How social media makes us worse people

How social media makes us worse people May 21, 2024

Social media haidt

For those who haven’t read Jonathan Haidt’s recent article, you need to pause what you’re doing and read his “On The Degrading Effects of Life Online: How social media makes us worse people,” especially the section “Part 2, from Freya India” (midway down this page from his article.

Here’s a small excerpt:

“Most of the time when we talk about social media being bad for us we mean for our mental health. These platforms make us anxious, depressed, and insecure, and for many reasons: the constant social comparison; the superficiality and inauthenticity of it all; being ranked and rated by strangers. All this seems to make us miserable.

But I don’t just think it makes us miserable. I’ve written before about how it makes us bitchy. And self-absorbed. And over time I’m becoming convinced that our most pressing concern isn’t that social media makes us feel worse about ourselves. It’s that social media makes us worse people.

Social comparison, for example. This is one of the main problems people mention when talking about the harms of social media. Constantly comparing our beauty, our success, our lifestyle, our popularity, to infinite streams of other people makes us feel anxious and inadequate, yes. But I also think it makes us resentful. Bitter. Competitive. Quietly wishing for others to fail. We talk constantly about what like, follow and comment metrics do to our self-esteem—but don’t they also make us so shallow? We hate when people judge us by numbers on a screen, but aren’t we doing it all the time, to everyone else, even subconsciously? We talk endlessly about how editing apps and filters give girls and young women anxiety and body dysmorphia, which is important, but never about how they make us competitive, envious, vain. Sometimes it’s not my self-esteem I’m worried about. It’s who I become when I obsess over my profile and image and what everyone else is doing. Sometimes I lock my screen and don’t like who is looking back at me in its black reflection. …

We also complain, constantly, about how inauthentic everyone is, how people are always performing and how this fakeness makes us feel insecure and inferior. But what about being fake ourselves? It’s so easy to be dishonest now. We can so easily disguise our vanity as virtue. Here’s a post about Palestine where I’m posing! I’m standing up for conservative values—with a hot selfie of me at a protest! People on all sides pretend their platforms are about political causes and activism when really they just provide perfect opportunities to constantly talk about themselves. And to be rewarded for doing nothing! Now you can be showered with praise for that heartfelt tweet you typed about your mum on Mother’s Day when you didn’t bother to call her or write her a card. You can be applauded by strangers for that Instagram post about how much you love the daughter you don’t spend any time with and never really listen to. And even if we mean itI think sharing these things shreds them of sincerity. Now we feel a flicker of integrity and immediately publicise and monetise it until it’s dead. We enjoy validation from the fakest displays of virtue and then at the same time revel in the downfall of others; reserve so little faith and forgiveness for anyone else.”

His newsletter is well worth subscribing to, and everything he writes is worth reading, including his newest book The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness.

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