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Is the younger generation too desensitised to content on social media?

Photo by Arpad Czapp for Unsplash

Have you ever seen content online that you shouldn’t have? And as a result, you couldn’t get rid of the images or videos in your head?

Or have you regretted the time you spent on TikTok or Instagram after scrolling through video after video? And which ones led you to sensitive content that you didn’t want to come across and that depressed you?

Tragic or violent content is unavoidable in the digital world. Be it in TV shows, news, movies, video games or social media. One example is Ofcom’s recent research which found that children from primary school age in the UK are being exposed to harmful content online.

Social media is a particularly powerful tool that allows you to share content of any kind at any time. This means that people can share harmful or sensitive content. Therefore, media that we don’t need or want to consume, can happen anytime.

Photo by dole777 for Unsplash

What does the use of social media platforms generally look like?

Globally, people aged 16 to 34 spend an average of more than 2.5 hours per day on social media (survey from October 2023). From the age of 35, this figure declines and drops to around 1.5 hours for 55 to 64-year-olds. 

However, the duration of daily social media use is only one part of the total online usage per day. People worldwide between the ages of 16 and 64 use the World Wide Web for around 6.40 hours a day.

Facebook is the most used social media platform with 3 billion active people worldwide. Followed by YouTube with 2.4 billion, WhatsApp and Instagram with 2 billion, and TikTok with about 1.5 billion. 

An American research conducted by ‘Method Communications’ in 2021 shows that 43% of 2,000 surveyed Americans show less empathy in society due to social media use.

People on the streets of Dublin talk about their use of social media.

Different people shared how much time they spent on social media. On average, people spend at least 5 hours a day, but also a few up to 9 hours. How does screen time affect people’s mental health? 

3rd year psychology student Natalia says: “Extensive screen time can have a detrimental effect on people’s mental health. It can lead to anxiety and depression. It can also disrupt see patterns and you can have a lower quality of sleep.”

All of them have on social media platform in common – Instagram. But why is that? Why do people use the mentioned social media and what kind of behaviours can be induced? 

“Instagram is a very big app. I guess because you can share photos and get an insight into other people’s lives. Pictures can say more than 1000 words. And these social media platforms are really much about t engaging you. Algorithms can try to push content that is tailored to you that you enjoy, so that you spend hours on it. You kind of get overloaded with content”, Natalia explains.

People living ind Dublin definitely feel that they are desensitised to tragic content on social media. Where can it take us mentally?

Natalia’s opinion on this topic: “As you are scrolling, you might not expect tragic content comes up, so you might not be emotionally ready to process that information. It can be very overwhelming to you. And with this kind of information, you don’t know if it’s real or not, so you need to deal with that too.”

How does it affect the youngest generations?

“As they are growing up seeing this content, they will be more desensitised to it because they see it over and over again. They won’t feel as much fear or disgust about something that comes up in their feed. They have seen it so many times already”, she concludes.

Social media have their positive and harmful sides. We should balance our use and be aware of the serious mental health issues that can be caused by the overuse of digital tools. 

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