A photo of Walnut Park in Cookeville, a pleasant park for walking, biking, and picnics. Photo by Elliot Payne
Despite its name, “social media” does not exist to facilitate social interaction. This is a disturbing concept for those of us who have grown up with platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and even Youtube taking a major portion of our lives. Unfortunately, it is a truth our generation is beginning to wrestle with. We as citizens of the internet are able to use social media for our needs, including filling social and emotional needs, these platforms we depend on have monumental flaws within them that often prevent us from maintaining helpful relationships with them.
All major social media platforms make profits through advertisements. At the start and end of YouTube videos, in between TikToks, and nestled safely on your Facebook timeline are messages encouraging us to consume or buy a product. While the dangerous impact of mass advertising is an issue on its own, the relationship between users and advertisements is not what makes social media so dangerous. The issue here is that, at the end of the day, the consumers of social media are these advertisers, and we, the users, are the product. Advertisers go to social media platforms for their ability to keep the attention of billions of users on a daily basis. These social media platforms are able to rake in absurd amounts of money due to their prominence in the world and the willingness of advertisers to invest heavily in getting our eyes through social media.
The investments of advertisers have been the most significant driving force in the growth of social media platforms in the past several years. As far back as 2012, the platform YouTube opted to prioritize watch time over views as a more important factor when deciding what content to recommend to a user. Longer watch times gave more opportunities for advertisements within videos and compelled users to become more comfortable spending a longer amount of time scrolling through the platform. As platforms moved onto smartphones, infinite scrolling became a norm of social media platforms in order to keep users on the platform for as long as possible. Perhaps the most disheartening aspect is the fact that social media platforms often encourage inflammatory or argumentative posts. Posts that get users mad or upset will encourage replies, reposts, and stitches, all of which will keep them on the platform longer, generating more attention and spreading to other users. This kind of content spirals hundreds of thousands of users into ongoing arguments and toxic personal attacks entirely for the benefit of the social media platform. We as users are being conditioned to provide the most attention to generate the most profit for a series of growing multimedia corporations.
What can be done? Every aspect of our lives seems to be wrapped around social media platforms. It is how we make and keep friends, how we network, how we entertain ourselves, and how we console one another. Despite our growing dependence on social media, younger generations have begun to attain a self-awareness of the toxicity inherent to these platforms. For a time, the insistence that phones and social media were of great detriment to young folks was a sentiment only shared by out-of-touch baby boomers. However, increasingly individuals on social media have begun to criticize the platforms we spend so much on. The sentiment “go outside and touch grass” has grown in popularity as an insult levied by Twitter users against one another to emphasize the other’s need to disconnect from the internet and pursue physical spaces. This growing awareness of social media’s harms has lead many to abandon social media altogether, or simply take time away from these platforms. Truthfully, only time will tell whether these platforms must be abandoned or if there is hope for the reform of social media. What can be said is that it is imperative for people to seek sources of social interaction and fulfillment outside of the electronic methods we use often, and take some time to get fresh air!