Conquering Social Media Before it Conquers Us

Nika Bagatelos, Lauren Pank and Margo Herreid (from left) waiting outside of Beckman Hall for their friend to get out of class. Photo by Ella Kodjababian.

McKenna Wegner, a junior business major, faced a turning point her sophomore year of high school. Not because she got her driver’s license, but because she first downloaded Instagram. 

“Do you even exist if you don’t have social media?” she asked. 

But is Wegner’s thinking the majority?

McKenna Wegner, junior business major. Photo by Ella Kodjababian.

Some days it may seem that way. Social media started out as something to connect people. But it has morphed into something that can disconnect some people from real life and could be detrimental to mental health.

Wegner thinks that it can be dangerous if someone uses it as a tool for comparison. 

“Whatever happens virtually affects how you perceive reality,” she said. “It contributes to society economically, but not mentally.” 

According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook has repeatedly found that its Instagram app is harmful to a number of teenagers. The Washington Post reported that Facebook prioritized engagement over ethical concerns about safety and mental health, leaving its consumers vulnerable. 

To combat this, Ashley Weller, a Chapman psychology professor, thinks that people should hold themselves accountable to be media literate. 

The Center for Media Literacy defines media literacy as, “The ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms.”

Understanding media literacy can help students take a step back and see how social media fits into their lives. 

“Learning how to ingest media is something that I think needs to be taught in school because I think that what it does is damages our perception of self and it can cause anything from eating disorders to suicide,” Weller said. “We are forgetting that it’s not real life, none of it is real life.”

In order to do this, Weller thinks it would be beneficial to formally educate students. 

“I really feel like there needs to be some sort of class for kids encompassing what social media is and how it can be damaging because there is an entire generation of people that doesn’t know life without social media,” she said. 

With hate being spread across platforms, some students have chosen to permanently delete their accounts.

Evan Raymond, a sophomore vocal performance major, deleted his Instagram account because he had trouble differentiating his real friends from virtual ones.  

“I would be lying if I said I didn’t care about it, but I did,” he said. “I had 700 followers so I thought I had 700 friends, but out of those I only had 30 genuine connections.” 

Deleting social media set Raymond free from being bogged down by it. 

“I think it’s healthy for me not to have it and find that avenue to challenge myself to make connections and real bonds over just a follow or a like,” he said. “Since deleting I can’t tell you how many more friends I’ve made – like genuine friends.”

According to Pew Research Center, teens link their social media usage with positivity, such as fostering social connections, although many feel that the negatives outweigh these benefits.

A graphic from Pew Research Center, displaying how many young adults feel positively or negatively about the implications of social media.

While students like Raymond have chosen to delete themselves from social media, students like Wegner think that it could be too late to unweave social media from the fabric of the society. 

“At this point if they deleted it, it would do more harm than good because everyone is so dependent on it,” Wegner said. 

Grace Orlando, junior communication major, sees that social media is an integral part of people’s lives, but she thinks it can also be a distraction to real life. 

Orlando could spend hours on TikTok when she’s bored. This kind of mindless scrolling is common today. 

“I scroll through Instagram and TikTok when I’m waiting in between classes or when I’m walking somewhere,” she said.  

Some students like Orlando think social media could be a distraction to real life. 

People may be hyper-focused on their online presence, but the value of in-person interactions is more important than ever after the pandemic. 

“Learning how to stop a person on the street and say, ‘Oh my god, I love your pants.’ That’s external validation that doesn’t come from a screen or invisible people,” Weller said.

Justin Newhard, junior business major and Grace Orlando, junior communication major, on their phones during a friends dinner out. Photo by Ella Kodjababian. 

Students must choose for themselves whether social media is important to them. 

Weller thinks that it is crucial for students to step back and recognize how they are using social media and how they can use it in a way that’s best for their mental health. 

“I think there are a lot of things being damaged by social media, I think our interactions, the way we communicate, the way we look at ourselves, what we value,” she said.

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Ella Kodjababian is a junior communication major and Spanish minor. At Chapman, she runs for the track and field team, is a member of greek life and on the Calliope Art and Literary Magazine Art Board.