Recently I challenged myself to do a 6 month detox from social media, in particular from Facebook and Instagram, which were the only two platforms I was active on. The reason I did this was that I started becoming aware of how deeply both of these platforms had their hooks in me. I would habitually and unconsciously check them multiple times an hour if my phone or laptop was near me, and I noticed that I had developed a constant background hum of anxiety, which I started to suspect was related to my social media usage. It was then that I watched a video on YouTube titled ‘quit social media‘, in which a Doctor named Cal Newport spoke about the exact anxiety I was experiencing, as well as mentioning many other issues around social media that I hadn’t fully considered.
He also spoke about the three main objections/excuses people have when it comes to detoxing, minimizing their usage, or even quitting social media, and he effectively exposes these objections as nonsense. The way he so effectively and intelligently addressed these objections really opened my eyes as I had been using these myself to justify my usage.
Objection number one is that social media is a fundamental technology to modern human life and therefore the modern person cannot function in today’s society without it. Number two is that it is vital to one’s success in today’s twenty first century economy, and without social media we would not have an online brand and would not have opportunities come our way in our chosen field of business. Number three is that “it is harmless, I don’t even use it that much and I might miss out on something if I’m not on it”.
The purpose of this particular article is to focus more on objection number three, and hopefully help the reader come to terms with what I realised after stepping away from social media – which is that social media is anything but harmless.
Before I get into the 9 reasons social media can be toxic however, I want to add a disclaimer that I do not believe social media is all negative. I have had many positive experiences from it, met amazing people, and even met some of my greatest mentors and teachers through social media. In truth, social media is just a platform and is not evil or bad in itself. Through my research and observations however I now firmly believe that certain social media (Facebook and Instagram in particular) were developed insidiously to be highly addictive and to exploit human vulnerabilities, and as a result I believe they are having a mostly toxic impact on society at large. This being the case, it is up to us, the users, to become more discerning, more knowledgeable, and more self aware so that we can use it for a positive purpose. Also, whilst I am focusing on Facebook and Instagram, because they were the platforms I have used, this article also refers to all other platforms such as snapchat, twitter, tinder etc.
1) It is highly addictive
This is the most obvious one, yet just as I was, most people are still in denial and believe themselves to be more in control of their social media usage than they actually are. In truth, social media controls them.
Ex founders of Facebook have even spoken publicly about how it was designed from the very beginning to trigger addictive mechanisms within the human nervous system.
Here is an extract from an article referencing ex Facebook founder Sean Parker.
‘Parker described how in the early days of Facebook people would tell him they weren’t on social media because they valued their real-life interactions.
“And I would say, ‘OK. You know, you will be,’” he said.
“I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying,” he added, pointing to “unintended consequences” that arise when a network grows to have more than 2 billion users.
“It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other. It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” he said.
He explained that when Facebook was being developed the objective was: “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” It was this mindset that led to the creation of features such as the “like” button that would give users “a little dopamine hit” to encourage them to upload more content.
“It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.’
These human vulnerabilities that social media has exploited not only includes the brains dopamine system, but also the body’s fight/flight mechanism, and the fact that we are tribal based mammals that instinctively crave a sense of connection and community. In terms of the dopamine system that Parker mentioned, this is our reward mechanism whereby the brain provides us with pleasurable hormones whenever we serve the body’s needs. In nature this would be primarily based around seeking food, water, warmth, shelter, rest, sex, touch, emotional connection, parental connection, and safety. Aside from these natural primal needs, this system can also be hijacked and stimulated by artificial methods. Social media platforms have achieved this very effectively as they tantalise us with the potential of receiving the connection and attention we so desperately (and often unconsciously) crave, and provide us with dopamine hits whenever we receive a like, comment, personal message or notification. The way this has been achieved on social media has actually been cleverly modeled on the way casino slot machines hook people in, which is based on a process psychologists refer to as ‘variable reinforcement schedules’. The fact that there are now billions of social media users demonstrates how effectively we have been lured in.
Here is an extract from an article explaining how this works.
‘Social media platforms are using the same techniques as gambling firms to create psychological dependencies and ingrain their products in the lives of their users, experts warn.
These methods are so effective they can activate similar mechanisms as cocaine in the brain, create psychological cravings and even invoke “phantom calls and notifications” where users sense the buzz of a smartphone, even when it isn’t really there.
