Chris Behan

On Social Media

It's apparent in the year 2021 that our monkey brains weren't ready for large-scale social networks. What started out as a tool for empowering communication across the globe has quickly devolved into a data-mining machine that outputs cash and outrage. Facebook, which was once a medium used for collaborating against oppressive regimes1^1, is now a breeding ground for the ideologies that lead to oppressive regimes. But social networks like Facebook and Twitter aren't to blame for the online battlefields they've created. Their algorithms simply display the type of content that leads to the greatest level of engagement. We just so happen to be addicted to outrage and confirming our own beliefs. As a result, our feeds are filled with a combination of ideas we already hold and the occasional dissenting idea to spike our blood pressure.

Social networks go beyond invoking outrage and ideological division in society. Users in the sub-20-year-old demographic favor using less political, but equally destructive apps like Instagram and TikTok. These apps also optimize their content for maximal engagement, and what this looks like for 10-20 year olds is a combination of half-naked supermodels and pretty boys with long earrings dancing in front of their phones. There's nothing inherently wrong with supermodels or dancing boys, the problem arises when we spend too much time consuming them. We inevitably begin to compare ourselves to content creators on these platforms and seek gratification in the form of likes and followers by posting our own half-naked dance videos. Anyone who's observed their younger family members constantly glued to their phones at social gatherings is acutely aware of the anti-social behavior these apps cause.

Two very knowledgeable groups: the Chinese Communist Party and Facebook themselves, have taken recent actions to mitigate and explore the negative consequences of social networks. China has drafted laws that would force companies to disclose when and how they use algorithms to recommend content and mandate that users are given the option to opt-out of the algorithm. Recently leaked private studies performed by Facebook explored the effect of their platforms on the mental health of teenagers. Although the findings of these studies were inconclusive, it doesn't take Sigmund Freud to realize that a generation of people extracting their self-worth from the number of Instagram followers they have is probably a bad thing.

But we aren't going to reduce our social media consumption in light of the harm it causes. Data shows we're doing the opposite. In 2015 approximately 2.07 billion people were using social media. Today (in 2021) that number has more than doubled to 4.48 billion. And although the user growth of social media platforms is slowing, it's still growing. This is contrary to the popular belief that "everyone's deleting Facebook", as the platform leads all others with 2.89 billion monthly active users.

What I predict will happen in the future is the emergence of a radically calmer and more productive minority group that doesn't use social media. A group of people with an attention span longer than 15 seconds, that possess a unique tolerance for ideas that conflict with their own beliefs. Whilst their anti-social counterparts exchange reality and peace of mind for constant stimulation and instant gratification, they will be fully absorbed in the present. Membership to this group is cheap. Click the red button at the bottom of your profile page, acknowledge that you'll be missing a few birthdays, and you're in!

Footnotes

  1. Facebook was used by political protestors in various Middle Eastern and Northern African countries during the "Arab Spring" to organize protests and raise global awareness of the situation.

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