Part 3 of 3: Being Alice in a social media rabbit hole

Sitting outside during lunch, two Xavier students, Lily Nelles ’23 (top) and Sophie Saia ’23 (bottom) display their favorite social media platforms and their influencers. Saia watches mindfulness and wellness posts to uplift her mentality and Nelles messages her friends, using social media as a way to promote self-wellness.

Layla Torres/XPress Picture

Sitting outside during lunch, two Xavier students, Lily Nelles ’23 (top) and Sophie Saia ’23 (bottom) display their favorite social media platforms and their influencers. Saia watches mindfulness and wellness posts to uplift her mentality and Nelles messages her friends, using social media as a way to promote self-wellness.

This year, Xavier’s administration has decided to conduct in-person learning without any virtual learning. This decision will impact all students as the past year-and-a-half has been primarily virtual or hybrid learning. With this decision, many students will need to make some adjustments.

The story of “Alice in Wonderland” is relatively well-known among a large demographic. Alice, a bored young girl seeking thrill, chases a white rabbit and ends up plummeting down a rabbit hole into the curious world of Wonderland. There, she experiences bewilderment, anxiety, brief depression and a gradual change in character. 

Sadly, there is now a parallel between these challenging parts of “Alice in Wonderland” and current society. The dangerous rabbit hole’s embodiment has become social media entrapping the modern-day Alice, and all users. 

The online learning environment that was established due to COVID-19 amplified the harmful effects of social media. Students working from home were limited to only their devices, leading many of them to resort to spending extensive periods of time on social media, as in-person interactions were very limited.

This worsened its harmful effects, as social media began to replace real-life experiences, creating a false portrayal of reality. This is why social media users often find themselves stuck in a constant cycle of comparison and self-criticism. 

Xavier acknowledges the harmful effects of social media on students, and has investigated the effect that online learning has on magnifying them. 

Discussion regarding school policies at Xavier always has the health and well-being of students in mind, which is why Xavier implemented fully in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year. 

Similar to Alice’s enchantment with the vast and dangerous unknown, most young people, especially high schoolers and college students, have become enthralled by social media. They are captivated by influencers, posts and ideas, causing them to fall down the rabbit hole where mental health is forsaken for social media, leading to detrimental consequences.

Social media, however, was not originally intended to have negative effects; sadly, it was modern culture that turned social media into an antagonistic force. In an innocent and well-meant attempt to create platforms for sharing memories or positive ideas, social media moguls and creators unknowingly invented and nurtured a foe that enhanced negative pre-existing situations for various users. 

One of the most ignored and prevalent situations has become mental health and mental independence, or the ability to think for oneself without having influence from other sources. 

Statistics from a poll of 156 students at Xavier College Preparatory showed that 27.4% of the students believe that social media is good in terms of its effects on mental health, while 43.6% of the students answered that social media is detrimental to mental health. The other 29% of students who answered the poll answered that social media has neither a good nor bad effect on mental health.

Several schools, including Xavier, used online school to teach during lockdown. In that time, students were able to enhance their social media time because they did not have to drive to school or participate in certain activities that were once mandatory. 

Fortunately, after a year of online school and with being back in-person, a majority of students have reflected and analyzed what social media has done for them in terms of their mental health. 

Amelia Sandweg ’22 said, “Based on celebrities that edit their photos, social media is really harmful to people’s mental health. There’s definitely more bad influences than good.”

Sandweg said that a large number of people she knows become overcritical about their physical appearance because of social media. This insecurity and pessimistic view not only affects an individual’s appearance, but also her mentality and character. 

In a time where physical appearances are prominent, appearances on social media have claimed the number one slot on the checklist of social media users. Included in appearances are how people act, think and look based on social media influence and the pressure to conform to popular standards. These sources act as role models for users, often ingraining some sort of “do, be or act like this because he or she does so” mindset.

Lauren Carpita ’23 said, “I think that on Instagram, particularly, it’s so easy to start comparing yourself, especially when you’re this young and your brain is this malleable. I’ve seen this not only in myself but also in my peers.”

“Even the Kardashians, who are the pinnacle of ‘who you should be’ are not even real; they photoshop and change things. So you’re striving to, and killing yourself to look like something that doesn’t exist,” Carpita added. 

In addition to becoming antagonized by such sources, social media has forced people to waste time by becoming so concerned with how they appear simply because they want to be accepted.  

Even during online school, people would continue to compare themselves and sacrificed so much to look or act in a certain way so that others would find them interesting. 

“Everybody cares about what other people think about them, just some show it more than others. There’s pressure to fit into one mold” said Kristina Stender ’24. “You want to feel like people are paying attention to you. It’s kind of nice, but it’s a false attention.”

Young users have become blinded by these pressures. Not only do they have to deal with personal problems, pressure from other people and pressure in school; now they have to deal with who they are as a profile.

This pressure has unfortunately led to the abandonment of mental health for certain individuals. Instead of boosting users’ positivity, social media has made users become obsessed with the amount of likes, views and comments they receive. Thus, one begins to experience feelings of depression, anxiety, ostracization and even self-hatred as a result of wanting to look nice for society.

To make matters worse, social media has been a deciding factor in magnifying individuals’ own insecurities. 

“I put on a little makeup before I make a TikTok video or an Instagram post if I have a pimple,” said Stender, “just so that people don’t talk about that because I am already insecure about it and I don’t want that insecurity to be taken up.”

