No phenomenon in recent history has fundamentally changed us to a greater degree than social media. What might seem like an innocuous means of passing time and staying in touch with old friends is actually destroying us. So say many of the mental health professionals featured in Plugged In: The True Toxicity of Social Media Revealed.
"People need a hard break from some of these tools," says one of the film's interview subjects. It's a question of survival. Evidence suggests that the frequent use of social media platforms alienates us from physical social interactions, heightens our feelings of insecurity, and has had a profound impact on the rates of depression, anxiety and suicide around the world, especially among adolescents.
The executives and designers behind these platforms are not oblivious to the ill effects that result from overuse of their product. They're the unfortunate byproduct of their business model. Social media algorithms are crafted to inspire a short-term infusion of dopamine, and can quickly condition the user's brain and central nervous system. It's an engine where narcissism thrives. It generates a strong sense of envy in many users that can quickly evolve into deep depression. Cyber bullies feel empowered to lash out under the cloak of anonymity.
The diagnosis is grim. With the help of author and behavioral researcher Sam Vaknin, the film attempts to piece together a possible cure. Additional interviews with social media users shine a spotlight on the power of these platforms to prey upon the vulnerabilities in human nature, and how simple behavior modifications can help to curb the perils of instant gratification.
The film insists that the mere existence of the internet and its social media possibilities are not inherently evil. But our exposure to them must be moderated and used responsibly just like any potentially addictive activity.
It's an addiction that afflicts many millions of users across the globe. Most of them are likely unaware of their dependency or the risks it poses to their psyche. Plugged In: The True Toxicity of Social Media Revealed offers a valuable deep dive into the psychological impacts of the medium.