How to stop social media from harming our mental health. Charlotte Armitage #GoFarFast Show - Season 2 Episode 2.

5 min read

Friday 23 Jul 21

In this episode of the Go Far Fast Show, The Media Psychologist Charlotte Armitage talks all about setting boundaries when it comes to social media, how to stay safe online, and what the future of our increasingly social world may look like.

Whether you want to watch the show, read the transcript or listen to the podcast, you can access all of that right here. So grab a cuppa, and a notebook, and get ready to #GoFarFast!


Merlie: Hello folks and welcome back! It’s season two, episode two of our small business talk show, the #GoFarFast show. It’s designed entirely to get the answers to the burning questions of today to you, our wonderful audience.

Once again, Aaron, we've got a great guest with a very serious topic to cover in today's episode. It’s one where the community has been really active in sending questions in. If you've sent a question in, don't worry, we've captured it. We are interrogating today's guest, aren’t we Aaron?

Aaron: We certainly are. We've got Charlotte with us today and I can't wait to start diving in with some of these questions. As you said, the community has got some absolute crackers lined up for us – more than we've had for a long time! I'm really excited to get ourselves deep into there.

Charlotte is a psychologist and psychotherapist specialising in film and TV industry productions for major broadcasters such as the BBC, MTV, E1 and Netflix to name a few. More importantly, are the questions that we're going to be throwing at Charlotte today. We're going to be asking her about changes in the way we think and talk about social media. We’re also going to talk about social media and how it's been successful in infiltrating our everyday lives. Finally, we're going to discuss addiction to social media, and I think that’s where we're really going to get some juicy insights into how it's going to go.

So Merlie, what else do we need to know about this show? How can the community get involved?

Merlie: Well folks, you've already been involved in the sense that you've been sending those all-important and pretty heavyweight questions in. There are some darker sides of social media, as well as some lovely stories that we'll be sharing, and that Charlotte will be commenting on as we go through the show. Don't forget to like, comment, and subscribe as we go through and, if you are listening to our extended podcast, then stay with us for the whole show. You'll get everything scooped up in one. If you're watching the videocast and you miss some of the extra extended questions, hop onto the podcast and you can find them there. Alternatively, you'll find all Charlotte's answers to these fantastic questions on our ‘Dear Farillio Expert’ blog corner. There’s no way to miss the answers that Charlotte's going to be sharing with us! Shall we invite Charlotte to join us, Aaron?

Aaron: Charlotte, welcome to the #GoFarFast show. Thank you very much for giving us your time today. We're going to jump straight into the first question if that's okay with you?

Our question is about social media - it's pretty much changed the way we think, communicate, and absorb information. It can even change the way that we look, at least online, but is it good or bad for our health? What's your view on this? So straight in there with a deep question.

Charlotte: That's quite a large question to answer really! I think that there are pros and cons to social media, as we know. I think the issue with it is the fact that it's social and we haven't necessarily been taught how to use this way of communicating in a way that's respectful to other people. Remember that as children, we’re taught from a very young age how we are supposed to interact with people – what's acceptable and what's not acceptable. If we see a toddler pulling a sweetie off someone else we say ‘no you can't do that, you don't do that’ and ‘how would you feel if someone did that to you?’. So, from a very young age, we've been taught this social etiquette and how to interact with other people. Social media hasn't really been around long enough for that yet and that’s why we see interactions without boundaries on social media. Whether that's people sharing images of people they shouldn't be sharing, people saying things they shouldn't be saying, or people being horribly unkind to people. People saying things that they wouldn't say to a person's face. Knowing they can get away with it because they can use a fake profile. They get away with saying these awful things. Essentially, we haven't got those social boundaries in place. We haven't been taught social etiquette and we don't know how to behave in this online domain.

It's grown very over the last 15 years. It has changed how we communicate and how we work in business. I’ve certainly found that, as a businesswoman, it's really changed everything. It's not all bad. As I said, there are so many pros to social media; we can communicate with a much wider audience, we're able to communicate with our families who live abroad, with our friends who live abroad, and we're able to learn more about the world and other people. It has done a lot for us.

There are so many platforms being launched now that I think it can become a little bit overwhelming, but I do think that certainly through lockdown, it's provided a really good way of staying in touch with people. I think it's good for elderly people who can't get out and it helps them with interaction if you can teach them how to use the platforms. It’s good for people with disabilities or with disorders that might prevent them from wanting to venture outside of their house. For business, it’s such a fantastic tool. However, we are in a place with social media where trends can take off and they can have such a big impact on people. People make life-changing decisions based on what they see in those online domains. They do things that they may not have done if they have not seen it online. I think that it does have the power to influence us, as all media does. We're in a place where we see this ‘cancel culture’ going on and that worries me. You can have this huge following and if you say one thing wrong everyone jumps on it. A person might be inappropriately persecuted for something whereas this just wouldn't have happened 20 years ago. It’s taken over the world, hasn't it? It’s certainly changed the way that we do everything, hasn't it?

