What’s wrong with social media

January 22, 2020 • 1:45 pm

The headline below could come from The Onion, though it’s not really that funny, even as a satire. But it’s not a satire: it’s true.  (Other sites—as well as the tabloids—give the same report.)

You can read the story, from the entertainment site Kanyi Daily, by clicking on the screenshot below.


A 19-year-old aspiring model, Chloe Davison has committed suicide after she failed to get enough “likes” on her photos on social media.

The selfie-loving teen hanged herself in her bedroom at her family home in County Durham, United Kingdom.

Her 20-year-old devastated sister, Jade said Chloe struggled socially at school and rarely went out with friends, instead staying indoors and taking pictures of herself for social media.

The social media obsessed teen thought she “wasn’t good enough unless she was getting likes,” which is why she relied on Instagram and Snapchat to feel good about herself.

. . .The pretty 19-year-old was often targeted by online trolls who would send her nasty messages and mocked her appearance.

Coombs said that too many people felt they could say whatever they wanted to the attractive teen because it wasn’t face-to-face.

. . . On Friday night, Chloe’s mum and sister returned home from a bar around 11:30pm, and found the teenager hanging in her bedroom.

Chloe had been taking selfies moments before she killed herself. When she was taken down, her hair and makeup were still perfect. She was wearing a new lingerie that she had been excited to model.

Here are two more pictures of the poor woman:

EurWeb, gives quotes from Chloe’s sister Jade:

“Social media isn’t 100 per cent the cause [for her death] but it was a big part because it’s too easy for people to sit behind a phone or computer and send nasty messages with no consequences.

“I sat with Chloe many nights when she was crying because someone had said something horrible.

“Chloe didn’t see what we saw. She was so beautiful inside and out and would have done absolutely anything for me, her baby niece and the rest of her family.”

Jade said her sister struggled with social anxiety and blames social media for playing a “big part” in her death.

“It’s such a shame people feel like the only way to be happy is to feel accepted on social media because it’s all fake,” she added.

Well, there are lots of interacting causes of this tragedy, including Chloe’s anxiety, but it’s exacerbated by a social-media culture that is probably too ingrained to fix. One factor, which reflects the behavior of both men and women, is equating a woman’s worth with her looks and her sexuality. In my view, that results partly from evolution, and isn’t really something introduced by Facebook or Instagram. Social media has simply exacerbated that trend because you can show yourself to, and get ogled by, by nearly everybody in the world.

We all know people on Facebook, for instance, who post frequent updates of themselves in lingerie or skimpy clothing, apparently to draw attention. This always makes me sad, especially when the person has many other traits that are interesting or likable, and don’t really need to show skin. Blame sexual selection, but at least—or so I’d like to think—people are educable in a way that can ameliorate this trend.

Then of course there’s the obsession with “likes”. Apparently there’s something called “ratioing” on Twitter, though I haven’t quite figured out what it is. But it’s an index of how many people like your tweets (maybe it’s on Instagram or Facebook as well). But the sheer number of “likes” can be mistaken for love, as it was by Chloe. Again, I have no idea what to do about this save recommend therapy for those who fall prey to it.

And of course there’s trolling and bullying. As Chloe’s sister said, “She’d get hundreds of messages each day, mostly men asking her for sexual stuff, sometimes they were nice, but other times they told Chloe they wanted to hurt her.” This, too, is inherent in social media, with its cloak of anonymity and absence of face-to-face interaction. If everyone were required to give their real name, though I don’t know how this could be enforced, the amount of negative interactions on social media would drop drastically.

I’m no expert on this, but all of us know about the obsession with attention from strangers that’s rife on social media. I’d sound like an old get-off-my-lawn geezer were I to write any more. I just wish Chloe had found a good therapist who could tell her how to find her real worth.

And now my plane is two hours late—a mechanical problem—so I’ll read James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On the Mountain (a terrific novel so far) and maybe prepare tomorrow’s Hili dialogue.


62 thoughts on “What’s wrong with social media

  1. “ratioing” roughly speaking, the “ratio” is “comments” to “likes plus retweets.”

    So to get ratioed means getting a high proportion of “comments” to “likes plus retweets” which is supposed to mean that fewer people liked your tweet than “disliked it enough to comment.”

