Are suicide rates in young adults on the rise because of social media?

By: Sam Davel

According to a new report published by the University of Utah, suicide rates in young adults aged 15-24 have dramatically climbed over the past 20 years. In females, suicide rates have climbed 80% in 20 years and 30% for males the same age over the same period of time.

While it is assumed that social media and other online apps have contributed to an increase in depression and anxiety, this is one of the first studies confirming that information at alarming rates. According to the study, if a young adult aged 15-24 has a single social media app, they are” up to three times as likely to be depressed than a young adult who doesn’t participate in social media.

The idea is pretty simple, younger generations have grown up with an inability to wait. If they need an answer they can google it, if they need a friend they can call them or text them immediately and if they dont answer they can message them on multiple platforms. In a sense this has made younger generations impulsive and many behavioral scientists believe that the younger generations are more likely to act impulsive.

In the report, Jessica Holzbauer is quoted as saying “social media has removed the barriers between the user and the audience—with far-reaching implications. “We can act on impulse and post something to social media that may reflect a feeling or thought in the moment but may not be true to us a day later,” Holzbauer says. “When our more level-headed self is back in charge, we can feel embarrassment, shame, or regret for posting something impulsively.”

Not only are young adults more likely to be impulsive but many are suffering from addiction. Cell phones and social media apps are designed to be addictive. The more time a user stays on the social media app the more money that company can make. This causes young adults to feel as though they need social media to survive and function in the day-to-today world.

While the long-term results of social media apps are only beginning to be understood, it is worrisome that suicide and depression rates amound young adults is climbing so high. Social media and its impact on society will continue to be studied, and if more reports conclude the same information as this University of Utah report, we have to start asking the question “Do the negative effects of social media outway the positive effects?”

Why anonymity exists: A continuation of the consequences of Anonymity

The reason anonymity exists is because it allows for raw and unfiltered discourse. For example, marginalized groups are allowed to advocate without the immediate threat of persecution. To be able to conversate without being associated with that speech is an intense concept that is universally valued. Before the internet people were able to anonymously write or publish works which suggests that it is ingrained in human nature to seek a less intimidating narrative to express interests. It serves to protect against oppressive or exploitative forces against the expressed values. It may allow for social reform as ideas can be freely expressed without direct communication. The psychological cues that are unavoidable when outwardly expressing certain ideas in different contexts. There is no preemptive judgment as the message is fueled by cognitive dissonance. A nuance to online anonymity is that users are able to post and never come back. The boundaries between personal involvement and being excused from the consequences of anonymous speech is blurred. 

A nuanced perspective: Investigating the Consequences of Anonymity

The ability to conceal your identity by anonymously utilizing the web is a strange concept modern society is struggling to grasp. The separation between a person and their internet persona may vary. Some are soft spoken in their day to day life, but highly opinionated online with an anonymous internet persona. In contrast others are socially motivated and their online presence is an extension of their identity. Whatever the case is, the ability to be anonymous and partake in anonymous speech is an unregulated aspect to society. Considered to be an extension of freedom of speech, identities are able to be concealed. The conventionalities of the human condition are apparent when the reactions to behaviors induced by anonymous actions occur. 

There are billions of users on various online platforms making it difficult for moderation of content. Anonymity is what protects the identity of users to ensure the sanctity of free speech, however on a political level it has been challenged by policy decisions. Laws, rules, and social norms apply to users’ communication as their livelihoods may be at stake. The separation between identities is less intimidating as there is no preemptive judgment. Feedback is not immediate so it gives the illusion that the interaction was not serious. Toxic behaviors may manifest through cyber bullying, trolling, harassment, and poor communication. However, taking away the ability to be anonymous online may not solve the problems it creates.