Toxic social media trends

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The logo that works better than hypnosis for stealing hours of your life. Solen Feyissa via Flickr

Sometimes it feels like there’s no escape

We’re all familiar with the latest trends and crazes on social media, regardless of whether we have an account for that specific app or not. These trends bleed over into other mediums for the enjoyment of a wider audience. This may not always be a bad thing, as it may expose you to more content that you will enjoy based on the algorithms for each app. In many cases though, these trends can be harmful – and the wider their reach, the more harm they have the potential to cause.

This is not a new phenomenon by any means; internet trends have been around for years and have had polarizing effects the whole time. We all remember trends like the #IceBucket challenge for ALS where individuals would have ice water dumped onto them to help raise money and awareness for the disease. Many influential people took part in this challenge, motivating us everyday people to partake as well, increasing its effectiveness.

Not all these challenges have rewarding outcomes. Trends like the Cinnamon Challenge, where people attempt to eat a raw spoonful of cinnamon, or the Birdbox challenge, where people were blindfolding themselves and trying to maneuver through life, can cause serious harm – anything from collapsed lungs to broken bones.

The harm inherent to some of the current trends is not as obvious. TikTok trends that involve people doing costume makeup to look as though they have been abused or through horrendous surgical procedures, the “what I eat in a day” videos, and filters that are made to point out your physical flaws are perhaps a bit more insidious. Additionally, the ability to duet other videos seems harmless but is often used for the purpose of mocking the person from the original video. Trends like these show us what we shouldn’t like about our bodies and why we should be trying to fix them. They can be triggering for survivors of abuse, those who are recovering from eating disorders, and many other groups of people.

If we thought it was easy to doom-scroll through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter until we explode in a fit of rage or self-deprecation, TikTok presents a whole new battlefield for us to work through. Again, not all trends are necessarily bad or harmful; there are plenty that promote the amazing abilities that people have, or are just fun to watch. However, those that are harmful often disguise themselves as these harmless trends in a way that may not be obvious – until it’s too late to do anything about it.

So, what do we do about it? I could tell you the most obvious answer: delete your social media. Problem solved. No accounts means no way to view the damaging content – except when your friend shows you on their phone or you hear your coworkers discussing it in the lunchroom. There is no escaping the trends that seem to rule our lives.

Now is the time to become more conscious about the content we consume, which is easier said than done. We often fall into the trap of saying “just five more minutes,” or that we will delete the distractions until we’re finished what we need to get done. Somehow that five-minute window turns into 45 minutes, and removing the distractions completely only makes us crave them more, turning them into even bigger problems.

Are we capable of putting our foot down when it comes to our own consumption of these trends? It’s so easy to justify that it’s fine if you’re only viewing it and not creating it, or if you are only seeing certain creators’ content about these topics. We are in a toxic relationship with our social media accounts.

I won’t pretend that I have any of the answers to what we should be doing. I don’t know what the most effective course of action is. What do I know? Honestly, not much. There are a few cards up my sleeve, though. The first is that we all need to be more conscious about what we’re looking at and how it’s affecting us. Also, know that no matter how hard we try, there will continue to be harmful content disguised as mainstream trends.

Be careful, friends. Consume content wisely and ensure that you are taking the time to step away. Seek help about anything unsettling you may have been forced to view, and don’t be afraid to report disturbing content.  

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