Dean Lindsey Leads Talk at NYC Social Media Summit
From left: Raziya Palmer, Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts; Jameila “Meme” Styles, Measure; Dr. Ravi Iyer, Psychology of Technology Institute, USC; Dean Lindsey.
NEW YORK, NY, June 8, 2023 — In the wake of the U.S. Surgeon General’s advisory on the effects of social media on youth mental health, NYU Silver Dean Michael A. Lindsey moderated a panel today at New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ high-level summit focused on New York City’s role in addressing potential online threats to young people’s mental health and well-being. Acknowledging that social media use is here to stay, Dean Lindsey drew an analogy from own research about teenage suicide risk and said that the healthiest approach to social media is a balanced one.
Teenagers joined community members and experts in mental health, technology and policy advocacy in order to share their insights and brainstorm solutions during the summit. In introductory remarks, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan cited harms – “from setting dangerously unrealistic expectations of body image, to catalyzing and accelerating bullying and abuse, to causing significant social isolation and exacerbating depression and anxiety” – that are associated with social media. “It’s not that all social media is bad,” he said, “but we already know that unregulated and unfettered exposure to social media and all of its content isn’t good for us, and we already know that it isn’t good for young people.”
In his remarks, Mayor Adams described the effects of social media on young people and adults alike as insidious in nature, citing recent viral trends such as the Kia Tik Tok challenge that sparked an increase in auto thefts nationwide and noting how distracted people have become by their devices. “Social media should not stop us from being sociable. Human interaction is something that we all need and yearn for,” he said. “We are a society of communities, and we need to make sure we always hold onto that.”
Framing the Discussion
The panel led by Dean Lindsey, titled “The Future of Social Media and its Implications for Children’s Mental Health,” set the table for the day’s discussion as it covered research about children’s brain development, insights about the limits of content moderation and suggestions for concerned parents.
Dr. Mitchell J. Prinstein, Chief Scientific Officer of the American Psychological Association, spoke to the risks, noting that there is mounting evidence that social media use in young adolescents can affect the way their brains develop, especially the parts of the brain responsible for social interaction and emotion regulation. Jameila “Meme” Styles, President and Founder of Measure, addressed the addictive nature of social media platforms. She believes it is no accident and follows a long history of people in America being controlled for profit.
One Youth’s Experience
Raziya Palmer, a rising 10th grader at Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts in Harlem, shared that she went on a social media cleanse for two years after using it excessively during the pandemic lockdown. “Especially during that time,” she said, “it just made me really depressed. Being isolated and not having anyone to talk to only left social media. It didn’t really boost my morale. It just made me more addicted, and at the end I felt even more depressed.”
Raziya added that she believes seeing aggressive and hostile content on social media encourages young people to express themselves in angry and aggressive ways. She called on grownups to be more empathetic. “I wish adults could be a tad more patient with seeing how their children react to certain things and try to figure out what is [causing] that reaction. Is this just ‘teenage hormones,’ is it just being disrespectful or is this because of what they’re looking at online? Sitting down and talking to your child is one of the biggest ways to help them.”
Dr. Ravi Iyer, Managing Director, Psychology of Technology Institute, USC Marshall School of Business, spoke to the responsibility that lies with social media companies themselves. He suggested that advocating for stricter content moderation policies may not be as effective as advocating for social media companies to design their platforms to promote wellbeing.
The Importance of Balance
Dean Lindsey cited research he and colleagues conducted several years ago that found that youth who had a moderately healthy diet, exercised, and got a good night’s sleep were less likely to engage in suicide behaviors. “We also found,” he said, “that if you were at the extreme of too much focus on exercise and healthy eating, or if you didn’t do it at all, in terms of exercise, health eating and getting a good night’s sleep – you had a higher risk of suicide. So, what I want to leave you with is the importance of balance in all that we do, including balance in terms of how we interact and engage in social media. And I think that the panel today really gave us a balanced perspective on the risks and benefits of social media.”
The Regulatory Landscape
NYU Silver Visiting Scholar Jennifer Jones Austin, Esq., the CEO and Executive Director of Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, moderated a separate session titled, “Challenges and Opportunities in Regulating Social Media Technologies.” While panelists described bipartisan political will to regulate the industry, Jones Austin noted, “The root of this harm is not the social media companies. It’s the society that we create that has us all looking at one another and being desirous of something more or something different and not seeing ourselves as individuals who are worthy of where we show up, when we show up and how we show up.”
Access video of the summit’s welcoming remarks from Dr. Naveen Rao, Senior Vice President, Health Initiative at The Rockefeller Foundation, Commissioner Vasan, and Mayor Adams on YouTube. Access a transcript of their remarks on the official website of the City of New York and learn more about the summit from the Office of the Mayor’s press release.