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Opinion: Students must consider impact of their social media posts during the pandemic

(Dani Nalangan/Daily Bruin)

By Rachel Durose

Nov. 20, 2020 7:21 p.m.

It’s a familiar experience for many.

Sitting isolated in quarantine, you open social media, only to be met with the likes of Kim Kardashian escaping to a private island or TikTok stars flouting responsibility at bars.

But while some Bruins are watching through their phones, others are having the times of their lives, with bottomless brunches and boat-party weekends.

In 2013, the New York Times’ The UpShot reported that 48% of UCLA students come from the top 20% economic class. However, more than 35% of UCLA undergraduate students receive Pell Grants, a federal grant for low-income students. During a pandemic that has disproportionately affected poor and low-income families, the economic divide in the Bruin community has likely become more pronounced.

While most college students don’t expect to live the life of multibillionaires or social media stars, it is easy to compare your life as a UCLA student to that of your classmates. With new reports of college-aged students’ mental health worsening during the pandemic, it is vital that we do our part to show respect for our fellow Bruins. This means first and foremost doing activities in a safe and socially responsible way, but it also means considering how one’s social media posts can adversely affects others’ mental health.

Bruins’ brains are flooded with information from social media, both real and imaginary, every day.

Yalda Uhls, an adjunct professor in psychology, is the founding director of the Center for Scholars & Storytellers, a UCLA-affiliated center that seeks to understand youth mental health in the context of on-screen stories.

“There’s a climate crisis, there’s racial injustice … there’s all sorts of issues in the world that are anxiety-provoking,” Uhls said. “And young people are exposed to news in a way that … starting at 13 or 14, kids are getting news constantly pushed to their phones and through social media.”

It is especially difficult during COVID-19 lockdowns to step away from the digital world, making it hard to avoid scrolling through friends’ life updates on their Facebook wall or Instagram feed.

Having the resources to enjoy life safely during this pandemic is something that many desire but are not fortunate enough to experience. This reality may not be at the forefront of students’ minds when they post online, but it should be. Our community has to be intentional in choosing what moments we decide to show to the world.

And when done right, social media can bring about promising results.

Leyla Barkhordar, a fourth-year sociology student, is the co-founder of the Instagram account @mentalwellnessresourcesatucla. Barkhordar and her co-founder, Rachel Teo, a fourth-year psychology student, started the account as a project for their Sociology M148: “Sociology of Mental Illness” class but have continued posting after receiving messages with positive feedback.

“We thought of creating an Instagram account because we both use Instagram to stay in touch with others,” Barkhordar said. “And we both thought it would be a great way for UCLA’s student body to … receive mental wellness resources … especially right now during the online times we’re in.”

However, if some students do not want to think about the larger implications of their actions, they should still be concerned about how their social media activity affects their own futures.

Many students have heard the warnings from parents and teachers alike about digital footprints and how old or recent posts may come back to haunt them.

For Bruins who have chosen to break public health restrictions and share it on the internet, their position at UCLA could be in jeopardy under violations of the student conduct guidelines which dictate adhering to university and citywide regulations on and off campus.

Ricardo Vazquez, a UCLA spokesperson, said in an emailed statement that while the UCLA Undergraduate Admission office does not consider students’ social media accounts when admitting them to the university, it works with the Dean of Students office to address any conduct allegations or reports.

Whether it be social media content that breaks COVID-19 guidelines or activities a student is fortunate enough to participate in despite the restrictions of a socially distanced world, posts of gatherings and celebrations are sure to make isolated Bruins feel lonelier.

Social media is designed specifically for sharing moments of our lives with followers and people who supposedly have interest in the activities we participate in. However, when a nation is witnessing unexpected tragedy, photos of social outings that ignore the worsening pandemic seem tasteless and harmful.

It’s important for Bruins to preserve their mental health by safely and responsibly doing the things they enjoy, but it’s also necessary to remember that their actions do not occur in a vacuum. It’s possible to preserve mental health without flaunting the inequities present in their communities.

It’s not about avoiding socially responsible fun. It’s about understanding that many of your fellow Bruins cannot.

Unless you’re a rising social media star, it may be time to press pause on beach day Snapchat stories and dinner-date Instagram posts – for your own benefit and that of others.

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Rachel Durose
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