Social media may have its benefits. But being unregulated, it has its fair share of ills that manifest itself in the population, especially among the younger ones. Recent reports of Facebook’s Instagram photo-sharing app affecting the mental health of millions of young users, is a wake-up call for authorities in India to sit up, take note and act.
Facebook’s own researchers have reportedly found Instagram toxic, particularly to teenage girls. A series of slides presented by the researchers as part of an internal study point to disturbing findings: 13% of British teen Instagram users and 6% of American users in the same age segment thought about committing suicide while attributing such self-destructive feelings to the site. What was found was that social media like Instagram pressurise youngsters towards perfection, more so in the realm of looks and a better lifestyle. A feeling of desperation sets in if they find themselves wanting, which in turn leads to depressive and suicidal thoughts. It is not that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is oblivious to it. The US lawmakers even questioned him about it and its impact on children’s mental health. He told a US Congressional hearing in March 2021 that the statistics were ‘misleading’ and that such social media apps were actually beneficial to young users. And then in May, Instagram chief Adam Mosseri vouched that the app’s effect on the mental health of teenagers was “quite small”. A ship’s captain is least bothered about the fish that his vessel cuts through.
Unfortunately, no thorough studies have been conducted in India to estimate the impact of social media like Instagram on the younger generation. This is despite India having an estimated 80 million Instagram users with a penetration of 23.1%, according to global digital marketing agencies. More worryingly, with 346 million smartphone owners, the country has a smartphone user penetration of 25.3%, which means many are on the verge of taking to social media without realising its impact on mental health. That makes it imperative to have a proper mechanism to make youngsters aware of the ill-effects of its uncontrolled use.