Zuckerberg’s Zeitgeist: A culture of shame, addiction, and dishonesty
A look into Facebook's most recent controversy and how competitors are addressing mental health issues in teens.
And how better UX could help solve the problem.
Once again, Mark Zuckerberg, the tech mogul with a chokehold on the American media, has been caught red-handed at the mercy of the American media.
Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal featured a pretty lengthy article exposing Zuckerberg and his team at Facebook for denying the horrific trends involving Instagram among teenage girls specifically. Featured within the article are testimonies from young girls between the ages of 13 and 17 suffering from eating disorders and a number of other mental health-related issues as a result of the app.
Interestingly, the article points to differences among Instagram and rival platforms like TikTok and Snapchat — claiming that Tiktok’s design catered toward short videos keeps a focus on content and performance, while Snapchat’s “jokey filters” keep the focus on the face. Instagram, however, is entirely focused on the body and lifestyle. This pressure to maintain a picture-perfect frame and ideal health and wellness regime sends early teens spiraling into bulimic and/or anorexic states.
Not only is Zuckerberg being called out for negligence, but it’s obvious that his ridiculously proposed idea “Instagram for Kids”, a social platform targeting children under the age of 13, is projected to only exacerbate the problem. When asked in congressional hearings if his team had researched the possible negative effects of the app, Zuckerberg replied with a meager “I believe the answer is yes.”
What is a zeitgeist?
1. the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.
No matter how much of a glass-half-full attitude you may subscribe to, it’s pretty difficult to make the argument that the positives of these types of platforms outweigh the negatives. So for those of us living in the boom of Facebook, Instagram, and a neighborhood of other social media giants— is this addictive rise of comparison culture going to be our generation’s legacy?
According to the WSJ, about 22 million teens log onto Instagram every day — compared to only 5 million on Facebook.
The article revealed testaments from Facebook, claiming that much of their research is proprietary and “confidential” — raising the terrifying suspicion, what else is Facebook hiding?
It’s not all that hard to believe that Facebook was the consequence of a college-aged Zuckerberg and his friends wanting an easy way to rank the hotness of their female classmates at Harvard. However, what is something of a hilarious irony is that the founder and CEO himself appears to be nothing short of the antithesis for the target persona of Instagram’s business model.With a net worth many of us cannot even begin to comprehend, Zuckerberg exclusively wears cheap grey shirts and hoodies, showing just how unbothered he is by societal standards.
One could easily make the argument that if he hadn’t been the brains behind the social media revolution, Zuckerberg would likely be among the few to have never downloaded Instagram at all.
It’s not clear exactly what will happen with Facebook’s Instagram for Kids plan. Ideally, the app’s debut will be cancelled, though it’s remarkable what Zuckerberg manages to get away with in spite of the continued fragility of his in-court rebuttals. Regardless, it’s likely that given all of the research unfolding lawmakers will continue to put pressure on Facebook to stop targeting young children, and the discourse on mental health in teens relating to online behavior will gain more momentum.
So…what does this have to do with UX?
In reading this article, I kept thinking that there must be some kind of efforts Instagram could be working toward in their design to alleviate some of these issues and promote body positivity.
Whereas Instagram seems to have virtually no interest in changing their design, TikTok is consistently working to address the problem through the deployment of different features.
As of now, TikTok users are confronted with a mental health check every so often reminding them to take a break from the app to grab a cup of water or some fresh air. Recently, the app has been making strides by partnering with the International Association for Suicide Prevention and a multitude of other organizations aiming for increased support for mental health among teens.
It’ll be interesting to see if Instagram takes after TikTok at any point and begins to invest in some new design changes. After all, in terms of teen media consumption TikTok is dominating the game, outperforming Instagram daily in new user growth.
Although Instagram has benefitted from a minimalist design for quite some time, it may be time to reconsider the app’s structure after so much continued controversy. It would be nice to see some user-friendly copy within the app touching base with users in a similar nature to that of TikTok. Fingers crossed that if Instagram for Kids ever does see the light of day, design teams will be equipped to iterate new solutions to prioritize mental health in children.
Former hokie interested in writing, design, and technology.