A Reflection On Social Media, Social Sharing, And Mass Sociogenic Illness

Last night I read an article about how TikTok has triggered tourettes-like symptoms in young women, due to a medical condition called MASS SOCIOGENIC ILLNESS. In layman’s terms, it’s when you are part of a community or group (like Bookstagram, for example), and due to your empathy with the persons in the group, you begin to experience the same illnesses as them.

Though tourettes has been the primary focus for the study, having been linked to people on TikTok sharing their tourettes tics to a large platform, others watching and empathizing, and then demonstrating these same or similar tics, I began to wonder about other illnesses that may be spread through MSI due to social media.

My first trigger that connected these ideas is the fact that I was sitting and wondering what to write in my blog. I don’t have a passionate opinion about anything at the moment, nothing is making me angry, nothing is triggering an anger or sadness-filled response within me that deserves a place on the internet. And normally, I am immersed in environments that do trigger these responses.

For example: Bookstagram is a toxic, bully-filled space that, when they come after others I empathize with, I begin to also feel their anger and sadness. I follow numerous Zionist accounts (I am a proud Zionist), and when I see anti-Israel content, antisemitism in digital spaces, or misinformed material, I am triggered and feel called to post anger-filled or passionate responses.

But now that I am not in this space, I am still reading news and still being informed, but I’m not sharing in the anger or sadness of a group. I am not soaking up the ego-illness like a sponge.

Yes, social media can bring about and form very strong bonds and relationships. You can make genuine and meaningful connections through social spaces like Instagram, and I have. But you cannot deny that it brings about more bad than good.

Though originally created with the intent to unite people and bring worlds together through the sharing of similarities, it has become a space defined by how it triggers you. Triggering you doesn’t necessarily mean just emotional reactions like sadness or anger, but also responses like: “Damn, I want that too,” or, “Wow, I wish I was there,” or, “How lucky that she got that product for free,” etc..

How many of those triggers that you feel when scrolling through content make you feel good? And how many of them make you feel somewhere on the opposite end of the spectrum: jealous, angry, sad, longing, guilty, envious, FOMO, etc.? This will give you a good idea as to how beneficial something like Instagram may be to your psyche.

And when you share, is it done with the intent to make others feel happy? Or are you trying to trigger an emotional response that lays on the opposite end of the joyful spectrum? What do your words say? What does your picture depict? I admit, I, too, have been guilty of posting content that likely didn’t trigger only happiness in others.

And sure, the realness in social media should lie in honesty, authenticity, and posting the good and the bad. But if Mass Sociogenic Illness has taught us anything it’s that our lives are so intertwined into social media that we absorb this sadness as our own, the struggles of others as our own, the mental illness of others as our own, the insecurity of others as our own.

The problem is not then just with social media, but with our lives being so immersed in it that we believe it to be reality, and, as such, we allow it to define our reality through our reactions, our emotional responses, and through the weight we carry into the real world when we swipe to close it. It’s that weight that keeps pulling us back to open and check it and see if there is anything new. We need to feel what others feel.

I have noticed that since my absence, I am far more in control of my emotions. They are solely mine and I get to define how and what triggers me (because I can actively choose what content I digest) – and it’s usually nothing, anymore.

In addition, when I am living life, I am not thinking: I need to capture this to share it with others so they can see it too. Because when I reflected on it, when photographing or videoing things other than pretty pictures of books (that are just meant to be pretty, with no intention beyond that), were the intentions behind sharing it truly one that was meant to share a joyful moment? Or was I trying to instigate another emotional response in viewers? Was that fair of me?

And if I was trying to instigate an empathetic, negative emotional response in my following, am I willing to carry the energetic weight of triggering that in others? Because you do. You certainly carry that weight without even realizing it. Until you leave Instagram/social media behind and make note of just how different you truly feel.

While social media should be used authentically and transparently, just as you wouldn’t go into a super market and pour out your life struggles to a stranger, or brag about how good your butt looks in a bathing suit to the woman at the cheese stand, you should take responsibility by posting consciously. Most especially since we are beginning to see very troubling research with regards to how this is being digested by others; so intensely that they are developing or triggering mental illness in themselves that follow them into the real world.

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments, below.


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