Young people now have a place to share their stories and experiences on a platform built by some of today’s most influential social activists.
Standing on that famous circular red TED Talk carpet, social activist Collin Kartchner challenged a full auditorium: “I want you to all imagine that you were thirteen again.” Disgruntled, the audience giggled and grumbled and even squealed. “Exactly,” he said.
Those early stages of adolescence can be beautiful but twice as brutal. While our bodies change physically and our hormones are exploding like fireworks, we are forced into an anxious journey of self-discovery whilst trying to be accepted by others.
Throw social media into the mix and what happens?
In an open-sourced literature review, curators Jonathan Haidt and Jean Twenge assert that things can get a whole lot worse. Their summary of findings shows that increases in rates of anxiety, depression, and self-harm among youth (particularly girls) correlates with the widespread entrance of teens to social media platforms between 2009 and 2012.
What is already an incredibly fragile period of life, becomes evidentially unbearable for some. And with teenagers spending more time alone with their screens, this correlation of social media and declining mental health among youth should not come as a surprise.
Of course, it’s not all bad. In a study by Pew, only 24 percent of the sample population of teens found social media to be “mostly negative”. Optimistic findings suggest that isolated teens can connect with others in supportive networks, for instance.
Yet the obvious benefits of social media should not distract us from what is a clear epidemic of child suffering. The data and theories presented by academics seem pretty conclusive, but the evidence really comes alive when hearing stories from the kids themselves.
In his TED Talk, Collin spoke through the voices of the thousands of students he had interacted with during his career. Some of the kids’ messages that he cited were positive like, “It’s just a fun way to talk to my friends.”
However, the messages that stunned the audience into silence were far grimmer. “It nearly ended my life,” another message went.
Dubbed a “warrior for our children”, Collin gave thousands of speeches sharing and collecting stories from kids who had been tormented by social media. Every day, he spent hours messaging emotional support to teens in their darkest moments.
He offered guidance for the new digital natives toward an adolescence that’s a little less confusing. He listened and projected their stories to the world.
For Max Stossel, who has also spoken about social media’s impact to over 100,000 students and parents, teens’ stories about personal challenges with social media are the most effective way of getting to the heart of other teens.
Sharing a common vision, it seemed natural that Max and Collin would become friends and collaborators. The duo soon sparked the idea of #MySocialTruth in an effort to supercharge their movement.
With help from the talented team at the Center for Humane Technology, whose mission is to realign technology with humanity’s best interests, the #MySocialTruth campaign was born.
In an online interview, Max highlighted the involvement of Doug Keller who also has a background in youth movements. With an all-star line-up of social activists, development of #MySocialTruth quickly came to fruition.
Max described the motivation behind #MySocialTruth: “No one wants young people to be depressed and self-harming,” he said, “I hope it can be something we all rally around to fix together.”
He also hopes that #MySocialTruth will be used as a resource for young people to feel less alone with their experiences; that it’s used as a tool by families to start a conversation about social media’s impact; and that researchers will use it as a hub to better understand the problems that young people face with social media.
The ultracompetitive nature of the social media industry has seen developers resort to an unrelenting manipulation of the users’ attention. In the pursuit of profit, the most popular social media products like TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat adopt techniques from the gambling and advertising industries to hook users.
These habit-forming strategies also prey on the human desire for social acceptance. Likes, comments and tags, for example, feed people’s social validation but also churn out by-products like fear of missing out, cyber bullying and self-esteem problems.
These issues are surfaced on #MySocialTruth via the undeniable stories from the victims themselves. By raising awareness and making noise, hopefully social media products are forced to put people before profit.
In October 2020, prior to the launch of #MySocialTruth, Collin died unexpectedly.
Dedicating his life to supporting young people during their most vulnerable years, Collin died leaving behind a legacy of compassion and inspiration for generations to come.
“He was such an important force in this movement,” Max said. “His death leaves a giant hole that desperately needs to be filled, the cost of not filling it is children’s lives.”
As Max, Doug and other warriors for our children strive to fill that gap, so too can young people around the world. Sharing and reading experiences about social media all starts with #MySocialTruth.