Due to accounts that can establish themselves as public, meaning that their content can be seen by anyone, virtually any social media user has access to see the lives of people around the world through their public posts. Although this could foster good results, such as getting to know more places and people, this aspect also has a bad side: more comparison. 

“This probably happens to everybody; sometimes I just compare myself, not just with looks but with things that they have, opportunities and experiences,” said Stender.

Some users claim that social media is empowering. This claim can be separated into two paths, with Tweedle Dee claiming that it is and Tweedle Dum claiming it is not. 

Sometimes it is helpful and empowering to see people on social media with a similar view on a subject. However, sometimes empowerment becomes a matter of relativity, of how much you can power and support yourself versus someone else. Carpita states, “Even if you are empowered, then it’s probably like that because you compared yourself with someone in the first place.”

Empowerment can also be associated with unity. Although some platforms claim to be unitive, their claims can be further dissected. Carpita, for example, thinks that “Social media has absolutely done less to unite people; and if it does unite people, it’s in groups that are divisive themselves.”

Protection, as well as empowerment, is often hidden in an excuse for promoting social media. “It gives a false sense of protection and because we all feel that the world is constantly changing, and we want protection – it’s a very natural human desire – but the concerning thing is that it is not the real protection that we find in relationships with real people,” opines Danielle Burr, a Theology II teacher at Xavier and a licensed therapist. 

Social media has come to affect people in a way more complex than they’ve ever known. It has become society’s “Eat Me” cake while also being a “Drink Me” vial, giving too many harmful problems disguised as things that society desires. 

The beloved Disney classic “Alice in Wonderland” ends with a happily-ever-after ending as Alice unearths who she is and where she belongs. 

With the prevalent pressures to appear and act according to current norms, how can one be expected to have this happy ending? How can one not sacrifice mental health when social media has become such a dominant gear in the current way of life?

Fortunately, there are several solutions to not let social media become the puppet master in one’s life. 

The first solution is having introspection, or the ability to self-reflect and examine oneself. Knowing oneself helps in determining what measures to go to that will benefit one’s mental health while still having social media. 

Carpita, whose mother is a counselor and teaches her daughter about social media, advises, “It’s ambitious to cut it all out. You can’t do that; it’s a part of this world and you should learn how to utilize it. But if you need to delete it for a week, then delete it for a week.”

Secondly, and a bit paradoxically, following positive social media accounts or accounts that have similar ideas to oneself can be helpful in boosting mental health. 

Stender recommended that if one must go on social media, he or she should seek positive influences and interests. “It’s good to see other people talking about mental health. People who have platforms, who reach out and say ‘I get it’ is important.”

As a response, Sandweg said, “I know social media can be a very toxic place so I try to choose who I follow very carefully. I choose to follow women who focus on body positivity and women empowerment so that I’m not constantly consuming toxic information that isn’t real.”

This also opens up an individual to new ideas and views concerning how to have a healthy mentality. Stender said, “There are two sides to it: it’s good to have your own opinion and it’s also good to be open-minded to other people’s opinions.”

Having friends or guides to help you navigate your way to a healthy mentality while using social media is also important. After all, Alice couldn’t have found her way home without the White Rabbit or the Mad Hatter. 

Furthering this idea, Burr advises, “It would be a wonderful thing to get a friend and do a social media cleanse.”

“Take a week, just a week, and try to delete those apps and just give yourself some time. Every time you have a desire to use that app, think of something else you could use to fill it in. What you’ll see is that you’ll retrain your brain to realize that when you have free time you don’t need to fiddle on social media because it’s just really a mindless thing; we don’t mean to, but we’re trained, ‘Start scrolling, start scrolling,’” says Burr. 

Sandweg also offered valuable insider tips, the general advice being to be positive when going in and coming out of social media; love yourself no matter what. 

In reference to appearances, don’t edit yourself to match the expectations of others or because you think that the edited, filtered version of you is more beautiful than who you are unfiltered. 

“I don’t edit. I like who I am and I don’t wanna change myself or put a facade out and I don’t want to pretend I’m someone I’m not,” said Sandweg. 

Lastly, if social media proves to be too addictive, which it is programmed to be, devices can be easily programmed to set customized screen limits for certain apps.

Overall, social media has proven to be more inimical to its users than was previously thought and as more extreme ideas are shared, its effects on safe mental health will only worsen. Furthermore, due to the decreasing willpower sparked by social media, it will only become easier to fall into a rut of depression.

As Carpita states, “Even when you know the detriments, it’s still human behavior to be influenced by social media, and that’s how they created it. They programmed it to be addictive and to help with their advertisements and profits. It’s really not for their consumers; it’s working against them, and they know that.” 

Expressing her attitude toward social media, Burr says, “I want to ask these influencers, ‘What’s your endgame? What are you trying to do?’ They might say they’re trying to build connection, but are they building connection? Or are they creating an environment where nobody feels that they can measure up and no one can live in reality anymore?”

Observing the negative trends that social media places on the shoulders of society, Burr adds, “We’ll see in the next ten years the outcomes and the mental health outcomes of how bad this is for this generation coming up, for Gen Z.”

As leaders and guides for future generations, current society must take action against this foe who intends to diminish mentalities and eventually govern the world’s choices and actions.