Merlie: Well, that was my question for you, Charlotte, why do you think it's been so successful at infiltrating our everyday lives? There are so many different channels now and we're all on and off it all the time. I know that we're going to talk about knowing what's real or not, but how has it been so successful in managing to wiggle its way into everything that we do?

Charlotte: I think it’s the fact that it's so accessible. If we look at this from a business perspective, organisations can use this for free. It's a fantastic route to market and it costs nothing. Previously you had to design a poster, print it, distribute it and do mail drops. That costs a heck of a lot of money. People can now go online and post, so you've got organisations doing that. You've got individuals who find it easily accessible through their phones or through their computers or whatever device they're using.

It’s easily accessible and it’s convenient. I think that's how it's managed to infiltrate our lives. the algorithms that are used are designed to encourage us to revisit those sites and to view things that we want to view. The design of the social media platform itself draws the individual in but, as humans, we start to do things by an automatic process. Without even thinking you may pick up your phone and then you find yourself on TikTok for an hour and a half! You just automatically start to do these things without really thinking. You find yourself following these patterns of behaviours and it's easy for that to be exploited by what you're met within that online domain. I would say that's how it's drawn people in, but it’s not only that. Years ago, you'd go into the office and the talking point would be the TV from last night, now it’s that video on YouTube or TikTok. It is becoming part of our everyday life and therefore, to be involved in those face-to-face conversations with our friends and our peers, we need to have an understanding. Otherwise, you’re sat there saying ‘what’s TikTok?’. To be involved you have to get on to these platforms and look at these things yourself. So much is being done through them now, even things like birthday invites are sent through Facebook or event invitations are sent through Facebook. I remember missing a birthday party for my daughter when she was a baby. A friend of mine said ‘I invited you on Facebook’ and I thought ‘well I hardly go on Facebook now, what's wrong with a text message!’. But apparently, that's not how things were done at that point, it was all done through Facebook. So, the thing is that it encourages you to be on these platforms and you almost need to be. It’s our new way of interacting with each other. That’s how it’s infiltrated our world.

Aaron: It's interesting to hear you say that because you're talking about infiltration and you're talking about the fact that there's that algorithm at play. There's that opportunity for getting the content out there for people and then getting them hooked on that content. As you've already said, you can lose an hour and a half just going through your TikTok feed or whatever platform you’re on.

That really leads on to our next question - with that algorithm in play and with all that content being pushed at you, do you think that’s why so many of us get addicted to it and is it really a problem? What's your take on that one?

Charlotte: If we're talking about addiction, which is a mental illness and a disorder, the addiction itself is symptomatic of a deeper psychological issue. An addiction can be anything. It can be social media, it can be drugs, it can be gaming, alcohol, exercise, or food. It could be anything, but there's a function of that addiction and it is essentially escapism. It stops us from thinking about the things that we are distressed by and the emotional things inside of ourselves that are more deeply buried. We may find these traumatic, so we find some form of distraction to prevent us from thinking about it. From a sort of neurobiological perspective, the same neural systems are exploited in all addictions, whether that's gaming, drugs, or drinking. That dopamine is in place and serotonin is in place. You've got all these neurotransmitters that are being released into the brain to make us feel good. When we first evolved as humans those neural pathways in our brain evolved to enhance the survival of the human race. We would enjoy activities that would encourage procreation, so eating, sex and things like that. What then happened was that drugs came along, and they hijacked those neural pathways in our brain. People could use them to get the same sort of feeling as when you eat nice food. You think ‘oh gosh that's so good!’. It's that same sort of thing. As we’ve progressed as a society, and as humans we’ve evolved, there are more and more things that can provide us with that feeling of ‘wow, I feel great about myself’ or ‘this makes me feel happy, this makes me feel good’. I suppose that, if we're looking at addiction, that's why people are doing it. They're trying to feel good about something or avoid their issues.

I’d say that all of us tend to spend quite a lot of time on our phone because it's easily accessible. I would say a lot of people spend too much time on their phones and not enough time present in the moment. This has an impact on so many things around us, especially if you're a parent and you're not emotionally present for your children. That can have quite an impact on their development. Even in your own world and in your own functioning, you're not really noticing what's going on around you or soaking in other people or what they're giving off around you. I think that's sad when we get to that point.

