There are many problems with social media today. I’ve always been adamant about that topic, however recent events have caused me to write this article for the sake of the human race as a whole. It sounds a little crazy, but it comes from the heart, and I do firmly believe that social media is going to be the death of every last one of us if we don’t control it, or destroy it altogether.
Onto The Story…
Yesterday, I had my weekly zoom meeting with my parents. I was an only child, and going off to college in Boston has made them lonely with little to do. A long time ago, I once admired my father for caring so little about politics. This persisted even during the Trump presidency (and he was definitely not a republican). However, something had changed when we talked, and this wasn’t new, but this was definitely the most noticeable it had been. He kept bringing up politics.
As a teen, I once delighted in the works of Stephen Colbert and John Oliver. In fact, I went through many political phases. I started out as the only democrat of my mostly-republican Louisiana school. Then, I switched to an anti-trump “traditional values” republican. Later, that emerged as many things, anything from socialist to communist to anarchist to libertarian. I was definitely the “edgy teen” that was just finding myself, and I believe that this is a staple of growing up in the modern age. Even during my more conservative phases, I was still capable of enjoying liberal pundits like Colbert, because at the end of the day we all kind of want the same thing.
An Important Distinction
Now, there was one thing that separated my teenagehood from many others. I didn’t particularly care for social media. At least not on public ones, which is prone to many of the problems with social media I’ll talk about. I’d always just find it silly that people wanna talk to all these people that they do not know at all. And while I certainly did talk politics, it only fell upon the ears of my friends who had already decided their own convictions and weren’t going to change.
When my Teenage Years Ended
When I moved to Boston, I suddenly found myself too busy to care. I’m still too busy to care even during summer vacation when I have less workload. I rarely discuss politics on this site, and when I do, it’s always related to technology, like this article. Even when I have nothing better to do, I’d rather go somewhere and touch grass than talk politics with strangers: How to Turn Off Your Computer and Go Outside. And if I don’t have time to do that, at the very least I would rather browse through apolitical memes about stupid stuff like a wide bugs bunny or a bottle of urine that’s “actually still kind of warm”. There are many problems with social media, but if done right it creates beauty such as this:
Yesterday was the first day that I pointed out the difference between my father and me on a zoom call. In fact, I consider my political affiliation as “radical centrist.” On most issues, I simply choose not to have any opinion whatsoever. I understand the fact that even if I had one I would not convince anyone of anything. The difference between radical centrism and being apolitical or just centrist, is that when people have views that are too strongly to the left or right, and I see them as incapable of change, that’s a problem for me. In fact, in my mind, polarization is the primary issue affecting us today.
My Ethos on the Matter
Nothing says more about the fact that I care about this so much that I’ve already written two end-of-semester research papers on the matter of problems with social media, and I’ve only been through two semesters of college at this point! I will leave links below to both of my essays:
Understanding that There Is No Longer “Truth” Anywhere
We live in a post-truth era, where practically every news source, albeit may not outright be false, will spin the story in some way or another. While there are a few news sources that prevail as some of the most trustworthy platforms, anyone and everyone else seems to be stretching the truth at least a little bit. (Examples of platforms that you can just about always trust are the AP, Reuters, BBC, and Snopes).
In our conversation on zoom yesterday, we were discussing some of the supreme court rulings. My mother said something along the lines of “it’s only Christians causing this”. I responded with “Over the past several years, the supreme court has ruled in favor of Jewish people, Muslims, and Buddhists.” They said “I’m not too sure about that one, where have you been getting your news from.” My reply was “Reuters Mom, I got that from Reuters.”
Article in question: U.S. Supreme Court takes aim at separation of church and state, Reuters
Application of that
The fact is, many of the conservative news sites completely spun this in a different direction, whereas the more liberal news sites omitted that much-needed information altogether. However, even so, the issue can be misremembered and only the heart of it could be understood, or perhaps it could be misinterpreted. While this information could be interpreted to mean that the supreme court actually isn’t “biased”, actually it could be more along the lines of the fact that the supreme court would happily rule in favor of someone from another religion if it could set a precedent that could later be used in cases involving Christianity.
