Being old fashioned as I am, I mainly use Instagram and Facebook. I also use LinkedIn, Messenger, Skype, WhatsApp to communicate with people. I am not into Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest, Tik-Tok, Snapchat or any other social media platform, which may have been invented and taken off in the last five minutes, since I started to write this blog.
I like social media. It has provided society with new ways of communicating, socializing and entertaining. But social media also has some very destructive elements. Of course, trolling people on social media, with sometimes very tragic outcomes, has often been discussed and documented in the main stream media. See for example C. Overington’s discussion of the tragic death of Caroline Flack in The Australian (23.2.2020). This blog is not about this.
Social media has some pretty subtle, but very destructive social and economic effects which are not often discussed. This blog is about some of these effects, because we need to carefully think about them.
2. Moral guidance by social media
In the ‘good all days’ moral guidance was provided by the different religions on their ‘holly day’ in their place of worship. As societies are becoming less and less religious, the question arises, as to who provides moral guidance to society and in particularly to the young generation?
In Western Societies universities are meant to provide guidance to people to better understand their social conditions. However, Universities have given away this role some time ago as free speech has been supressed at Universities in favour of biased and unashamedly destructive left wing views of the world(https://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/beyond-jordan-peterson-free-speech-on-campus/wcm/b0cacc8a-d406-4246-bf06-d04432351e5c, https://ipa.org.au/publications-ipa/opinion/new-research-confirms-free-speech-crisis-at-australias-universities).
Sadly, social media became the beacon of moral guidance to some, providing platforms for extreme views and new ‘religions. An illustration of is this provided by J. Carol (The Australian,18-19. 1. 2020), who writes;
“Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg provides a case study. Her demeanour and mode of declamation mimics of that of a fundamental Christian preacher ranting about the end of the world. The intense eyes, the raging warnings of apocalypse and the incantatory chant “How dare you” pitched against the satanic adult world.”
Social media also depicts real violence on the streets such as school girls/boys having a go at each other whilst others are cheering on(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNhTs5g_0Jg). Is this the new acceptable moral standards for youngsters and promoted on social media?
This is one of the most destructive aspects of social media.
3. Sub-optimal policy decisions by governments due to social media pressure by savvy minorities
There are many examples, where governments make suboptimal decisions due to minority group pressure at the expense of society. Of course, ‘pork barrelling’ has been around for ever. Whether one thinks of the EU’s agricultural policy or the US practice of earmarking(https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/042115/what-are-some-examples-pork-barrel-politics-united-states.asp). They are all examples of sub-optimal decisions by governments.
The fundamental difference between pork barrelling and a social media campaign is that, whilst the traditional pork barrelling requires relatively small amounts of money of the overall federal budget, social media campaigns are aimed at fundamental societal or economic changes with potentially a large proportion of a federal budget.
A typical illustration of this point is the push in social media for ‘net zero emission by 2050’. Some governments have yielded to this social media pressure and announced ‘net zero emissions by 2050’ as a policy objective without even remotely outlining the pathway to or cost of the achieving this policy objective. Any reasonable person would recognise that, this goal would require incredible amount of investment into renewable energy and energy storage. Some estimates suggest that for a country like New Zealand this target would cost most of their social security and educational budgets untill 2050 (https://www.interest.co.nz/currencies/98488/because-honest-emissions-cuts-are-staggeringly-hard-make-achieving-carbon).
Social media can be destructive for society, if politicians yield to minority campaigns to save their own political skins.
3.Social media can fool individuals
Influencers create new fashion trends, body images, unusual illustrated travel stories and other trends. They typically make a handsome living out of these activities. Good on them. Some other creative people just invent fun activities, like the ‘ ice bucket challenge’. These is all good harmless fun.
But there is a dark side of social media, which can create panic and hysteria, when people unquestionably accept the ‘truth’ promoted by social media. Consider, for example, the current global panic buying of toilet paper during the Chinese Corona virus pandemic, which even led to violence (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8084995/Toilet-paper-mayhem-three-women-FIGHT-loo-roll-aisle-Woolworths-supermarket.html). There is absolutely no reason to hoard toilet paper during this pandemic, but somehow this trend spread across social media. Sadly, people all over the world accepted that it is important to hoard toilet paper.
At the end of the day, individuals must filter social media information, before they act on it.
4. People do not talk to each other and do not read much due to social media
My wife and I go out maybe 2-3 times a week to different types of restaurants. I find remarkable what I observe in all of these restaurants. Many youngsters sit opposite each other in the restaurant and are on their phone typing away. They are ‘chatting’ to their friends who are not there with them. I wonder, why are two people go out together if they do not want to talk to each other?
I also like to take public transport to observe people. My observation is that, most people are on their mobile telephone checking some of their social media platforms. Very rarely do I see anybody reading a book. I really feel that the current generation is just dumbing down.
The current youngsters have an attention deficit as illustrated by the above anecdotal evidence. This issue and its consequences are explored by Kate Murphy in her book “You are not listening: What you are missing and why it matters” (Harwill Secker 2019). Similar theme is developed by Jenny Odell in her book “How to do nothing: resisting the attention economy” (Black Inc 2020).
5. Key takeaways
Social media has a vital role to play in our lives, but it also has serious downside.
Social media can be the wrong moral guide.
Social media can convince government to mis-allocate resources.
Social media can create hype, fear and irrational behavior.
Social media can dumb down people.
ON A HAPPIER NOTE;
I AM DELIGHTED TO SEE THAT A NUMBER OF HIGH PROFILE PEOPLE, ACTORS AND SPORT STARS ARE PROMOTING THE IMPORTANCE OF SOCIAL DISTANCING DURING THE CHINESE CORONA VIRUS PANDEMIC – GOOD ON YOU ALL !