I think people can get addicted, but what you want to look at is what is it that you're running from? Drugs have an impact on all areas of your life, so your ability to form relationships, your ability to go to work, your own personal health care – it impacts everything. Addiction may be a strong word to describe dependence or overuse, which are the precursors to addiction, but I'd say that we are all habitually using our technological devices too much. It’s a habit-forming process in a way. If you think about it, the phone pings and you pick up your phone. You go in and you look at whatever it is. You may well find that people associate that ding with a release of dopamine as well, because it's someone contacting me, and it makes me feel good that someone wants to get in touch with me. You go onto your phone, and you start chatting away, before you know it you've been on there a while. We're getting that positive reinforcement and our brain is releasing those happy chemicals and those feelings of being connected. I think that's how it ends up turning into an addiction.

Merlie: That's a very serious topic and we've got some extra questions for you on some of the darker sides and whether some of us are more at risk of becoming addicted. Also, the role that the workplace may or may not play in boosting that addiction in an unhealthy way too.

I will never be forgiven, Charlotte, if I don't get to the community questions. I'm going to switch now to your questions, folks. If you're watching the extended podcast, we'll scoop up some of those other questions in that recording too. Charlotte, the very first community question for you is a bit of a long one:

‘I posted a picture of me outside my new work last summer and got several really abusive responses from people that I don't know and who didn't work for the company. I don't know if they knew each other and had just decided to pick on me, but they really scared me and made me feel really rubbish about how I look. I stopped posting after that, but I know lots of other people post the same way and never seem to have problems. My boss encourages us to post for social media and I'm in sales, so I know I probably need to do this to be good in my job.

I'm too embarrassed to explain why I'm scared to start posting again. What if the trolls start attacking me at work?’

That is a horrible situation to be in. Charlotte, what's your advice?

Charlotte: That's bullying isn't it, and it's bullying in the workplace as well. From a practical level, it's about taking that to HR as that's a big issue. I think other things can be done to protect yourself – you can close your profiles and set your boundaries. It's another way of bullying, isn't it? It's another way of people saying ‘I don't like you’ or ‘I want to bully you’.

Are we clear as to whether these were anonymous accounts or if they've come from individuals that the person knows?

Merlie: She says that it's from people she doesn't know and who didn't work for the company, so I don't think it's other employees. I think it's just people who decided to pick on her for some reason.

Charlotte: It's a difficult one and I deal with this a lot when I'm working with clients in the film and TV industries. There are so many trolls out there. It's very easy to say that you need to block, ignore them, and don't look at the comments because that is really the process to follow. However, it's hard to cope once you've seen them. The best way of managing that on a practical level is to close your accounts so that they're not public. At the end of the day, if this is uncomfortable for you but it's part of your job you do need to have a conversation with your bosses about this. I don't think anyone should be made to suffer on social media because of their employment. Also, think about how this has impacted you and why it's impacted you in that way. Some people get trolled and they'll just say ‘I'm not bothered’ but for some people, it will really hurt. Try looking at why has this had such an impact on you. I can completely understand why it’s had an impact on you because it sounds like they've been awful. I suppose it’s about looking at how can you deal with this more healthily. I think the problem with social media is that if you've got your profiles open then you're open to anybody in the world. There's no filtering process like there would be if you're meeting friends – you know it's a friend or a friend of a friend. On social media, you've got the whole world, and anyone can get to you. That's very exposing and can leave you feeling quite vulnerable. If you're in a place where you feel vulnerable and the only reason you have your profiles open is for work, the best thing to do would be to speak to work. Tell them ‘This is impacting my mental health. People have trolled me. It's made me feel awful and I don't feel safe leaving my platforms open. I want to close them and make them private”. You don’t necessarily need to close them down but do make them private so you can control who sees what's in there. I think taking control of your own arena is important and setting your own boundaries is important. It sounds a little bit like saying your boss is trying to control what you do outside of work. I understand that in some organisations it's important to be on social media for the job, but then you would have a separate profile, not a personal one. In that case, your profile would be much more business-focused and less personal, so that might be easier to deal with.

Aaron: That's great advice and we appreciate you going into so much depth for this particular community member. This is something that's happening more and more often, isn't it? You mentioned that the go-to answer is just to ignore it, but that's not what people can do and some people can be really badly affected by it, so I really appreciate that impact there.

The next question that we've got is related to that whole addiction type of thing. I wonder if we can just revisit that map? The community member's asking:

‘What is a healthy amount of time to spend on social media? I know there’s not a hard and fast rule but if I'm not careful I can spend hours just scrolling and reading. I know that's a waste of time. I find it really hard to put my phone down or ignore it when I feel notifications coming in. I've tried putting my phone outside my bedroom at night too, but then I can't sleep without it.’

Have you got any advice? Is there anything that you could give them to monitor themselves so they can almost self-police themselves?

