Emma Lembke joined Instagram when she was 12. Before long, she was spending six hours a day "mindlessly scrolling" and "absorbing all these unrealistic body images," she told the New York Times in a recent interview. Eating disorders and other problems soon followed, but she couldn’t break free. "It just became this horrific loop of going on these apps, specifically Instagram, feeling worse about myself, but feeling as though I could not stop scrolling because it has this weird power over me." Lembke says she began to make her break after reading a 2017 Atlantic article, "Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?"
In 2020, after high school, she founded the youth-led Log Off Movement to provide a platform for young people to speak openly of their experiences and to promote healthy internet use. “For me, I can't just log off completely,” said Lembke, who just wrapped up her freshman year at Washington University in St. Louis. "Healthy use of social media would be any interaction where the user feels as if they are benefiting and that their health is not being harmed. If you don’t benefit at all, then … the healthiest habit is to log off.” But the movement also has broader aims.
Per CBS, Big Tech has become a big focus as young people are "increasingly worried about leaving their mental health in the hands of for-profit tech companies." To that end, Lembke helped start the advocacy group Tech[nically] Political, which wants to "change digital regulation laws to ensure online platforms prioritize users' well-being over profit." Last year, she told the Hill, “We want to alter this narrative … that teens are passive victims who are just hurt and constantly affected by social media and have no agency whatsoever to remedy the situation." For those seeking solutions for excessive screentime, Lembke recommends Screentime Genie and Google's Habit Lab for Chrome. (Read more social media stories.)