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Arts & Science Program

First-year Arts & Science Capstone Project: Ezra Cento

Ezra Cento

Winter 2024 Capstone Project Title: The Effect of Social Media Upon Suicide Contagion Among AdolescentsEzra Cento

Project Description: My paper examines the rising rate of adolescent suicide since the early 2000s, specifically through the lens of “social contagion”, or the involuntary and disease-like spread of behaviours and affect through a population. The growing prevalence of social media and the internet in the 21st century correlates strongly to adolescent suicide rates, and this paper suggests that social media acts as a particularly unique incubator for suicide contagion. I analyze key characteristics that set social media apart from “traditional” media and show how they may exacerbate the contagious qualities of suicide—especially among adolescents, who represent the dominant demographic online.

The 1C06 Capstone Experience: I chose this topic because I think that the relatively recent introduction of the internet and social media to human society has had—and continues to have—many significant repercussions, some of which have not been adequately explored. Internet-based communication is a technological revolution comparable to the introduction of the printing press in the 1400s or, arguably, the introduction of agriculture several millenia B.C.E. Social contagion is a fascinating topic that can be connected back to internet-based communication in numerous ways. As I began my research, I found that the history of social contagion has been documented for several decades and the spread of prosocial behaviours show clear evolutionary benefits—however, when social contagion involves the spread of antisocial behaviours such as suicide, the picture becomes a lot more complex. Something that stood out to me in my research as I was attempting to synthesize my own analysis is that there are almost a dozen different theories that attempt to explain the spread of antisocial behaviour; each one provides a useful angle of analysis, and it would have been virtually impossible to understand the topic in a meaningful way without considering all the preexisting theories.

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