Charlotte: I think that this individual needs to think about what it is they are worried about. What's going to happen if you leave your phone outside of your room on that night? What could happen? The phone and having the phone with them serves a purpose, it's some sort of safety net for something that they're worried about. Are they worried that they're going to miss a call from somebody? When you can understand that and when you understand the function of it, that will help you to then manage it.

The practical thing that you can do is to start spending some time without your phone. However painful that might feel, stick with it if it's bearable. Stick with it and try to work out why is this uncomfortable for me and what am I worried about here. It can be hard to do yourself and that's why people have therapists to do this for them. It seems to me that this person can't sleep so it's almost like a comfort blanket to have the phone with them. It's protecting them from something and working out what that thing is will help them to let go of the comfort blanket. They might not need it because they'll feel safe once they've worked out what that anxiety is.

I think that if you’re learning to detach from the phone, you could do it in a graded exposure way. If you get one notification you try and not touch that notification for 15 minutes, then allow yourself to go with it. Then try doing it for longer periods of time so you get used to not responding and not being at your phone's beck and call every time a message comes in. I do think that what I'm hearing in that question is that there's fundamental anxiety or a worry about something and the phone protects that person from it. Exploring that in more depth might be helpful.

Merlie: I think that's a great answer. Let's talk about stress in social media. I've got a great question here, Charlotte, saying:

‘I find social media really stressful. I use it a lot for work, mostly LinkedIn, but it's so full of people winning awards and doing amazing things. I don't want to read smug posts about how great everyone else is, but they're always there. It's mentally exhausting and it makes me feel inadequate. I'm not winning awards or getting amazing sales results or joining the world's best company. At the same time, I find it really hard not to look at what people are sharing. I'm wondering whether lots of people feel this way too and we're all stuck in this really unhelpful loop?’

Charlotte: I think we all are. I think we are all stuck in that unhelpful loop, but this comes down to setting your own boundaries. If you go on social media and something starts to make you feel uncomfortable you have to listen to yourself and stop looking at it. It's about learning to listen to what your body and mind are telling you. Don't be overridden by this conscious desire to keep scrolling. If something makes you feel annoyed or uncomfortable then spend less time doing it. It really is about setting our own boundaries for what feels okay for us. I’ve blocked people and I’ve removed apps from my phone when I’ve found that it's become too overwhelming.

A platform like LinkedIn is a business platform. People will always be posting their business successes on there because it's all about business networking and trying to build relationships with people. We need to understand that it's not all genuine, people tend to only post the best parts of their lives, especially on these types of platforms. We need to understand the layers that are underneath. It’s not going to just be ‘I've won this award’. There are all sorts of things this person's probably done to get to that point, and it wasn't necessarily easy. When you're just seeing the result it’s easy to think ‘why am I not getting there?’. You're just seeing the result and you're not seeing all the other parts that go into that.

I saw somebody post on LinkedIn the other day that they'd failed an exam and I thought it was great – not that they’d failed – but it just made me feel so good that someone felt that they could share that. I thought it’s so brave that you're willing to put that out in the public domain and that you've been open, and you've shown that it's not all perfect and it's not an easy ride. Nobody has a life like that and there are so many hurdles that people have to get through to get to where they want to go. That person could have hidden that failure and just posted when they passed eventually. Although she's posted that failure, one day she'll post she's passed and we'll have seen a journey and a trajectory.

I think that when we're looking at these platforms, we need to realise that they're not necessarily honest or a true reflection. If it's hard, and these platforms are exhausting sometimes. You just remove yourself from it. I think that's the best thing to do. Take the apps off your phone so they're not easily accessible, because you find yourself naturally just logging on. You’re into the app before you know it and you've already seen loads of things and you haven't even realised. Take the apps off your phone if it's becoming exhausting and overwhelming

Also, I think if you find it annoying that other people are doing these things it's maybe because you're not feeling fulfilled yourself. If this is bugging you think about whether you’re feeling unfulfilled and what you need to do to feel a bit better about yourself.

Aaron: That's great advice. Taking off the apps seems like such a simple solution, but I think it's so effective, isn't it? You're giving yourself that barrier to get into that content. I think that's something that's really going to be beneficial to people.

The next question that we've got here is on an important topic. It's something becoming more apparent and has become even bigger in lockdown because kids are having to find ways to keep entertained without going outside. We've got this question here:

‘I’m worried about how much time my kids spend on social media. They're always on it doing videos, searching for information, and following all the random YouTubers. Sometimes it feels like they're living on their phones and not at all in the real world. I tried hard to resist getting them the phones, but all their friends have had them from a really young age. Do you have any advice? I really don't want to be that parent, but I'm anxious about what they're watching and how it's impacting their brains and well-being.’

Have you got any advice at all for that one? It's such a prevalent topic, isn't it?

