The Nuance

It’s Time to Break Up With Social Media

The new Facebook allegations strengthen the case that social media — as it exists today — has a net negative impact

Markham Heid
Published in
5 min readOct 7, 2021
Photo: Solen Feyissa/Unsplash

Toward the start of the pandemic — I think it was in April of 2020 — I was driving near my home in Detroit and listening to the radio.

Someone on the air, a comedian, was joking that if the coronavirus suddenly became sentient, it might be surprised to learn that people were unhappy to be stuck at home in lockdown, with nothing to do but stare at screens.

Speaking as this baffled, sentient coronavirus, the comedian said: “But… I thought this was what you wanted?

What effect did all that time at home and online have on us? A new study, published this week in The Lancet, found that rates of depressive symptoms among U.S. adults more than tripled in 2020. Research has turned up similarly grim findings among adolescents.

Of course, a rise in depression during a global pandemic can’t be blamed on social media alone. But in many ways, what happened last year merely accelerated recent trends in how we live and how we feel.

Between 2006 and 2019, the incidence of major depression among U.S. adults jumped by nearly 20%. That’s according to nationwide data collected by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

It wasn’t a sudden jump — the kind that could be tied to a single event, such as an economic recession or a pandemic. It was steady, and so pointed to a more persistent and pernicious change in our lives.

During that same period, the rise in depression among young people was much steeper. Between 2007 — the year the iPhone was introduced — and 2019, rates of depression in adolescents approximately doubled, per HHS figures.

For a while, few people were looking at social media as a possible driver of these unhappy trends. But that changed.

“We know that in teens, twice as many heavy users of social media are depressed compared to light users,” says Jean Twenge, PhD, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, citing some of her own research findings. Work on adults has come to…



Markham Heid

I’m a long-time contributor at TIME and other media orgs. I write mostly about health. I grew up in Michigan, but these days I live in southwest Germany.