
In 2023, TikTok introduced a feature which enabled users to set their own daily screen time limits. This system sends notifications to the user’s feed when they have spent a prolonged amount of time on the app. While social networking networks often seek ways to encourage user engagement, this type of prompt is not commonplace.
Snapchat has improved its in-app reporting features, making it easier for users to alert the company of any worries they may have regarding the safety of other Snapchat users from potential self-harm. Should this notification be received, Snapchat will actively provide any necessary support to the affected user.
When considering the impact of mental health in the digital sphere, regulation is essential. Consequently, Instagram has implemented more rigorous penalties for those who send offensive messages or employ hate speech, including the permanent deactivation of their accounts. Additionally, Instagram has provided users with the means to better manage their Direct Messages and filter out comments from unwelcome sources.
Facebook and Snap have adopted different approaches in their endeavours to assist those facing mental health issues. To accomplish this, they have created their own video series targeted at those struggling with mental health. Taraji P. Henson is the presenter of Peace of Mind with Taraji, a new Facebook Watch discussion programme that looks into a range of topics related to mental health. Snapchat have also produced a docuseries starring Kevin Hart, titled Mind Yourself.
Finally, social media companies are partnering with charities in the mental health sector to assist in raising essential funds. For the upcoming year, Pinterest will be donating $10 million to support mental health organisations. The first beneficiary of this funding is the non-profit organisation #HalfTheStory, which works to increase awareness of the effects of social media on psychological health. Twitter, which is less active in comparison, has worked alongside the Cross-Government Working Group on Anti-Muslim Hatred to further understand how to tackle hate speech on the platform.
Continued Efforts Needed
It is clear that the current pandemic has had a profound effect on social media and has prompted businesses to take action on mental health. Whilst the measures and new features that have been implemented are commendable, they are not sufficient to rectify the underlying issues raised by the use of social media.
It is clear that much more needs to be done before we can effectively reduce the impact of social media on mental health. Therefore, it is essential that we remain active in our engagement with these platforms, and ensure that we are calling for the necessary alterations in order for everyone to feel secure when using these services. This is the only way to guarantee a future in which social media can be enjoyed safely.