Charlotte: I think every parent probably feels this way because the reality is that these devices are integrated into children's lives on a level that we can't remove. They use them at school and they're using them at home to connect with their friends. I think they’re like board games for this generation and this is how they play. They are spending more time on their screens, but again, it really comes down to set some boundaries. It’s about saying okay to an hour on the iPad or whatever you feel is appropriate for your child, but then we're going to sit down and play a game or read a book together. I think we need to limit what they're doing online because the online world can be dangerous. It can be dangerous, and it can be really damaging for psychological well-being, especially with the fact that there are so many trolls around.

What I do find with trolls is that the younger generation of people that I work with psychologically can cope with it better because they're used to it. The older generation finds it much harder because we didn't grow up with that. We didn't have that, and it wasn't ingrained into our development to learn how to handle online bullies. Now children do learn to manage that. They're taught in schools how to be safe online. They’re taught don't talk to strangers, don't accept requests from strangers, and don't meet up with strangers. It's a scary world and they can quite easily end up accessing things online that are inappropriate for their age and that is a worry. I think that's a whole different show because there's so much that we could be concerned about around there.

I think it's important for their psychological development to have time away from the screens and to have time interacting with children. The most important part of our development and the most important part of developing healthy psychological functioning is the emotional connection with the primary caregivers. The parent needs to be present with that child, and if the child is on a screen or the adult is on a screen, then the child isn't having that kind of emotional connection that they really need.

Popping that to the side, I don't think we can really apply this to the lockdown because people have had so much to juggle and were just to get through it. People were working full-time and children were homeschooling, so just to get through it they've had a lot of screen time. We should look at that period as an isolated block of time. If they've been on the iPad too much through that time, then so be it because we've just had too many other things to think about. We weren’t living in ideal circumstances then. Now they're back at school and we're able to get back out and function as we were in society. Set those boundaries and engage them in fun activities. Children just want to have fun at the end of the day. If they can have fun with mum and dad, or brothers and sisters, or friends where it's face to face then they'll do that. A friend of mine was saying her child had gone to a friend to play and the mother said, ‘oh can you bring the iPad?’ and my friend was thinking ‘why can't they just play?’. My daughter does it too - her friends will come over and I'll see them all sat playing a game together on the iPad now. I suppose it is similar to when children would all sit around a board game but encourage them to interact more socially. I think the crux of it really is giving them a fun alternative to being on the screen.

Merlie: Charlotte, I've got a really interesting question for you here. It's in the general theme of fake news. Lots of information is being broadcast but how do you know what's real? The question is literally that:

‘How do you know what's real? I really like hearing news and stories from people that the newspapers don't control, but is social media any better? How do you know what to believe?’

Charlotte: I think that's the problem with it, isn't it? Anybody can put anything that they want on there. People can put their own opinions and they can write their own pieces. At the end of the day, it's not filtered. There are no legal requirements for people who post online to write something that has been researched or is evidence-based. It's not reliable data. I think that's the problem. I think you have to take the things that you read online with a pinch of salt. However, that can be hard. I've mentioned the subconscious several times, but you don't need to be consciously aware of everything that you're seeing because the brain will filter it out and you won't even know. Some of those things will soak in and will resonate with us and stick with us. This means that even if something isn't true you may still have that inaccurate information in your mind. It can affect your perception and your judgement of things. You only have to look at the impact of the misinformation that's been circulated about vaccines online. It's very easy for people to say they read something online. Where did they read it though? Was it an article in an academic journal or something they saw posted on Facebook, because it can be difficult to remember the source of the information when you're on a computer all day. There's no way of knowing if something is real, but you do need to look at reliable sources. Most people won't be looking at academic journals, but the news will be a more accurate source than social media. We need to use our heads when we're on these platforms and question whether something sounds right. Your instincts are there to protect you and to guide you in the right direction, so they will help you to examine what is nonsense and what is the truth.

Aaron: That whole idea of looking into something is really important. We have a culture of clickbait and that is why the fake news is there. People are trying to get the most clicks and to drive the algorithm and sometimes they make the title sound catchier than the truth actually is. They are doing it for a reason, and we need to be savvier about what is the truth and what is just clickbait.

We've got another question here and I feel for this person. It says that they suffer from depression and feel claustrophobic in crowded spaces:

‘Social media gave me a way to connect with others and has made me feel much less alone and a lot more comfortable. I think I've got a lot more confidence from the Facebook group that I've joined, and from following and speaking with more people on social media than I've ever done before. Social media has been a blessing for me.’