What am I getting at with all these points? Public Information Can No Longer Be Seen as Reliable. Period. Now that we’re done with that point, let’s move on to where this involves problems with social media.
The Three Types of Social Media
While social media takes a variety of different forms, they all seem to boil down to three categories:
- Centralized Public Forum (e.g. Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, the primary culprit of the problems with social media)
- Decentralized Public Forum (e.g. Reddit, any number of bulletin board sites)
- Chatroom/Decentralized Private Forum (e.g. Discord, Matrix, Zoom, all kinds of stuff fall under this category, and this is the most debatable as to whether it even constitutes “social media” in the first place)
You may have noticed that I ordered that list from worst to best, or that may be your theory. That’s because I did. I believe that centralized public forums ought not to exist entirely, decentralized public forums can exist but with a serious amount of reform, and chatrooms need little to no reform.
Problems with Social Media: Chatrooms
One of the main reasons I’ve never really been active on any form of social media, other than platforms like Skype, and later Discord, and later Matrix, as well as Zoom calls during the pandemic is simple: Chatrooms emulate an actual conversation. In a chatroom platform, there is no such thing as a “share” button. People don’t attempt to give brilliant responses to things and broadcast their own loyalties, because at the end of the day, once 10 more messages go across the screen and the message will be lost to time and likely never spoken about again, except in rare cases. This gets rid of many of the problems with social media today.
Not only is there not a share button, but there’s also not even a “like” button either. Odds are, your message will never reach those who are not in the same group chat as you. There is no algorithm. Messages are spoken, only get to the intended audience, and then are near-instantaneously forgotten about.
How Social Media Should Be
This is how social media should be. The end goal is to stimulate conversation over the internet and to socialize with people anyway. Everything other than a chatroom is not natural human conversation. When you stop having natural human conversation, it becomes more of a “game”, which causes addiction.
This being said, one chatroom platform does need a little attention, and it’s Discord. The basic idea of discord is fine, however, the problem arises when they have their “partner program” and a “server lookup”. This is less of a problem with social media in and of itself, and more of leaking into the “decentralized public forum” sector, which comes with problems in and of itself. When Discord was first created, servers simply weren’t supposed to be public. They were supposed to be a few friends, or at most a community with no official support from Discord.
Problems With Social Media: Decentralized Public Forums
While there are a number of online bulletin board sites for various purposes, one of the most relevant and prevailing ones is Reddit. Reddit is a large group of subreddits, some being echo chambers, but most are fairly innocent. Some even make a mockery of politics in general. (Example below)
Now, Reddit does seem to have been actually attempting to get rid of some of the politics on the platform. However, it’s been fairly one-sided.
We’ve already mentioned Aaron Speedy, a notable character in Info Toast twice today, but I’m about to mention him a third time. On Reddit, he said the following:
Abortion shouldn’t happen after the brain of the baby develops to the point of a newborn baby– Aaron Speedy
This is actually the opinion of many if not most pro-choice people as well, who believe that it shouldn’t happen in the third trimester, except in cases of the life of the mother. However, for that comment, Aaron received a LIFETIME ban from Reddit SITEWIDE.
How to Fix These Platforms
Many of these political bans are being listed under what’s classified as “hate speech,” when that’s clearly not the case. If you ask me the rules of Reddit should be altered to the following:
- No politics whatsoever
- No personal attacks on other Redditors
- The ability to share posts from one subreddit to another should be removed
Beyond that, individual subreddits can employ their own rules. In addition, rather than fully deleting bad subreddits, moderation teams can be replaced with more reliable people that Reddit themselves trust.
The Worst Problems with Social Media: Centralized Public Forums
These forms of social media are the ones that are neither fine on their own nor can they be reformed. The discourse of our most important people is no longer held in legislative chambers. Now, it’s mostly being done over Twitter. TikTok may soon be banned in the United States once again over concerns about national security caused by the developers sending data to the Chinese Communist Party. However, consider the national security implications of discourse between politicians of many countries and the US, as well as just ordinary people being held on one singular platform, and it’s Twitter.
