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Lush abandons social media. Is it the right decision?

by Jade Halstead

December 2, 2021

Lush Retail Ltd, the British cosmetics retailer largely known for selling bath bombs, and being the most overpowering smelling shop on any high street, has announced that they are once again (yes, they jumped ship before in 2019 but hopped back on during the pandemic) boycotting a few social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok.

This is due to the mental health concerns of the platform users. Lush announced that until social media networks are safer for users, they will be suspending their social media accounts and finding other ways to connect with their customers.

Side note: All of Lush's social media accounts are active. However they will not be posted on and all are currently looking like this.

Lush said, “In the same way that evidence against climate change was ignored and belittled for decades, concerns about the serious effects of social media are going largely ignored now.”

This second boycott hasn’t appeared from thin air, however; it was the result of learning about some pretty serious allegations announced by Frances Haugen, a previous Meta employee.

Haugen, before handing in her notice as product manager at Meta, collected some internal documents that held important data regarding mental health in teenagers.

The documents are the data and analysis of a two-year internal study carried out by Meta (Facebook at the time) into the effect of social media on teens’ mental health. One slide within the document - seen by the Wall Street Journal - stated, “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.”

Another presentation held by Meta said, “Thirty-two per cent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.”

With these documents, Haugen approached various media outlets across the globe, along with the British government, to raise awareness of the harmful side effects of social media, which Meta allegedly knew about, but wasn’t addressing.

After living with her mother for six months, Haugen was inspired to speak up by her mother’s decision to give up academia to become a priest. She said, “I lived with her for six months last year and I had such profound distress because I was seeing these things inside of Facebook and I was certain it was not going to be fixed inside of Facebook”.

“I did what I thought was necessary to save the lives of people, especially in the global south, who I think are being endangered by Facebook’s prioritisation of profits over people. If I hadn’t brought those documents forward that was never going to come to light.”

Image Credits: Matt McClain / Getty Images

Was Lush right to leave social media?

The reasoning behind coming off social media was made evident and with all best intentions were put on display. But is one company coming off social media enough to make a widespread difference? Or would staying on social media to support their customers through difficult times have been more appropriate?

The announcement on Lush’s social media said, “We hope that platforms will introduce strong best practice guidelines, and we hope that international regulation will be passed into law. But we can’t wait. We feel forced to take our own action to shield our customers from the harm and manipulation they may experience whilst trying to connect with us on social media.”

Mark Constantine, Lush's co-founder and chief executive said: "There is now overwhelming evidence we are being put at risk when using social media…. We're talking about suicide here, not spots, or whether someone should dye their hair blonde… how could we possibly suggest we're a caring business if we look at that and don't care?"

One of Lush’s stances for coming off the platforms was that they had concerns about Meta prioritizing profits over people, with the never-ending algorithm designed to keep people engaged. From an outside perspective, it’s hard to disagree. If Meta wants to continue to grow into an all-consuming metaverse, they surely will not be able to put the people of their platforms first.

If Meta were to encourage users to step away from their platforms, they are essentially asking to lose money, which is highly doubtful, if Haugen is right.

But despite best intentions, Constantine is missing one crucial point: Lush’s customers don’t jump on social media to engage with Lush, they go on there to connect with the world, and Lush just happens to have an account that they choose to follow.

Image Credits: Sergei Fadeichev/Getty Images

What could Lush have done instead?

As someone who has used social media for over a decade, and even longer if Club Penguin counts, I can completely empathise with everyone who struggles with mental health due to the influences we see on social media. But did Lush really help by leaving?

Across Lush’s social media accounts, they had over 10 million followers. This is potentially 10 million lives they could’ve impacted if they had stuck around. With more and more people downloading social media apps (whether Lush has an account or not), it’s likely that Lush’s decision to leave social media wasn’t the solution to social media’s problems.

It is rumoured that Lush could lose £10 million by coming off of social media. If I had the power at Lush to make some improvements with that money, here are the initiatives I would put forward:

1. Lush therapy - We all need it. This could be in the form of online messaging, someone in-store, weekly webinars on their social media channels.

2. Free webinars - Connect with your 10 million followers and share content that’ll benefit their mental health whilst online, because, let’s be honest, just because you’re not on social media anymore, doesn’t mean your followers won’t be.

3. School road trips. Create a team and drive them across the country, educating teens and young adults on the negative effects of social media.

4. Free downloadables to support mental health. Trackers, journalling, encouraging emotional expression.

So, I’ll leave you with this question to think about: rather than boycotting social media, what can your accounts be doing to improve the lives and mental health of your customers?

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