Charlotte: I think that's great and this is where social media can be great. The thing that came to mind though is that it’s a form of distraction and it’s maintaining those avoidance behaviours around going out. This will ultimately feed into those feelings of claustrophobia. Actually dealing with that phobia and working out where it comes from and what the issue is will help you tackle it. It will help you reintegrate into society and move around outside your home. Maintaining your current behaviours on social media may be hindering you from getting out there, but it depends on how significant these illnesses are for you. If you've had it for so long that you can't get out, connecting and interacting with people on social media may be a good way to start feeling connected to the world. It might well be the precursor to you physically going out in the world again. It could be that first step for you. It's great to hear that it's helping.

Merlie: I think you raised a really important point which is that it can't be an overall solution to the general problem of not wanting to go out. It's a good reminder though Charlotte, thank you.

The next question from our community made me chuckle:

‘I've never been on social media (but my grown-up kids are) and I feel I need to join something to stay in touch and keep connected with them. They are on every channel there is it seems. Do you have any advice on how I can join in a manageable way and get the hang of things?’

Charlotte: I can empathise with that. I think the world of social media can be really overwhelming. There are so many platforms and people are on all these different platforms. The most manageable way is to find one easy platform to use. For generations that didn't grow up with the technology, I think the problem is that they envisage social media as this very alien and complicated world. That can be a barrier to them actively engaging with it or even trying to use these platforms. What you will find with these platforms is that they are easier to use than you would think. They're designed to be intuitive so that people know what they're doing, how to function, and how to move from one thing to the next. It will tell you step-by-step what you need to do. I would say go ahead, bite the bullet and choose one of them. It depends on what platform your children are on and what they're posting on because I can understand that you would want to be on there to connect to them. If they're on Facebook or Instagram both of those are relatively easy to set up a profile, you can follow your children and see what they are doing. I think that once you've joined one and got to grips with that you'll start to feel more confident about moving on to another one. Baby steps – just start small!

Aaron: I suppose the other big problem with them is how much they are evolving. Each of the platforms is evolving at such a rapid rate. There are always new features being pushed out and it can be overwhelming. It's a minefield and I think you're right, baby steps are the best way forward.

We've got a question about influencers:

‘My sister is obsessed with how many Instagram and TikTok followers she has. It's all she goes on about. She literally does nothing other than post when she's not at work. She says that she wants to make her social accounts into a business and become an influencer. I'm really worried that she's not being realistic and that none of this is going to pay her rent. Hardly anyone makes this happen as far as I can see.’

I think this has become more prevalent as people follow other people on social media and think ‘this is the kind of life that I want’. You’ve already mentioned that people are only posting the wonderful bits for social engagement, but it does look like the perfect life, doesn't it? Have you got any advice for people whose friends or family are going down that route and perhaps trying to put too many eggs into one basket?

Charlotte: Without having all of the information this is a hard one to answer. Some people do influence and they make a lot of money for doing relatively little work. An influencer would probably kill me for saying this but when you compare it to an ordinary nine to five job, an influencer can make thousands of pounds just from a post or a short video. There is a viable career there for a period of time if you have something that you are good at. If you get enough people engaging with you, people can build up these types of followings. However, you have to have something, you can't just be posting pictures of anything. People are interested in influences for a reason. There is the possibility that people can go into that career, but you certainly wouldn't suggest that someone puts all their eggs in one basket for this. In the beginning, it should be something to supplement your existing income with, unless it takes off and you become massive. Even then there are longevity issues with that. It's unlikely that anyone is going to be doing this for 50 years.

The first part of that question was ‘my sister is obsessed with how many Instagram and TikTok followers she's got’. The influences that I know who do well, do well because they are passionate about the content that they create. They enjoy it and, as a result, people follow them. When people are obsessed with the number of followers that may indicate something else. This person is looking for external validation. They are looking for people to see them, adore them, and give them the attention they are craving. That's more of a worry. However, if they do have a talent and there is something viable there, advertisers may want to jump on that and have that person involved in their advertising campaign. There is potentially a business opportunity there. It's important that the person actually enjoys creating the content though, and that it's not all about the following numbers. The following numbers are a by-product of creating something good. So it depends on what her motivations are. If it's that she wants to be famous and she wants everyone to look at her, then I would say that's something that needs to be looked at. What is that persons need to be famous? Why do they want to have lots of followers? What are they missing in the world around them?

Merlie: Really good advice there and very insightful. I think that's one of the dangers of social media, isn't it Charlotte? It's that sense of being seen and posting enhanced images that look perfect. It's something that we need to be mindful of, and I think parents especially should be mindful of any hint of that activity. We got another really thought-provoking question for you. Our community member says:

‘I'm keen to know Charlotte's thoughts on the future. How does she see people adapting to an increasingly social world? How might we see behaviours start to change?’

