LARSON: A reversal of social media’s ubiquity can’t come soon enough

A headline caught my attention this past week, and it lifted my spirits. For the first time since its inception, Facebook lost average daily users late last year, and the time spent using the social media site dropped as well. It was slight, but it was a first, and a first in the right direction.

It’s not entirely unexpected. Mark Zuckerberg was unusually forthcoming recently in announcing changes to the digital behemoth’s algorithm that means less news and media and branding posts in your feed, and more original and organic content from friends and family. Kudos to Facebook for responding to new information and a changing social media landscape. I hope they will continue to work toward making social media a more manageable influence in most people’s lives.

I’m probably not alone when I say I have a love/hate relationship with social media. It’s about 30 percent love and 70 percent hate. I love the ability to post pictures of my new grandson, or a silly stunt or original music by my kids. I also love keeping in touch with faraway family, or sharing pictures of missing children in our community. But there’s a costly downside to social media that I’m not sure we’ve fully realized.

While it’s not specifically about social media use, new research from multiple studies has linked increased smartphone use to teen suicide. One of the more sobering studies came out of San Diego State University. U.S. teenagers who spend over three hours of daily device time were 35 percent more likely to have a suicide risk factor. Kids whose use exceeds five hours per day are 71 per cent more likely to become a suicide risk. While the study incriminated device usage, again not specifically social media use, the two are undoubtedly connected.

Two major Apple Inc. investors, Barry Rosenstein and Anne Sheehan, very publicly shared their concerns in an open letter to the company, stating “More than 10 years after the iPhone’s release, it is a cliche to point out the ubiquity of Apple’s devices among children and teenagers, as well as the attendant growth in social media by this group.” They went on to share their concerns about what devices and easily accessed social media is doing to our brains.

I have a very basic and underlying premise about social media. It’s not that it brings out the worst people. It just brings out the worst in people. Responding with immediacy directly to but outside the physical presence of someone else changes the dynamics. There’s a certain bravado or level of indulgence that comes with remote keystrokes that would rarely happen in an environment of actual eye contact or verbal exchange.

We’ve all felt the ickyness and futility observing a social media mob butchering someone who probably deserves only a mild rebuke or no rebuke at all. We’ve felt the dopamine rush of new likes or a smattering of favorable comments. You’ve likely been on the short end of post envy when the Barkdales are in Disneyland and you’re fighting a toe fungus.
Whatever political divides we had before social media have been accelerated and deepened since its inception. We utterly hate each other like we never have before. It’s not that hard to understand. Day in, day out, we’re served up opinions we agree with, by the boatload, and we’ve developed a sense of entitlement to not being challenged. Social media spoils us with a sense of importance that is entirely undeserved while ironically creating an environment of hostility that is completely unwarranted.

While I was happy to see Facebook use decline, I don’t want it to die, necessarily. I just want it — and other social media platforms — reduced from master to servant.

 

Associated Press award-winning columnist Neal Larson of Idaho Falls writes at www.neallarson.com. He is also the author of “Living in Spin.” He is a conservative talk show host on KID Newsradio 106.3 and 92.1, and also at www.kidnewsradio.com. “The Neal Larson Show” can be heard weekday mornings from 8:00 to 10:00. His email address is neal@590kid.com.