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How has quarantine isolation magnified the negative effects of social media on students?

Updated: May 30, 2022

More than halfway through junior year, the halls are missing the loudness they always had. There’s something different about the atmosphere of classes. Teachers used to chastise students for talking too much. Now, teachers beg for participation, but students open laptops and check their phones instead.

The nearly two-year lockdown has kept students alone in their rooms, removed from society, with unrestricted access to social media platforms. Social media’s negative effects on teens were well-known pre-pandemic, and studies prove that the increased hours of technology use only magnified these effects. According to a Frontier study on Social Connectedness and Excessive Screen Time During COVID-19, “the unprecedented digital life during the pandemic also gave rise to increased levels of anxiety, sad mood, uncertainty and negative emotions like irritability and aggression, a normative response to the pandemic.” Their study shows a 50–70 percent increase in internet use during the pandemic, with 50 percent of the time spent engaging on social media.

In a normal school setting, students are obliged to work with other students and learn how to socialize with new people. The lockdown restricted students from experiencing growth-crucial social situations at school, which gave social media platforms the room to replace this fundamental function of life—creating catastrophic consequences for students.

Our parents do not realize that it's not our fault that we are suffering. According to The New York Times, “Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen stated, ‘Facebook, over and over again, has shown it chooses profit over safety…The company repeatedly put its interests first rather than the public’s interest.'” She further stated that Facebook knew its algorithms and platforms promoted harmful content, and it did not deploy countermeasures. The constant stream of false information, hateful content, and promotion of unrealistic body images all resulted in emotional and mental issues for teens.

Many people don't realize that students fall victim to this harmful content because the companies running these platforms have an army of software developers, psychology majors, and coding geniuses that all work to keep users scrolling. I have noticed that many students in my classes sit in class with headphones in, hoods up, scrolling through social media.

The masks are coming off, and students are recovering, but the lockdown's effects are still observable in high school settings. Most students carry their phones through the halls and into classes, where they look at social media instead of making conversation. The lockdown prevented teens from having a real high school experience, which is fundamental for growing up because students are allowed to learn social skills that are essential for the real world. What do these years of socialization loss mean for students' futures and the future of society?

2022 New York Times Student Editorial Contest Entry

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