Charlotte: As I mentioned earlier, I think we need to start teaching people from a very young age what is appropriate and respectful behaviour in the online domain. Just as we would with children in the real world. We need to teach them how to interact with people in a healthy respectful and civilised manner. We don't have that yet although I think it's starting to come into schools and that kind of education is being delivered more. I think things have got under bit out of control with social media with trolls and cancel culture. I think one of the questions early was ‘how do we know what's real’? A person with a large following or business can say something and, before you know it, everybody has jumped on it before they even know whether it's true or not. The next thing you know that person has been cancelled or their business has been cancelled without any kind of investigation. It can really ruin lives. There needs to be an appropriate boundary setting in place as to how long we are online and what we're doing online. We also need to listen to ourselves about what we're comfortable doing online. You don't have to be online and I think if people try removing their social platforms they'll feel fine. Most of us over a certain age functioned fine without any of this technology and going back to that can be quite cathartic. Maybe people will start taking breaks from social media or start implementing times of the week to not go on social media.

Ideally, going forward, I hope to see the major platforms require identity checks. I'm not talking about a DBS check, but I would like them to verify your name and ask for a piece of ID to confirm who you are. This will stop people from setting up fake accounts. When people can't hide behind fake accounts, we will end trolling. At the end of the day, people with fake accounts can get away with saying things and not taking any actual responsibility. They're not accountable because it's not their name on there. If we hold people accountable I think people will be less likely to say unkind things online.

If we get it so that accounts are verified so people are who they say they are and can't hide, I think that will help the future of the online world. It will help it to become a more civilised safe and non-threatening environment. That's what I'd like to see in the future. At the end of the day, it's a great tool for so many different things. It helps people with their mental illnesses and we know that it's great for business and being connected. To get rid of it wouldn't be helpful so it's just about limiting the use. Everything in small doses – it doesn't need to be this overwhelming and integrated part of our lives where we are on it all the time. It's too much and we need to set some rules around it.

Aaron: That’s great. I really hope that idea comes to fruition. Wouldn't it be lovely if you do have to provide some kind of ID to be involved in social media? If we can get people to take responsibility for what they write I think that's going to solve half the problem. I think there are going to be a lot of people who will be against this idea, but I'm definitely on board with it.

Our final question is another thought-provoking one for you, especially as we come out of lockdown:

‘What essential boundaries do we need to put down urgently? Will we reject the virtual world in favour of real-life when we start to see people again?’

Charlotte: No, I don't think we will. I think it's a beneficial tool for us, so I don't think we will reject that virtual world. We were still using social media, and probably overusing social media, before the lockdown. I don't think that will change now that lockdown is lifting. In fact, we will probably integrate more technological tools into our world of work, because it saves an absolute fortune in terms of things like travel. It allows us to connect with the rest of the world and it allows organisations to enter international markets which might have been more challenging previously. I don't think that will be putting down our social media just yet.

I think we do need to set boundaries. How many times have I said that during this conversation?! With everything in life, when it comes to our psychological functioning and mental health, it comes to setting appropriate boundaries around us for what feels safe and comfortable for us. This is true, not just in respect to social media, but also with things like the amount of time we work, the amount of alcohol we drink, and the amount of time we spend on holiday. These are all things that we need to make decisions on and that help us to protect our mental health and well-being. Even questions like how much time do I want to spend with my partner, my husband, or my friends? These are things that we make decisions on so that we feel comfortable and we don't feel overwhelmed. It's the same with social media. We need to decide ‘what am I comfortable with?’. Some people may be comfortable with being on it all the time, but I think it's important to set time limits. If you're finding that being on social media is troublesome, the problem that we get into a pattern. We go on the phone, we unlock the apps and we go through them. If you remove those apps, you break that chain of behaviour, so removing those apps is a really good way of putting a barrier up.

I can't tell you to do this that and the other, because what feels right for one person will not feel right for another. It's about us knowing what's best for ourselves and recognising when we are overusing it and falling into a cycle of addiction. We need to think about why we are overusing our social media, what is the reason for that? Is it that I’m lonely and I want to feel connected to people? Knowing those reasons will help you to use social media more safely.

Merlie: Charlotte, let's talk about social media and data. There's a great question here which is:

‘Social media gains a lot of data on us and it seems like it constantly adapts to what we respond to best. I think for some people it almost feels like they're being exploited by their own data because it's being used to target them. Are there things we can do to better control or prevent this?’

I'm assuming this question is around controlling the way that social media uses our data, potentially to exploit us.