The current administrators of Twitter seem to be mostly not so bad. However, recently Elon Musk almost acquired the platform. If he had done so, damages to the national and international community at large could have been tragic. Musk could’ve not only been capable of deleting people and posts, but he could’ve also easily edited posts to make people say what they didn’t say. If Musk wanted a war, he could’ve easily gotten one.
Musk isn’t the only threat. As a private company, not only can Twitter be hacked fairly easily by foreign countries with large cybersecurity forces, but could also be bought out.
Twitter: On the Ground
While billionaires, diplomats, and politicians battle in the skies, a far more gruesome, terrible conflict from the problems with social media is happening on the ground. I shouldn’t need to mention “cancel culture,” so the one thing I’ll say is to set straight the fact that the right cancels people too.
Social Media and Addiction
Social media is addictive. Everyone knows that’s one of the primary problems with it by now. In fact, while this isn’t necessarily “social media”, the Swedish Youth Foundation stated, “World of Warcraft is the crack cocaine of gaming.” Out of 2,000 addiction-related calls they received, 170 of them pertained to World of Warcraft. We can probably say a fairly similar number of calls placed regarded crack cocaine. (Source: World of Warcraft: The ‘crack cocaine’ of gaming)
Addiction is addiction. If WoW can be compared with crack cocaine, we can reasonably compare Twitter to the same amount of addictiveness as cigarettes. I’d say TikTok is not much better, if not worse. The reason these platforms are so addictive is that when you start a debate, they become impossible to put your phone down. After a certain amount of that happens, you become highly addicted to it. You hate it when people respond to you with disagreement, but you keep posting and posting your own opinions searching for the one rare “I agree” or a small amount of satisfaction that keeps you going.
What if Social Media is Worse Than Smoking
Now, this may be a long shot, because smoking kills a lot of people. However, when you smoke, it’s not like your cigarettes insult you constantly and tell you to kill yourself. However, cigarettes kill you when you’re old. Social Media has pushed a growing number of young people each year to commit suicide or harm themselves in other ways.
Where It All Came to a Head
The “final straw” that caused me to write this article in the first place is an article I read where many people on TikTok have been bullying men for being short, which actually has been causing some shorter men to undergo surgery to make their legs longer.
Now, I’m not someone who has to deal with this affliction. I am actually 6’2″, and although I stand to gain from women being shallow about men’s height, it’s simply not right to live in a society where any body modifications like that are being done to anyone. The people who make themselves taller, as well as the people who perform these surgeries, shouldn’t be seen as the ones at fault. The person the article was about cited TikTok as one of his primary reasons.
In fact, in order to make the $75k needed for the surgery, not only did the man have to just about empty his own pockets, but he actually created an OnlyFans account where he defamed himself in order to earn the rest of the money to afford the surgery.
Social media is not only a danger politically, it is causing a massive public mental health crisis.
The fact is that the centralized public forums that exist online are destroying the mental health of millions, if not billions of users. When the discourse that causes damage to mental health happens to concern politics, it not only destroys the users, but it threatens our most important institutions.
The answer to these problems with social media is simple. The users are not to blame. The users are captives. The only way to set them free is by deleting these social media platforms altogether. If we can pull off getting rid of TikTok, then certainly we can pull off getting rid of numerous other social media platforms that seek to trap us in a cycle that ends in the inevitable destruction of democracy.
I fear for the future. If there is anyone who will kill us, it’s ourselves. And at this point I highly doubt that climate change will be what will eventually be our end. Maybe climate change will kill the last of us remaining, but the beginning of the end will be from the problems with social media destroying the world’s political landscape and removing all truth, as it’s already done. This is the 11th hour, and if we don’t drop all other parts of politics now and focus on getting rid of polarization and get the population out of the rut that we’re in now, then I fear we will eventually be made slaves and destroy ourselves.
My Offer to Do What I Can to Help
If you are currently using any of these platforms, and have trouble stopping yourself, I am willing to extend a helping hand on the info toast discord (we can talk about it in DMs if it’s private): https://discord.gg/infotoast
I am not a therapist and do not claim to be one. If the problem is bad enough you should probably see a real therapist about the problem, and I will not hesitate to recommend one if it is.
If you are having suicidal thoughts please call +1 (800) 273-8255, do not speak to us.