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Americans Overwhelmingly Think Social Media Negatively Affects the Country

Social media platforms Twitter and Facebook are in the crosshairs this week after censoring the New York Post bombshell about alleged emails and texts pulled from Hunter Biden’s laptop.

However, Americans have been expressing discomfort with the rising role of social media in daily life for a while now. In mid-July, Pew Research released a survey showing that 64 percent of U.S. adults believe that social media negatively affects the way things are going in the country. Just 10 percent believe its impact is “mostly positive”:

At this moment, negative perceptions of social media are more concentrated among Republicans than Democrats. In May and June, right before this survey was taken, Twitter repeatedly attached warning labels to President Trump’s tweets. And though Republicans have held the presidency and Senate for the past four years, they have not levied meaningful constraints on Big Tech.

However, this is still a bipartisan issue. Only one out of four Democrats expressed a positive view of the impact of social media, though the reason behind this negative viewpoint might be vastly different than for Republicans. Some Democrats still hold Twitter and Facebook responsible for amplifying then-FBI Director Jim Comey’s further investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails in October 2016, and these platforms do not want to be accused of swinging the election for Trump again.

Nonetheless, they have learned that the best way to maximize the market share of our attention is to keep us agitated. Users take extreme positions in order to earn more likes and retweets, which then encourage more division and tribalism. Moderation doesn’t attract much attention.

The pandemic has kept us all cooped up in our homes much more than normal. Even though the social platforms have probably done more harm than good for years, we are more acutely aware of them now.

But there’s a wild difference between social media and real life. You see it all the time. Imagine yourself right now throwing a picnic in a park on a nice day. Everyone there is in a good mood. Are these same people spreading good vibes into the air also slinging mud at others online? It’s difficult to imagine that they are.

The weird thing is that all of us who are Very Online know that social media has ravaged our brains. There have been stories documenting it for years. “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix has raised awareness most recently. And yet we don’t log off.

Twitter went down for about an hour last night. It was blissful. Le’Veon Bell signed with the Chiefs during this time, and no one knew. The world kept on spinning. We should all untether ourselves from social media platforms as well as our phones.

There’s also the question about whether elected leaders ought to regulate these platforms. Even if they should, they don’t seem to care. Neither the Republicans nor Democrats have taken the initiative to pass meaningful legislation against Big Tech.

The writer Matthew Stoller made the case in a New York Times op/ed last year that Google and Facebook were siphoning off the money from journalism and had too much control over the flow of information. He concluded that they should be broken up:

“To save democracy and the free press, we must eliminate Google and Facebook’s control over the information commons. That means decentralizing these markets and splitting information utilities from one another so that search, mapping, YouTube and other Google subsidiaries are separate companies, and Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook once again compete. It also means barring or severely curtailing advertising on any of these platforms. Advertising revenue should once again flow to journalism and art. And people should pay directly for communications services, instead of paying indirectly by forgoing democracy.”

Breaking them up may leave individual components susceptible to crushing competition from tech firms in China and elsewhere, but Big Tech has a problem even if they stay together. The American people have applied steady pressure on Congress to address the problem of social media, and even Congress can’t ignore their constituents forever.

In the meantime, we should all try to be conscious of how much time we are giving these platforms and commit ourselves to taking some of it back.

Written by Ryan Glasspiegel

Ryan Glasspiegel grew up in Connecticut, graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison, and lives in Chicago. Before OutKick, he wrote for Sports Illustrated and The Big Lead. He enjoys expensive bourbon and cheap beer.

12 Comments

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  1. I think people are slowing coming to realize all this, but social media is very addicting and hard to get away from.

    I closed my twitter account about 6 months ago and I don’t miss it at all (outside of seeing Clay beat down the corona-bros in real time, but I’m fine just reading about it here 🙂 )

    I keep Facebook mainly so far away friends and family can see what my kids are up to. I don’t talk politics on it and either de-friend or instigate the ignore list for the people that can’t act right.

  2. Regulate it like a utility with fines/oversight for nefarious practices.

    People’s desire to portray their lives as something they’re not is what will keep fuelling social media.

    Also, it gives a voice to many that should remain silent on just about any topic.

    As I like to say; people would rather be right, than happy these days thanks to social media.

  3. “Nonetheless, they have learned that the best way to maximize the market share of our attention is to keep us agitated. Users take extreme positions in order to earn more likes and retweets, which then encourage more division and tribalism. Moderation doesn’t attract much attention” Wisest statements I’ve read on the site today, nicely done Ryan.

    If Trump wins (I hope), he will eliminate their protection (section 230).

  4. “NEGATIVELY AFFECTS THE COUNTRY”? No, no…wrong. Social media is ACTIVELY working to tear down the country. The question does not go far enough. Its like asking if smoking a pack of cigarettes a day cost too much money. We have a culture that has been in a car accident that resulted in multiple broken bones and we walk up to the person to give them a band aid for the cut on their knee. Terror is most dangerous when it does not look like terror. Flashy web sites, educated writers and influence at the highest positions in entertainment are masking the new threat to America right in front of our eyes. ESPN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, NBC, Disney are all complicit in working with powers like China to overthrow America. The puppets we see on the NBA court, rapping or singing on the radio are ignorant, uneducated or possibly plain evil in being a part of it. They have put their gold ahead of the truth and would sooner see the world burn and keep their mansion than to do what is right for people of any color, ethnicity or religion. Not calling to take up arms or anything; but speak up and openly disagree with the BLM BS and others.

  5. Instead of breaking them up, make them a publisher so we can sue the crap out of them. If someone posts something false or tries to destroy someone, being a publisher would allow us to sue Twitter, Fackbook, etc. for publishing false crap. If we can sue them losing money will straighten them out.

    Breaking them up will benefit them (FB and google). I think they want to be broken up. If they get broken up, you will have for example google search, google cloud services, etc (instead of just1 entity) as there own entity. This will make them larger and more money and shareholders will make even more money.

    BTW there is a competitor to Twitter it’s called Parler. If you want to make a stand and hate Twitter GET OFF IT. if you feel like you can’t live without stupid being on social media, remove Twitter and go to its competitor like Parler.

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