    1. So they assume that all comments are likely to be ‘dislikes’? How sad.

      (Whereas PCC gets all sad if he doesn’t get *enough* comments on a post. 😎


          1. I do not blame you at all and only meant it my comment as a mild jest (although admittedly a poor one).

            The science posts are almost always my favorites and are why I persist in my daily (at a minimum) visits! The more science the better is my preference.

            Usually try to refrain from commenting unless I have a question, can add something substantive, or can add some humor (at least in my mind) but am willing to make meaningless comments if that helps:)

          2. I read the science post and learn from them. However, I find that most often I am not qualified to comment. Please do not take the lack of comments as a comment on the science posting.

  2. Sexual selection can explain how ‘beauty’ can be objectified. Is there an evolutionary argument for why bullying and anonymity-online seem to go hand in hand? I see the anonymous as members of a group, not as individuals, and I guess those seeking ‘likes’ want to belong to a group, too.

    1. I didn’t make an evolutionary argument for that one. I suppose you could, but you’d be on far shakier ground than you would be speculating about why men like attractive women and women make themselves attractive

    1. This is not new. Theatre critics have always, legendarily*, been savage towards aspiring actors.

      I suppose anyone willing to expose themselves on stage to an audience needed to have a certain minimum mental toughness, so could presumably weather bad reviews and, in the worst case, some free fruit and vegetables, while posting photos on Farcebook-or-whatever-it-was requires less nerve.

      But really, anyone who does that – posts on Farcebook – is inviting comments, and some of those are going to be uncomplimentary and a few will be trolls.

      On the other hand, in the past when posting comments on fan websites on a locally-produced TV series, I used to censor myself in one particular – occasionally there would be some extra whose appearance or accent or delivery were so incongruous as to be distracting. I would withhold comment on that, because I’d think ‘this might be her first speaking part, a big deal for her, what if she Googles for her character and the *only* comment she could find is mine: ‘Imelda looked and sounded like a dyspeptic frog trying to sing’ – and I’d cut it.

      (* Is ‘legendarily’ a word? It is now 🙂


  3. We really are in a new place as a society. For a long time we’ve said everyone is free to state their opinion. While not intentional, there were barriers to doing this over long distances or to many people. Not just anyone could publish or get on the radio or television, and, if they did, there were usually editorial standards (not to mention the associated costs and the democracy of the dollar). Now, though, anyone can publish themselves on social media, and open themselves up to the reaction of people for whom there are also no barriers. It’s a race to the bottom. We really need a dose of the Golden Rule.

  4. Absolutely horrible. I can’t imagine what the family is going through.

    We are limiting screen time and pushing back against our school district’s introducing web apps and functions to elementary school students. No, it’s not all bad. I’m not a luddite. But it’s sooooo easy for kids to obsess over virtual activities – be they games, social media, whatever. My kid hates it when I make him shut off the TV or computer. Go play outside. Read a book. I’ll play a board game with you. But I’m going to keep doing it. No, I don’t pretend I can control his life-outcomes. I don’t even really want to. What I can do is help him find a variety of interests, and hope that that broad base will provide him with a sense of self not fragile-ly defined by any one activity. Any one friend. Any one life-outcome.

    1. Yeah, I feel like there’s a degree to which the parents and family are to blame. Too many parents these days seem to just give kids what they want, rather than what they need…

        1. Maybe. Having been introduced to parenthood myself a couple years ago, there really does seem to be a clear difference in how children respond to fathers and mothers – at least among the dozen or so families we’ve observed via parenting groups. Mothers seem far less likely to lay down the law, and when they try, the kids seem to ignore them… could be a learned behavior, but it does seem common. Certainly my daughter listens to me and ignores my wife! I don’t have to yell, whereas even my wife yelling has little effect.

          But I feel like parents of both sexes these days seem much less likely to do things like limit screen time. Certainly letting your kids veg in front of a screen is much easier than interacting with them all day, and for a tired new parent or someone who works all day that can be an alluring respite…

          1. Certainly my daughter listens to me and ignores my wife!

            At the risk of generalizing, IMO boys listen to their moms while girls to their dads. I have no idea why. Maybe it’s a competition thing (boys see their fathers as competition etc.) Or maybe this is just my own anecdotal unscientific experience and statistically, there’s no such effect. 🙂 But for what it’s worth, that’s what I’ve observed for the less than 10 sample size of kids whose parents I interact with regularly.

