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Social media makes us sad, and it’s time to do something about it

If I were to ask you whether you think social media addiction should be seen as a clinical condition and treated as such, would you agree? The U.K.’s All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) certainly does, as it outlines in its latest report titled ‘Managing the Impact of Social Media on Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing’, calling for #NewFilters to be introduced as a response. Yet, it’s hard to pin point an addiction that—on the surface at least—offers so many positives (because what’s so bad about social media anyway?). It’s also extremely difficult to introduce new policies that interfere with the business models of giants such as Facebook and Twitter.

“Even though there has been a steep rise in the use of social media, there has been a lack of legislative response to regulate social media platforms, given the huge influence they have on everyday life, especially for young people,” write Labour MP Chris Elmore and Conservative MP William Wragg in the forward to the report. On that there is no argument—no matter what your thoughts are on the mental health effects of social media; its use, its proliferation, and the impact this has had on our behaviour are clear. And yet, isn’t it strange that something that has shaped the way we shop, make money, and interact has gone largely unregulated? The forward goes on to say that it is “paramount that we protect young people to ensure they are kept safe and healthy when they are online.”

The connection between social media addiction and mental health has long ridden the channels of digital platforms, and seems to have peaked following the online-supported suicide of 14-year-old Molly Russell in 2017. In response, Instagram was pushed into a corner and forced to confront some of the dangerous channels where those suffering from mental health issues can indulge in a like-minded community. #SensitivityScreens was quickly introduced in a semi-acceptable effort to hide content that might be promoting suicide and self-harm. Needless to say, this same feature equally curtailed platforms and communities that offer positive support to those in need.

The real story here isn’t that Instagram or Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, or SnapChat are solely responsible for some of the harmful content relating to mental health on their channels. The problem is that these giants have been given free reign to operate as they see fit with little or zero government involvement in the effects they might have on the society they cater for. No feature on Instagram will help a child suffering from social media-induced mental health issues. No Screen Time block on our iPhones will help understand and heal the anxiety that comes from disconnection to the platforms.

The report shows that while 12 percent of children in the U.K. who spend no time on social media websites have symptoms of mental ill health, “the figure rises to 27 percent for those who are on the sites for three or more hours a day.” But the journey toward understanding what the positive and negative effects of social media are isn’t a straight one, as the report quickly highlights that “Almost two-thirds (63%) of young people reported social media was a good source of health information.”

The very fact that more than half of young people in the U.K. turn to social media to find information and advice regarding mental health is certainly both positive and negative. After all, these platforms offer support to individuals who might otherwise lack access to this type of information and to people who share their experience throughout their day-to-day.

In response, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “The government will soon publish a white paper which will set out the responsibilities of online platforms, how these responsibilities should be met and what would happen if they are not,” adding that “An internet regulator, statutory ‘duty of care’ on platforms, and a levy on social media companies are all measures we are considering as part of our work.” Social media’s impact on our lives, and the mental health of young people, in particular, should be treated as nothing short of what it is: a powerful addiction, for better and for worst.

Love Island reflects our society: the bad, yes, but also the good

I’ve always felt like people define themselves by what they hate, not what they love (me included). And during my last few summers in the U.K., Love Island is this one topic that seems to be right in the middle—some hate on it, some absolutely love it. For the few of you that have been living under a rock, Love Island is a reality TV show where hot young singles (all looking for love) move to a house in Majorca and couple-up with someone in order to survive in the villa. Weekly, the ‘Islanders’ with the fewest votes have to leave the show. The winning couple leaves the island with £50,000.

I only started watching Love Island last year, and although it made me cringe from its initial tacky look and feel at first, I slowly got into it. A year later, you’ll find me on my sofa at 9pm sharp almost every night, ready to watch the daily events unfold. Put people under a microscope for two months and you’ll get viewers. Why? Not only because it’s basic human nature to scrutinise, criticise and analyse other people, but also because Love Island has these added elements of love, dating, ‘grafting’, ‘humping’ and people talking about their ‘type on paper’. What’s not to like?

In a country where Brexit seems to be a main point of discussion, one that is stressful for most of us, Love Island is my distraction. And while it’s important that people call out the show’s lack of diverse representation (after last year’s first black female contestant ever, there have been numerous articles about Yewande Biala, the one black woman on this year’s show), it’s worth thinking about the wider positive effects it has on viewers.

My point is that even though there are a lot of things that are wrong with Love Island, there are also many positive outcomes. Viewers might not relate to the unrealistic body standards or, more precisely, the lack of (body) diversity, but there is one thing everyone can relate to, the Islanders’ need for love. Unlike the other famous reality TV show Big Brother, Love Island is about showing how people react to topics that viewers can easily relate to—rejection, betrayal; abandonment. Talking to Vogue about Big Brother, clinic director of Harley Therapy, Sheri Jacobson said the show had a “tactic of purposely bringing in psychologically unstable (and thus highly vulnerable) people into the mix for entertainment’s sake”.

Let’s make things clear, just like any other TV reality show, Love Island is heavily edited—intense romantic relationships or not, both are manipulated by producers before ending up on our screens. Once taken with a pinch of salt, you’ll notice how the show operates on a different number of levels, creating a ‘theatre’ where Islanders are part of the ‘cast’. And this is exactly why I like Love Island so much, it is one of the best (and longest) plays I’ve seen. I see the show as metatheatre as a half joke and half serious point, with the definition of metatheatre being comedy and tragedy, and giving the audience a chance to laugh at the protagonist while feeling empathetic simultaneously. Sounds about right.

Love Island also clearly defines the complexities of British society. Admittedly, that’s not the reason I started watching it, but anyone criticising the reality TV show for its lack of intelligence should then decide to put their focus on what the show reflects of our society and our way of interacting with each other, not on the bare bums and silly arguments. One of the rules that the Islanders are given before going on the show is that they’re not allowed to talk politics or share their political views. Why exactly is that prohibited? Would it not make Love Island appealing to more viewers by showing Britain’s diverse political opinions, or would it just end in another Sherif drama?

Love Island is definitely not perfect, but it compelled me not to be so judgmental. Who am I to judge people on TV, especially people that just want to find love (and, okay, possibly win £50,000, something that is a big enough incentive to be accepted by everyone as the main goal of the journey, and yet last night Molly-Mae was fuming after being accused of doing that exactly)? The show points out the social dynamics that we also have in our own lives and pushes me to reflect on my own relationships (romantic or not). Maybe you should have a go as well, have a little Love Island therapy session.