“Facebook, Twitter and other companies use methods similar to the gambling industry to keep users on their sites,” said Natasha Schüll, the author of Addiction by Design, which reported how slot machines and other systems are designed to lock users into a cycle of addiction. “In the online economy, revenue is a function of continuous consumer attention – which is measured in clicks and time spent.”
Whether it’s Snapchat streaks, Facebook photo-scrolling, or playing CandyCrush, Schüll explained, you get drawn into “ludic loops” or repeated cycles of uncertainty, anticipation and feedback — and the rewards are just enough to keep you going.
“If you disengage, you get peppered with little messages or bonus offers to get your attention and pull you back in,” said Schüll. “We have to start recognising the costs of time spent on social media. It’s not just a game – it affects us financially, physically and emotionally.”
The pull-to-refresh and infinite scrolling mechanism on our news feeds are unnervingly similar to a slot machine, said Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist for Google who has been described as the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience.
“You pull a lever and immediately receive either an enticing reward (a match, a prize!) or nothing,” Harris wrote.
We cannot know when we will be rewarded, and more often than not we don’t find anything interesting or gratifying, much like gambling. But that’s precisely what keeps us coming back.
“The rewards are what psychologists refer to as variable reinforcement schedules and is the key to social media users repeatedly checking their screens,” said Dr Mark Griffiths, a professor of behavioural addiction and director of Nottingham Trent University’s International Gaming Research Unit.
“Social media sites are chock-a-block with unpredictable rewards. They are trying to grab users’ attentions … to make social media users create a routine and habitually check their screens.”
Like gambling, which physically alters the brain’s structure and makes people more susceptible to depression and anxiety, social media use has been linked to depression and its potential to have an adverse psychological impact on users cannot be overlooked or underestimated.’
On top of this, the human fight/flight mechanism has also been cleverly hijacked. For those who may not be familiar with this inbuilt bodily mechanism, it is basically the body’s instinctive reaction whenever danger is sensed. In a savanna or jungle with predators around, the flight/fight system floods the body with cortisol and adrenaline making us prepared to either defend or flee from a dangerous situation. Certain colours, such as the colour red, can activate this system too.
This is why traffic lights and and all important signs/buttons that require our attention are red, because this colour represents danger and gets our attention above all else. This is also why the notification alerts on Facebook are red. By using that colour our flight/fight mechanism is subtly activated each time we receive a notification, and we begin unconsciously associating these notifications as being “important” things that we must check regularly.
2) Creating a culture of narcissism
Oxford defines narcissism as an “excessive interest in or admiration of oneself and one’s physical appearance,” as well as displaying “selfishness, involving a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration.”
Does this not sum up the world of social media perfectly?
To figure out why this culture of social media has developed, we need to go back a few steps.
I am of the opinion that most children do not receive the amount of attention they truly need. Recently I watched an incredible documentary titled ‘Jane’, which documented the journey of Jane Goodall. Goodall was a courageous pioneer of her time as she went and lived with a community of Chimpanzees in Africa back in the 60’s and studied them for many decades. What she learned shown a whole new light on not only animals but also humans, as whilst we have a much greater intellect than Chimps (although that’s possibly arguable), our biology and primal nature is essentially very similar. What was interesting about this doco is that Jane observed carefully how Chimp mothers and parents raised their babies. She was surprised to observe that they were basically inseparable for the first few years, and that the child demanded an immense amount of physical touch and nurturing. She learned so much from watching the Chimp mother nurture her child in this way that she applied the same principles to her boy when she became a mother. This made me certain about something I had always intuitively sensed, which was that the modern child receives nowhere near the amount of physical touch and attention that they actually require on a primal/biological level. Especially in the first few years of their life. Often this is not even the parents direct fault for their attention is highly diverted and distracted. This is because unlike a Chimp mum who spends literally 24/7 with her child, and has no other major tasks to attend to other than picking fruits out of trees and finding shelter, human parents must also make a living in the matrix and navigate the many other stresses and distractions of modern life. As a result of this, many parents are forced to regularly place their children under the care of nannies, day cares, relatives, school, or distract them with a T.V., smartphone, or iPad.
