In an increasingly social-media savvy world, both doctors and law enforcement officials are warning against the dangers of “Facebook depression” and sexting among teens and young adults.
The term “Facebook depression” is used by doctors’ groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, to refer to the low self-esteem the site may cause in some teenagers.
Gwenn O’Keefe of the American Academy of Pediatrics said that the exaggerated images some teens attempt to portray on the site lead to jealousy and depression among less socially adjusted adolescents, though researchers disagree about whether the site facilitates depression or actually causes it, according to the Associated Press.
Tommy Petriccione (COL ’14) said that he has seen a number of people try to manipulate their images through Facebook.
“There are kids who put up statuses like ‘partying tonight’ just to look cool,” Petriccione said. “One of my Facebook friends is apparently drinking heavily Wednesday to Saturday every week, according to his status updates.”
According to the Associated Press, teenagers lacking self-esteem often feel as if they cannot match up to social standards set by Facebook friends, creating low self-confidence and even depression.
Samuel Streitweiser (COL ’14) said that flamboyant statuses can be misleading.
“Some people like to get attention through these statuses and pictures. I think some people act this way to make themselves feel better,” Streitweiser said.
Jockeying for social position can take a much more sinister tone with malicious cyber-bullying that can result from the competitive social atmosphere. Consequences as severe as suicide have been associated with Facebook bullying, according to the Associated Press.
In addition to Facebook, doctors, prosecutors and educational administrators have put a priority on increasing awareness of sexting, the act of sending lewd photographs, videos or messages by phone or Internet. The media’s acceptance of sexual expression as a social norm convinces teenagers to distribute photos and videos before thinking of the potential consequences, according to The New York Times.
The growing rate of sexting has led to arrests for the possession of child pornography and distribution throughout high schools nationwide, but the social humiliation from viral photographs and videos can also have a negative emotional effect. In one case in Lacey, Wash., chronicled by the Times, a girl who sent out a nude photograph was not charged while the distributors were because the prosecutor believed she had already served her sentence through social humiliation.
Streitweiser agreed that sharing private content via technology could be a risky move.
“Once it’s on the Internet, it stays with you forever,” he said.
However, educators and doctors believe that these trends can be reversed with increased teen awareness of the dangers of social media. Adolescent medical specialist Megan Moreno of the University of Wisconsin said that the positive aspects of Facebook as a site can be used to socially connect teens, according to the Associated Press. Educators in Lacey and around the country have attempted to begin countering sexting by increasing awareness and addressing the legal consequences of photo distribution, according to the Times.