            1. I put my foot down much more than my ex (separated when kids 1.5 and 3.5), whIch made me have to play bad cop, a role I did not enjoy, and is not really my character. My ex avoided any kind of confrontation. My daughter was more impudent with me than my son was. They are now 32 and 34, both parents of 4ish-yr-old daughters, and have basically turned out pretty well.

            2. As to discipline, to avoid the “run to mom if I don’t like what dad said” thing, my wife took on the role of the ultimate decider of discipline and I promised to support her in it. This sometimes caused me to be more favored by my two kids (one boy one girl) but eventually they got over that although not really until later in life.

              My daughter is still the one who listens to me and son is probably 75-25 listening to mom so I think my experience also supports that.

              The whole daddy daughter thing arises out of protection I think. You will not harm my little girl and all that. My boy will just toughen up. At least that’s what I think is our (sub)conscious thought procedure.

      1. I’m NOT blaming her parents. We have no idea what measures they took to try and help their kid. Maybe they didn’t do enough…maybe they went to extraordinary measures you and I would be amazed at, and yet it happened anyway. I just don’t know.

        I guess i should’ve said this in my original post, but please take my post as forward-looking rather than backwards-judging.

    1. Nah. Girls killed themselves over similar when I was a girl too. My model friend scratched her face up because she thought she looked ugly (she was beautiful and still is). I have always found myself ugly I wasn’t blonde or tall or any other stereotype. What woman hasn’t been full of self loathing for their looks? Too many self harmed or killed themselves. It’s intensified now but it isn’t new.

      1. With the advent of the internet and social media the magnitude of attention people have access to, both positive and negative, is orders of magnitude larger. But yes, same as it ever was.

  5. It’s hard to believe that “likes” or a lack thereof can become the purpose of one’s life. Very sad indeed.

    1. Yeah and sad because I wish we could learn to embrace the discord. When you go out there and put your ideas out there you aren’t going to be universally loved for sure.

      1. She’s a very pretty young lady and I wonder if she thought (naively) she would be universally loved based on that, and the fact that she wasn’t created this crisis. I guess we’ll never know.

  6. “We all know people on Facebook, for instance, who post frequent updates of themselves in lingerie or skimpy clothing, apparently to draw attention.”

    I keep telling Ant to stop posting pictures of himself on FB in lingerie. He has a PhD in physics. He has so much more to offer! 😂

  7. If you look at human societies as systems, and communication between humans as a fundamental aspect of those systems, think about how technology has affected communication:

    * for hundreds of thousands of years spoken word was the medium. This was the communications bandwidth that humans evolved within.
    * then we get writing, which increased the communications bandwidth a notch.
    * then we get the printing press, which bumps it up a few notches (and leads to disruptions like the reformation and Enlightenment, revolutions, etc.)
    * then we get electronic communication – telegraph, radio, telephone, television – mainly an explosion in 1-to-many communication (possibly enables Hitler).
    * then the internet enables millions-to-millions communication – massive explosion.
    * now there are automated systems that feed (profit) off communication and tune themselves to maximize communication (facebook, twitter, etc.).

    Think of any system in which the communications bandwidth is increased by tens of millions – bad things can happen.

  8. Lots of young people take their lives. May be that our schools could do more to discover kids eith problems and provide counseling our other help. Same with mass shooters and bullies. More funds for mental health and training for teachers in spotting kids with problems would be a move in the right direction.

    Between social media, drugs, vaping, bullying and more I worry about my grandchildren and constantly watch out for problems, just as I for for my children. We used counseling and psychiatric help several times to get us through, as many of our friends.

    Not an easy job to be taken lightly.

    1. Few psychiatrists want to go through extra years of training to be qualified to see kids, and then get paid less for the effort.
      (Medicaid pays roughly 2/3 of what Medicare pays for the same service-smaller means easier I guess?- one reason pediatrics would be ecstatic to have a Medicare option and/or for all replace Medicaid)

      At 19 she was old enough to see an adult psychiatrist but still your point remains, early identification and treatment almost certainly would have saved her life.

  9. I wondered if youth suicide was a modern thing and a Western thing, but according to some data, it seems like it’s actually declined significantly over the last 30 years at least. The US and UK are not all that high up the scale, although in the US at least it’s been trending steadily upwards since the late 90s.

    There’s about a 20-fold difference between the most- and least-suicide-prone countries (ranging from about 0.39% to 7.21% of all deaths), but there’s no obvious geographical or developmental correlation that I can see.