Charlotte: You can go into the settings of your social media account, and there are so many things that you can prevent it from doing. However, you can't really control what a social media platform does especially if you signed up and agreed to the terms and conditions. What you can control is how you use it and what you do with it. It's about controlling your own behaviours and your own responses to social media, and how you utilise those platforms. That's the only way I can see that you can control it because the algorithms do you work in a certain way. They are very complex and are designed to exploit. Exploit seems like a very negative word, but I think that's what it's designed for. It's designed to identify what a person visits most and what kind of things they like. It will keep showing more content along those lines so that you stay on the platform for longer and they could charge more for advertising. In a nutshell, this is how it works. Can't really control that because that is the purpose of it. From a social media developer’s perspective, that's what they're doing. Obviously, we are innocently interacting on there with our friends and our families and sharing videos that we enjoy. We can't necessarily control how our data will be used but we can up privacy settings to the absolute maximum. That's the practical thing to do. It comes back to you being responsible and accountable for your own actions and behaviour when it comes to interacting with social media. I think that we have to take that responsibility and say ‘okay, I'm not really comfortable with my data being used on these platforms therefore I'm going to come off them’. We can't control what they're doing we can only control what we're doing.

Aaron: You mentioned the terms and conditions and I think people forget that we're not paying for that service and the service does have a cost. The way these companies generate the income to keep platforms free to use is unfortunately by exploiting the data so they can make money and keep the service going. It's unfortunate but the alternative is a paid-for social media solution which I don't think would be very popular. Like you said though, we do have the option to switch it off and go from there. It's very thought-provoking.

Charlotte: I think it's also a case of thinking about what you put on and what you post. Just be more mindful, because you can scroll through and see things without interacting with them. You can be mindful and if you can educate yourself around that side of things it will help with the data aspect of it.

Aaron: we got another question from the community. We've already covered some parts of it, but I think there are some really key aspects that we haven't touched on yet. This community member mentions that there's an even darker side of social media where people conceal their true identity's and portray themselves as somebody else. Sometimes this is in a mild way such as enhancing their looks or exaggerating their bios. Other times it's in a more sinister way and is designed to deceive other users into parting with information or agreeing to meet up in dangerous situations. Do you think there's anything that can be done to control this?

Charlotte: I think there's a multipronged approach to this kind of thing. As I mentioned before, having an identity verification system would help with this. Educating people about the pitfalls of being online would also help. We haven't spoken about it today in too much depth, but we see a lot of false portrayal and editing of oneself online, particularly amongst young people. Young people often edit their bodies, and they are unachievable. These images have an impact on other young people, and indeed everyone. However, I know we're talking about something more sinister here.

It's about educating. Education for ourselves and our children, and also for older adults and people who are unfamiliar with these platforms so they know what's safe and what isn't. The easiest way to do this would be for some rules to be put in place, such as identity regulations. At the end of the day, you can't walk around giving yourself somebody else's identity in the real world. You have to be accountable for your actions and your behaviours in the real world. The problem with social media is that people don't have to be accountable for their actions and behaviours because they can pretend to be somebody else. They can pretend to be anything. That's the issue, there's no accountability for behaviour and that's why this stuff goes on. If people are held accountable and accounts are verified, I guarantee that there will be a reduction in trolling, abusive behaviours and bullying. Of course, in the real world, you will still find people who are bullies, but it's minimal in comparison to what we see in the online domain. Once people have to put their face and name to comment they will think twice about posting it. In addition perpetrators and people who are trying to prey on the vulnerable will be much more easily traced online if they have to provide identity verification. I think there are solutions and things that could be easily implemented, they just haven't been. Probably because social media likes the fact that a lot of people go online with different avatars and personas to what they would use in the real world.

Merlie: I question why the social media channels haven't implemented this already. Why they think it is better to take those risks, and not protect people through identity verification requirements. I wonder what the position would be if they did? That's probably a big conversation for another show, but listening to you talk has made me wonder why aren't we doing this for the greater good and so that everybody has transparency. Why would they not validate people?

Charlotte: I think they probably get too much out of it. There's a huge volume of people on these platforms who are not who they say they are. There are a lot of people posting things they probably would not dare post if it was coming from them. It may be the platforms are worried about losing numbers which essentially equates to revenue and the bottom line when you're looking at it from a business perspective. They may also be worried about the challenges of implementing it, but I think it is doable. I like to think it's something that they're working on. We know the impact that social media can have on mental health and wellbeing in so many ways, in fact, we could probably do an entire series on the impact of social media on mental health. It can harm multiple levels, perhaps they are waiting for something really bad to happen before implementing this as a preventative measure which would be much more helpful.

Merlie: Charlotte, thank you, those are some incredibly detailed and super helpful answers to some searching questions.

Charlotte, a massive thank you for coming on the show and being our guest for season two, episode two. It’s been a real honour and a privilege to interrogate you hasn't it, Aaron?

Aaron: It certainly has. We've really got some great insights there. Thank you for being so honest about some of the trickier topics.

Merlie: Well folks, that's us for now and we will see you for episode three shortly. Until then, take care of yourselves and don't forget to #GoFarFast.


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