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A TEDx Talk That is Changing the World

Updated: Jun 27, 2020

How Bailey Parnell's TEDx Talk, "Is Social Media Hurting Your Mental Health", is changing the way we perceive our relationship with "social"

Humanity has the tendency to view change as an intangible entity. This habit can manifest itself in many situations where we are aware there is a big issue, but we feel unable to solve it: systematic racism, personal expectations, etc. Society's addiction to social media embodies this flaw in our human nature. Social media's duality allows for its existence: it can allow us to connect with others, share memories, and stay up to date with events around the world, but it also can cause great harm to our mental health.

Bailey Parnell is a prominent digital marketer who has seen the dark side of social media, or "social" as she calls it. Unlike the majority of world, Parnell expelled the mentality that social media addiction is"an issue too big and complex to fix", and she went on to devise a plan of action on how to combat the harm social media is causing to our mental health.

In her TEDx talk, Parnell describes the"inner monologue of a typical social media scroller" and her personal experience with withdrawal symptoms after just four days on vacation. Her inability to withdraw herself from the interworking of social media triggered her master's research into this phenomenon. Parnell quickly discovered that social media's parasitic relationship to her mental health was also prevalent in most social media users. Parnell stated in her findings within the TED talk:

"The Center for Collegiate Mental Health found that the top three diagnoses on University campuses are anxiety, depression and stress. Numerous studies from the US, Canada, the UK, you name it, have linked this high social media use with these high levels of anxiety and depression...90% of 18- to 29-year-olds are on social media. We spend on average two hours a day there".

After revealing her research into the negative effects of social media on the average user, Parnell disassembled the four most common stressors on social media: the highlight reel, social currency, FOMO, and online harassment.

1.The Highlight Reel

Parnell reminds listeners that social media is pumped with the best of everything: best pictures, best videos, best angles. Social media inadvertently sets body standards and expectations on how to live every day life, and if one does not meet those standards, they can begin to view themselves and their life in a negative light. The issue is social media users are comparing themselves to the edited versions of someone else's best moments. Parnell eloquently states, "We struggle with insecurity because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reels."

2. Social Currency

Parnell unveils the hidden monetary value that is placed within social media's "Economy of Attention". Within social media, your attention is constantly being competed for, and once you decide on where to place it, you are placing value on the source. Parnell begs social media users to realize "we are letting others attribute value to us" in the form of likes and comments. Scientifically, likes are known to trigger a biological response in the form of a dopamine rush, or the "good" feeling we all know and love. When users get a low number of likes or comments, it can often lead to increased insecurity and feelings of rejection. These negative feelings are corrosive to an indivisual's mental health.


Parnell reminds listeners about the all so familiar feeling of FOMO, or fear of missing out, that resurfaces after hours of immersing yourself in the world of "social". FOMO is the leading inhibitor for users to delete social media. Parnell states that, "a collection of Canadian Universities found that 7/10 students said they would get rid of their social networking accounts if it were not for fear of being left ‘out of the loop". Not only can increased feelings of FOMO strengthen the parasitic relationship between social media and its users, but those feelings can often be detrimental to ones mental health.

4.Online Harassment

Parnell speaks up about the abusive and dangerous potential often used against undeserving victims. She found that "40% of online adults have experienced online harassment. 73% have witnessed it. The unfortunate reality is that it is much worse and much more likely if you are a woman, LGBTQ, a person of color, [or] muslim". Online Harassment is a prevalent threat to the safety of all users, specifically minorities. Episodes of harassment can scar and propel victims into unstable mental states.

Regardless of the four main online stressors, Parnell does not suggest condemning social media, but rather she believes in restructuring each users experience on social media to make it the most conducive to the user's mental health.

Restructuring Your Social Media

In order to restructure your social media as to combat its negative effect on your mental health, you must first recognize the problem. Recognizing the problem is one of the hardest steps, so congratulations! By reading this article, you have already begun the first step. Second, you must "audit your social media diet". This step looks different for each users. Parnell makes listener ask themselves certain questions in order to uncover each individual's game plan for redesigning their social media: ‘Did that Facebook scroll make me feel better or worse off?’ ‘How many times do I actually check likes?’ ‘Why am I responding this way to that photo?’ Then ask yourself if you are happy with the results. After my partner did his audit, he realized his self-worth was too tied up in social media, but particularly celebrities reminding him of the things he didn’t have. So he unfollowed all brands and all celebrities. That worked for him". Your audit might look completely different, and Parnell reminds us that that is expected; therefore, the audit stage is an extremely important and personal step.