November 12, 2022

Are we at a social media turning point?

Verna Benham Nov 9, 2022

It’s Election Day as I write, the great opportunity for Americans, in voting, to express their opinions about the direction of our democracy.

A “60 Minutes” program focused on two things: 1) the angry mood of Americans approaching this midterm election and 2) social media, whose platforms not only showcase anger but greatly magnify it. Facebook and Twitter may have been created with good intent, but profit motives have taken over.

We must recognize that what is good for a business model may conflict directly with good for the country. Media companies don’t ask, “How do we strengthen democracy?” but “How do we get more engagement?” They’ve learned how — the more outrageous, contemptuous and inflammatory the language used, the more it will be shared.

A Facebook representative defensively said, “It’s just reflecting the culture.”

Tristan Harrison, co-founder of Center for Humane Technology, said, “It’s not just reflecting; they’re supercharging 1,000 times the worst parts of ourselves — making billions by making us angry.”

Platforms are competitive: “If we don’t do this, we’re going to lose to platforms that do”

Social media has captured social participation, but the deepest perversion of it.

A social scientist commented, “Like, share and retweet features give anybody the ability to criticize anyone, any time, in a very short space — no need for evidence, no accountability. The far right and far left (7% or 8% each) are most likely to fire dart guns. Extremes have been handed the power to dominate. The moderate majority is either exhausted or intimidated. Highly intelligent, educated people go silent.”

It surprised me that the greatest increase in social media use is among people over 65. Perhaps oldsters use an abundance of time to explore the “anger arena,” but most everyone I know enjoys Facebook for contacting kids, grandkids and friends. However, everyone is affected.

“We are all downstream from social media impacting radio, TV, everything. Increasingly, journalism covers the latest outrageous exchange on Twitter.”

That’s frightening, given that there is no accountability for truth. Print journalism has relied on journalists’ commitment to dig deeply and impartially into matters of concern to provide reliably accurate information. Highly frustrating now are conflicting versions of truth about nearly every issue.

Harrison asks, “Have we ever lined up the most powerful artificial intelligence in the world, pointed it at your brain cells to show you the most enraging content on a daily basis, and the longer you scroll the more you get? We’ve never done that before.”

We’re seeing consequences in mass shooters who’ve spent hours absorbing vicious anger.

Harrison’s advice: “Refuse to be a gladiator. When public discourse moves into the Coliseum, disengage from it. You can be out of the Coliseum and still be active.”

A Wall Street Journal article, “TikTok’s Stratospheric Rise,” documented how, in five years, this Chinese import captured the interest of two-thirds of American teens. They love hours spent watching funny, quirky videos and creating videos that can earn them amazing amounts of money. It’s designed to be addictive — and is.

Adults worry that “It’s dazzling, and it’s frightening, this massive uncontrolled experiment to unleash the most powerful persuasive recommendation algorithms in the history of the world on brains not fully formed.”

Just what does China intend?

Mark Werner, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says, “TikTok scares the dickens out of me.”

Many fascinated with this new technology also mention an uneasiness that it could affect, even control us, in unpredictable and harmful ways. Silicon Valley parents strictly limit screentime for their young, and China has a totally different TikTok for its kids, with scientific experiments, educational and patriotic material, and limits use of the media to 40 minutes a day.

Algorithms that greatly encourage division, anger and violence certainly threaten our citizenry and American democracy. We’re aware that both China and Russia have been working to divide us for years. There is a growing concern for better control or elimination of elements (foreign or domestic) that are particularly harmful. Harrison thinks it will take legal action to impose restraints on powerful media companies (similar to previous dealings with tobacco companies).

Freedoms do need to be limited at times; but it is not easy to devise restraints, bumping against our treasured freedoms. We certainly don’t want the total control of expression employed by China and Russia; neither do we want left or right extremes to run roughshod over average Americans who desire peace and safety — and healthy content for their children.

Verna Benham, Kerrville resident, spent 20 years traveling the globe, as U.S. Foreign Service employee, then wife of foreign correspondent Joe Benham. She lived in Bolivia, Taiwan, Chile, Brazil and Argentina.


In my opinion, the citizens of the U.S./world are addicted, spend too much time, and are locked to their phones. Why do people walk around all day long with a phone in their hands and constantly reading it – in my eyes – you have a problem. Why not adjust your day and allocate just so much time to your phone. It makes me sad that people are so addicted to their phones end up missing out on other interactions with the world.

It seems that the people consider everything in world is “going crazy;” but, the fact they are glued to their phones IS NOT CRAZY?

Why can’t people change their perspective and put their phone in its proper place?



About kommonsentsjane

Enjoys sports and all kinds of music, especially dance music. Playing the keyboard and piano are favorites. Family and friends are very important.
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