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What would Upfront Week be without the Newfronts!? And what would the Newfronts be without the Playfronts!?!? And, as we’ll explore FOBLO (fear of being left out), what would it all be this week without Social Media Week??

Dedicated to navigating the next chapter of social media – Social Media Week is all about discussions on how Brands can dive into next level engagement by collaborating with creators in order to grow and monetize. But sadly, there is no mention of the 800-pound Gorilla in the chatroom; that the technology effectuated by the ad industry is most likely responsible for a surge in the mental health crisis amongst iGen (the term coined by social psychologist Jen Twenge), the first generation to grow up with the internet in their pockets.

Screens, in general, are not healthy for kids. Those who engage in more non-screen social activities are at lower risk for depression and suicidal thinking and conversely, the risks grow larger with every hour spent with screens. “It is worth remembering that humans’ neural architecture evolved under conditions of close, mostly continuous face-to-face contact with others and that a decrease in or removal of a system’s key inputs may risk destabilization of the system”, Twenge says. Isolation is bad for the developing brains of hyper social animals and to compound the issue, kids usually are using screens to project and view “curated” lives via social media. Curation is a double-edged sword. In their book “The Coddling of The American Mind”, Greg Lukianoff and Jon Haidt note that “social media vastly increases the frequency with which teenagers see people they know having fun and doing things together – including things to which they themselves were not invited.” Teens scrolling through hundreds of such photos are pained by what Georgetown linguistics Professor Deborah Tannen calls FOBLO, fear of being left out. Unable to attend (missing out) is one thing, but not being invited is another. As we all can attest, inclusion is just about all that matters in those formative years. Curation is also responsible for a bombardment of artificially enhanced images of beauty and fashion, making girls (in particular) more insecure about their own appearance. As if isolation and curation weren’t enough, the most devastating effect of social media might be its use as a psychological weapon. Boys deal with aggression in one way; they make a fist. But once the bully is dealt with or the victim escapes from physical harm, there is relief. The way in which girls deal with aggression is amplified and sharpened through social media because they hurt their enemies’ reputations, relationships and social status in a relationally aggressive manner. Unfortunately, there is no escaping this on social media…no relief, and the one way to cope is statistically represented in the rise of self-harm and suicide, which is twice as high today for teenage girls than it was in the early 2000’s.

To be sure, social media and suicide rate increases are correlational (not causal), there are other variables involved in teen anxiety, and what we can explain right now is based off a small data set. Also, smart phones aren’t the only screens that do harm. A 2022 study by the Medical Research Council concluded that 11% of cases of coronary heart disease could be prevented if people watched less than an hour of TV each day. Marketing Cigarettes for example was another great scourge of Marketing past. The Marlboro Man was a lie that airbrushed cancer with coolness (Marlboro didn’t earn the nickname ‘Cowboy Killers’ for nothing. Five men who appeared in Marlboro-related advertisements, all died of smoking-related diseases). The difference though, is that it’s not a Medium ignoring the dangers of irresponsible marketers, but irresponsible marketers ignoring the dangers of a Medium. There’s ample evidence to support placing limits on screen time for adolescents and prohibiting the use of platforms that amplify social comparison rather than social connection (G Lukianoff).

In 2017, Sean Parker, then President of Facebook said of their platform “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.” I guess it wasn’t his problem. But it should be ours – all of us. This is marketing’s Cause Marketing moment; a chance to lead by example. Wouldn’t it have been nice if somewhere, anywhere, during Social Media Week, perhaps between “Igniting Growth” and “The Future of Multimedia Storytelling”, a moment was taken to at least Spotlight the issue? Maybe (hopefully) they will, but it’s omission from the agenda has another certain it’s not my problem ring to it.

What do we care more about, our Brands or our Kids? Share this article if for nothing else than to raise awareness…