    Still, it’s hard to imagine kids being so fragile in the past as to kill themselves over not getting enough likes… perhaps it’s just a new expression of an old feeling, though.

    1. It is nice that you pulled some data out. Additionally, CDC has a graph of the rates of teen suicides over time:

      I would not have guessed that males commit suicide at twice the rate of females.

      It seems like 1993 was a violent year. Both the CDC suicide chart and the firearms homicide chart show peak numbers then. I don’t remember it being a particularly bad year, except for the Battle of Mogadishu.

          1. I graduated then. Brutal. No one was working. I remember malls being hardly busy at Xmas and everyone driving rusted cars.

      1. The CDC data show that peak male suicide lasted from about 1988 to 1994 after which it declined to about 2007. That throws some doubt on the early 1990s recession explanation.

        Females figures were much more stable, although the was a small peak about 1988.

        More marked, perhaps, after a long decline was the upturn in both male and female suicides starting about 2007.

        Haidt has analysed the more recent data for mental health problems for young people. There is a good succinct account (with graphs) on Joe Rogan:


        Bottom Line: Girls are much more affected than boys and social media likely plays a role.

    1. Most differences in adolescent rates have a contextual cause. In Sri Lanka for example, where teen suicide rates (especially for females) are some of highest in the world, it seems to be due to a learned method of dealing with conflict. The conflict most often being between significant others or intimate contacts. Rarely does depression contribute. The act (often drinking pesticide) is also viewed by the culture as bad behavior rather than having the mental health stigma and implications seen in the States.

      Close contacts (especially family or peers) committing suicide seems to make it a viable option for a troubled teen (and adults too IIRC).
      With increasing rates (and I feel like I am seeing more overdose attempts in the pediatric ICU) I would expect there to be some clustering which would help direct prevention efforts.

    2. Helicopter parenting was likely a more gradual trend in comparison to those very historically brief events. I do think the age of the internet, helicopter parenting, a lack of physical activity and a host of other interrelated factors is likely a problem. I often walk around my neighborhood and lament the lack of kids playing in the streets or even at the park down the road. I have two boys myself, and getting them outside usually involves me organizing an activity and doing it with them. The days when kids roamed the neighborhood and found friends are long gone. They’re all inside getting excessive amounts of screen time, which has demonstrably been shown to affect well-being, both physically and mentally.

        1. Being “grounded” (i.e. not allowed to go outside) was the punishment when I was a kid. Now the punishment is to take away “screen time”.

  10. I gave up FB about 6 months ago. I have a Twitter account but I think I’ve sent maybe 2 tweets out in 10 years. Social media, I think, is a net negative on society. If we limit it to FB alone, it is certainly a net negative. My complaints about that platform are numerous, not the least of which are sad cases like this.

  11. The fact that she was doing what she was doing in the first place signals something like borderline personality disorder, in which the person has no permanent sense of self from the inside and has a high suicide rate. She could have dropped her accounts, but she needed the positive feedback more than she feared the negative feedback (until that last day, apparently).

  12. More and more people, especially young people too plugged into the internet, are unwitting victims of a thing called vicarious trauma. Too much shit out there; better not to invite it in.

  13. So sad. The world is in many ways safer for young people today but modernity has brought some new perils with it, I think. At 19, it seems like this woman could have been going through any number of misguided youthful phases that would have passed harmlessly back in the day, but are of more consequence now. When I was that age, young women would daydream about going to Hollywood and becoming an instant movie star, singer, model, etc. Now with all these Instagram Influencers and such, that daydream is a Youtube Channel or Instagram personality away, and so instead of just idly dreaming, they post regrettable pictures online. Or, there’s youthful experimentation and young women realizing the power of sexuality for the first time. Again, when I was that age, it involved wearing horribly tacky clothing (pleather pants and tie in the back shirts anyone?) to the club and posing for pictures with your friends beforehand, feeling sew glamorous. Before social media it was mostly face-palm-y in hindsight and something that made you cringe if someone rolled out an old photo album. Now teens putting themselves online are exposing themselves to potential creeps literally all over the world and those images will live on forever. It seems like there are a lot of bad incentives in the social media world, encouraging young people to make poor choices.

    1. Oh dear, plether pants. I was just telling someone about how I styled my hair in the 80s. It involved teasing the sides then spraying them and holding them flat in both hands to make the sides stick out.

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