One night last year, at 11pm, I needed a break from my long day of online school, homework and test prep. As a 15-year-old girl, I went to my go-to distraction: social media. I wanted to see a friendly face on Instagram, to connect on Twitter, and to laugh at TikTok. Instead, I was greeted by political toxicity, the frightening news of the world, and endless images of picture-perfect influencers living their perfect lives. So much for escapism. I felt anxious, overwhelmed, and sad. 

There is much talk in the news today about the negative effects of social media on teens… and I am here to say that yes, I see it, I internalize it, and I feel the weight of it. The endless facade of exotic vacations, staged photos, and glamour pics is damaging. Edited body shots and facetuned photos exacerbate body issues and social insecurities. Comparisons are unfair, of course, but we just can’t help ourselves.

Articles and studies discuss the hurtful side of social media, but they are written by adults for adults. I think it’s time for teens to engage in the conversation, and to be a part of the solution. While parents and Congress debate the companies and the regulations, we can help set the tone and choose the content.  

I like to connect with friends, sharing achievements, laughing at good times and commiserating over the bad. But I hate the negativity that divides us and makes us feel bad about ourselves. My own personal solution? Well, after that fateful night, I decided to engage more in verticals. Vertical social media networks, that is. They allow me to immerse myself in communities of others who share interests with me. Vertical social media networks dispel the toxicity of mainstream social media because they lower the bar. On Instagram, you post the top 1% of everything. It’s a carefully edited glimpse of your life. In a vertical social platform, you post unedited, raw content more freely. That allows you to link up with others with similar passions while minimizing the triggers or stressors of mainstream platforms. For example, I love to run and I love opening Strava to see my teammates. We train together six days a week, but we still like to visit the app to challenge, encourage and applaud each other’s workouts. For me, it’s a way to celebrate my passion on social media in a way that positively affects me, with a captive audience that cares and is equally passionate.  

I created a new app, Recon Food, for the very same reason. To connect people over a shared interest. In this case, food! Something I really enjoy preparing with my family. Recon Food is a throwback to a simpler time in social media, one without politics, crises or exaggeration. It’s a fun, simple, stress-free way to bond with others. I love to post what I cook, even if it doesn’t look amazing because I want to share with the community. If Instagram is the highlight reel, then Recon Food is the behind-the-scenes look, from your kitchen. It’s food without the fight!

But there are many ways to make a difference for yourself and for others. You can simply make the decision to keep it real on social media. Let’s post when we’re looking our best and even when we’re not. Let’s post those vacation fails as well as the wins. When we need a friend, let’s say it. And finally, let’s tailor our social media experiences so that we see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear. Pursue your interests. Find your verticals. Unfollow whoever or whatever makes you feel low.

We’re Gen Zers, the first generation to know the digital age from birth. Social media is our present, and social media is our future. Let’s do our part to make it a healthier, happier place for all. We can all be influencers, real influencers, in the best of ways.


  • Sophia Rascoff is co-founder and CEO of Recon Food, the vertical social media app where people can reconnect over a shared love of food.  Sophia is a junior at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, where she is a leader in the entrepreneurship and creative problem-solving organization; a leader in the Latin American/Hispanic Student Organization; a recipient of the presidential volunteer service award.  She is the oldest of three, and enjoys cooking at home with her dad, running track and cross country and playing and teaching chess.