By Lyonel Doherty

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A couple of David Thompson Secondary students are fighting an uphill battle to convince their peers to put down social media to “reconnect” with one another. But they’ll be damned if they don’t try.

Keira Neal and Daven McMurray have embarked on a project to eliminate Snapchat so that teens can live healthier lives, both physically and mentally. The hope is to motivate fellow students to place their focus on more productive activities while re-learning to communicate without the use of wifi.

The duo says the human brain is not designed to consume so much online bombardment, resulting in social media sites being their puppet masters.

Their research shows that platforms like Snapchat are strategically designed to make interactions more rewarding and anxiety inducing. They harvest a fear of missing out and create self-judgment among teens who compare themselves to others.

The “addictive platform welcomes a shallow form of communication through pointless ‘snaps’ that waste time with no real benefit.” The duo also says that Snapchat has been recorded by law enforcement as an app used to sexually lure and exploit youth.

“Regardless of how the app is used, Snapchat is a deterrent to genuine connection. We are going to change that,” said Neal. But how?

They have set up a three-month challenge for students to restrict all use and consumption of Snapchat by hosting a competition with rewards.

Here’s where the public comes in: the students are asking people for contributions of their choice, preferably funding or vouchers (gift cards) to help motivate students to take part.

Donations can be made through the website www.snapout-nonprofit.squarespace.com. All other inquiries can be made via email at [email protected].

Neal said they came up with the idea after watching the film ‘The Social Dilemma’ on Netflix, which inspired her to delete her social media despite the fear of being left out.

Their research, including the BC Adolescent Health Survey, uncovered some startling facts. Neal noted it was very troubling to learn that 13 per cent of students slept five hours or less at night in 2018 because they were online. Nearly 60 per cent of students reported being online after bedtime.

Daven McMurray
PHOTO SUBMITTED

McMurray said it’s too early to tell if there are long-term impacts, but he expressed concern about what little regulation there is when it comes to online apps opening the door to potential predators.

Neal said she was quite addicted to social media in Grade 8 and 9, but in Grade 10 she had to devote more time to school work and sports, therefore didn’t have time to “scroll” on social media. She acknowledges that some students feel bored without social media, but “it is healthy to be bored, to be with your own thoughts, it allows you to reflect.”

McMurray hasn’t had Snapchat for over a year now. “It helps you realize who’s important to you. You have more time to just be mindful. Not every minute needs to be filled. But I think above all, I actually look forward to catching up with people.”

Neal cited cases where Snapchat has negatively affected friendships. For example, obsessive access to information such as knowing the exact location of friends every time they use the app. There is also the non-consensual distribution of intimate images that take a big toll on students.

“Out of the thousand snaps a student sends in one day it only takes one mistake of an intimate image to spiral into a bad situation and it is more common than people think,” she said. “By deleting Snapchat it will eliminate the assumption that every photo that is sent will disappear.”

The impact on sleep, grades, self-esteem, anxiety and eating disorders is not over-dramatized, Neal pointed out, adding that social media also affects your attention span, which is why it’s hard for teachers to keep kids engaged.

Neal thanked the local organizations and businesses for stepping up and seeing the project’s value by giving monetary donations and gift cards.

“We also would like parents of the students at DTSS to help encourage and support their kids throughout this challenge (which has never been done before),” she said, adding her hope is that parents can understand how much this can shift the lifestyle of their children.

Neal said the reaction they’ve received so far has been surprising and eye opening. 

“I knew that it would be hard to get kids to buy in but I didn’t think it would take so much convincing. Students are showing signs of anxiety around it.”

Neal was taken aback to hear that ‘streaks’ are a huge factor that plays into a student’s decision to take up the challenge. A streak is the number of days a person has consecutively snapped another person. 

“One student in Grade 10 has a streak that is over 2,000 days, which means over five years and that is the largest reason why she doesn’t want to delete the app.”

Many students flatly rejected the challenge with a hard “no.” However, 79 students signed up, but only one day into the challenge 41 of those people dropped out (logged back into their accounts). 

“I was absolutely shocked. The first set of rewards for the challenge come out at the end of February so I thought most students would hold on until then at least,” Neal said. “I talked to one of the students who had joined . . . she was doing fine until she was in class and saw her friend on Snapchat scroll past her name and that made her want to re-download the app and log back on.”

Neal said her early conclusion is that it is not the students’ fault, it is the apps. “I was talking to a teacher and she said something that really put the whole thing into perspective for me —“You are battling against years of expert psychologists’ work that have designed the app to be addictive.”

This made Neal realize that the change shouldn’t have to come from the students. “They are responsible for their actions but they are not responsible for reacting the way that they are to the app that is manipulating them. The change needs to happen higher up. There need to be more laws in place (to protect adolescents from becoming addicted to the material on their phones).”

So, if they could turn back the clock, would they totally eliminate Snapchat and Instagram? 

“The short answer, no. Social media can have healthy outcomes,” said McMurray. “Great conversations, making plans, sharing media and memories. However, that same framework can leave too much room for unhealthy usage.”

He pointed out that if youth didn’t have social media, they would be far more creative, curious, motivated and empathetic. 

“Ultimately, mindlessly scrolling on social media is stealing the time of our lives away from us and we need to start to make a change,” Neal said.