In the virtual world, we have transcended the mental health stigma to some extent. The next rabbit hole seems to be sensitization versus sensationalization of mental health topics. Let us understand!
Principles of mass communication and education work through understanding community psychology; before any campaign is approved, it undergoes rigorous scrutiny to account for any direct or indirect ethical issues and also taking the utmost care when bringing up potentially sensitive subjects.
The awareness-building efforts undertaken by social media influencers are guided by revenue generation, that is, impressions and engagement. The adage, "Your eyes cannot see what your mind does not know," can provide insight into their thought processes. The average influencer does not understand these complexities. They cannot be blamed for the consequences.
The intention to curtail mental health stigma is a pure intent. The hidden suffering is much more painful than the physical suffering. The platform to connect to a community of like-minded people can ease healing to a great extent.
Additionally, we must also understand that our mind is not free of cognitive biases. So it is not completely impossible that a consumer or creator gets carried away unintentionally. Given the biases, playing somewhere under the surface, the eyes may not see the whole truth if the mind knows. Cognitive biases can influence the way someone perceives and processes information about mental health conditions. The ten most common cognitive biases include:
Confirmation bias - the tendency to interpret information in a way that confirms preexisting beliefs or opinions.
Availability heuristic - the tendency to overestimate the importance or likelihood of events based on how easily they come to mind.
Anchoring bias - the tendency to rely on the first piece of information found when making decisions.
Hindsight bias - the tendency to believe that one would have predicted the outcome after an event already occurred
Framing effect - the way that information is presented can influence the choices people make.
Sunk cost fallacy - the tendency to continue investing in a course of action because of resources already invested, even when the costs outweigh the benefits.
Overconfidence bias - the tendency to overestimate one's own abilities, knowledge, or skills.
Self-serving bias - the tendency to attribute positive outcomes to personal characteristics and negative outcomes to external factors.
Bandwagon effect - the tendency to follow the opinions or behaviors of others in a group.
Negativity bias - the tendency to give more attention to negative information and experiences
Getting an idea of the networking platforms as to how potentially dangerous these platforms can be, is the need of the hour. But first, let us understand briefly about their revenue generation and algorithm.
Instagram was launched in 2010, whereas TikTok was launched in 2016 and reached its peak popularity in 2019 and 2020 respectively. According to the latest Instagram Report, released on January 9, 2023, by Business of Apps, the estimated revenue generation has touched 51.4 billion dollars.
With the addition of e-commerce tools in 2021, Instagram is responsible for over 50 percent of the total Meta Platforms Revenue. Instagram also runs on search optimization as per the user's interests. The algorithms working underneath are related to the use of unsupervised machine learning-based analyses.
The harmless entertainment platform, or rather, the networking platform, is making money out of the rate of engagement by the general population.
Influencers have joined the bandwagon with full pump and show. No one would dislike additional bucks for exploring creativity. However, the dangers of this innocent charade are inconspicuous.
My expertise limits me from commenting on the nature of this business plan, but it does compel me to bring this out: the whole thing can be seriously dangerous.
The earlier emphasis on the linkage between social media, body image issues, and eating disorders revealed a serious problem.
Later on, many teenagers came forward and shared their stories. How daily consumption of similar content resulted in permanent disruption of self-image. Internalization of such thoughts may have instigated a vicious cycle of suffering.
The most recent issue is adult ADHD/AuDHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or comorbid Autism), the rate of self-reporting of symptoms in adults that fit these criteria has increased in line with the rate of content generation on these symptoms. The diagnosis of neurodevelopmental conditions in adulthood is complicated enough since the intelligence adjusts to whatever cognition adaptation it goes through. For example, an anxious person may lean on psychological defense mechanisms like humor, and that is fair. Mind is a complicated yet protective part of human experience. The algorithmic trap of pseudoscientific mental health content may severely impact one's ability to understand their experience, further complicating an actual shot at receiving help.
The public health and medical fraternity must move at a pace at par with social developments even if occurring in the virtual world.