The film opens with a voiceover by Mansour, a junior at High Tech High School in North Bergen, expressing feelings of loneliness, not fitting in, and not being “cool enough.”
“No matter what, kids had something to pick at, whether it be my disabled father, my low-income family, the clothes I wear, the shoes I bought. It never ended,” narrated Monsour. In recent years, social media has been blamed for many psychological-health issues among teens.
Once in high school, the narrator continues, “The bullies found another weapon of choice, perhaps the worst one, perhaps the one that pushed me to the edge: social media.”
The scene of the narrator lying in bed, browsing social media channels, ruminating on his insecurities, is sadly familiar to many young people.
It was a voice message from a friend that saved him. When the phone rings the film turns to color as the narrator listens to the message. “I saw all of the stuff they posted about you online, and it’s not right at all. Just know that I have your back, and whenever you need me, I’m just a phone call or a text away.”
Lego my ego
“Social media is like another drug now,” Monsour said. “When you get that comment, it boosts you up. You get that dose of dopamine, so you keep going for it. If you say something rude, you get a bunch of likes. It’s all about these teenagers and their egos, which are getting a lot bigger.”
To Monsour, cyberbullying is the shameless cousin of school-yard teasing. Cyberbullying may not only be the result of free expression afforded by the internet, but by technology’s design itself.
“If you have control over what is being fed to people, and you continue to feed them bad things, what good does that do,” said Monsour of the algorithms employed by social media companies that curate content based on each user’s internet history. “It’s not helping the problem. So I feel like people in general are, for various reasons, rejecting social media.”
Facebook, which started as a Harvard student’s project to have male students on campus rank their female classmates by attractiveness, has come under criticism for perceived negative effects on users’ psychological wellbeing, racist advertising practices, and the proliferation of misinformation.
“It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology,” said Facebook cofounder, Sean Parker, in an interview with Axiom in November. Parker said he and other social media platform entrepreneurs, “understood consciously” what they were doing. “And we did it anyway.”
Parker is one of many in a long list of former tech evangelists now admitting his notions of technology in his early years were not only naïve, but deceptive.
“When you get that comment, it boosts you up. You get that dose of dopamine, so you keep going for it. If you say something rude, you get a bunch of likes.” – David Monsour
Students today feel more pressure than ever to succeed, the barriers to success are high, and social media fuels unrealistic expectations.
“People are extremely competitive now, and it’s a very competitive world, no matter the industry,” Monsour said. “What people should realize is to stop competing with each other and start competing with yourself. Be better yourself. Stop looking at other people and take a more analytical look at yourself.”
Monsour is doing just that. He entered the film contest only a year after he began filmmaking and is pushing himself to get better. He said that he’d like to study film production at an elite private university. With a prize of $2,000 in camera equipment and a one-week film course from AT&T, he is on his way.
“I like film because it combines the visual, auditory, and the literal aspects of everything,” he said. “It’s the most compelling form of media, and I think it’s the most effective way to tap into someone’s conscious.”
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.