In my opinion, the result of modern day parenting is that most people grow up not having received the full attention that their biology required, and therefore they naturally begin seeking it in other ways. Social media developers understand this and have successfully tapped into and exploited this human vulnerability. We must also remember that most of this is occurring on an unconscious level, and most people would never admit (to others or even to themselves) that they are attention starved for we also live in a shame-based culture that does not encourage emotional vulnerability. However as Carl Jung brilliantly explained, whatever we suppress into the shadow part of our psyche, always eventually projects itself outwardly in more destructive ways, and I believe we are witnessing a collective shadow projection on modern social media.
We must then consider, what will allow an attention starved person to receive the most attention on social media? We all know that the thing that gets attention above all else in western culture is sex. This is why social media platforms, in particular Instagram, have become basically pornified and highly narcissistic. Now please don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the naked human form and am of the strong opinion that our society needs to become much less prudish around nudity. For example, in many tribal cultures that have grown up with nudity normalised, seeing someone’s “private parts” is nothing to them as these areas of the body have not been sexualised and made “taboo”. Someone could be walking around letting it all hang out and no one would blink an eye lid. In our shame-based western culture however, these areas are indeed considered ‘taboo’, and even sinful, and therefore they become sexualised. Many attention starved social media users use this to their advantage by posting explicit photos that are not far of being considered as porn, because in our sexually distorted culture this is what gets people’s attention. If someone was doing this for art or for the genuine reason of challenging social taboos around nudity, then that is a different thing, however most people, if they were truly honest with themselves, are posting explicit photos simply because they crave attention and validation.
Other social media users then observe these pornified posts receiving attention and getting hundreds or thousands of likes and comments, and then think to themselves “that’s what I need to do to get attention and build my social media profile and get noticed”. This then spawns a widespread narcissistic, self obsessed and pornified culture on social media, which also breeds competitiveness and judgment as everyone is trying to outdo each other to receive the most attention. The level of sexual self-exploitation people are willing to go to to receive social media attention is nothing short of breathtaking, and I have seen people who have literally disfigured themselves through plastic surgery, botox, breast and bum implants, and applying a ridiculous amount of make up and photo shopping, just to achieve this goal. The scary thing is that this has become normalised and even celebrated.
3) Shortening attention span
There has been much talk about the attention span of today’s modern human. There are many statistics claiming it is as low as 6-8 seconds for the average person, and whilst the accuracy of these stats is certainly up for debate, there is no doubt in my mind that the attention span of the average person has been significantly impacted by social media.
Dr. Cal Newport explains why this is occurring, “social media tools are designed to be addictive. The actual designed desire use of these tools is that you fragment your attention as much as possible throughout your waking hours. But we have a growing amount of research which tells us, that if you spend large portions of your day in a state of fragmented attention – so large portions of your day where you’re constantly breaking up your attention whereby you take a quick glance at Facebook, and a quick glance at Instagram – this can permanently reduce your capacity for concentration, and if you lose your ability for concentration you’re going to become less and less relevant to this economy”.
I can speak from experience that detoxing from social media and allowing my nervous system to rewire has done absolute wonders for my ability to concentrate. I have read more books, done more research, filmed more videos, done more writing, made more money, and had more meaningful conversations and interactions than in any other period of my life.
4) Making us less social
Social media is sold to us as being a fun way to stay connected and make friends. Whilst there are cases where this is true, there are even more cases where the exact opposite is true. I have a friend who is a primary school teacher who told me that a big problem at her school is that some kids are spending so much time on social media and living behind their online persona, that they don’t know how to properly function in the real world and are experiencing severe social anxiety. Many adults who use social media learned how to build real relationships as they did not grow up with this technology. For a young kid who has grown up immersed in social media however, these crucial life skills may become very difficult to learn.
Authentic, open and honest interactions are what build true and lasting social networks, and yet social media interaction is rarely authentic as most people communicate behind their carefully constructed and contrived online persona. The observant person will understand that most people already do this in the real world to a slightly lesser extent in that we hide behind contrived social masks. For example, we might be feeling shitty, tired and depressed, and yet when we bump into someone on the street we activate our social mask and instead act happy, excitable and positive. In our shame-based culture it can take a long time for people to build deeper relationships beyond these social masks, and yet this is what what being truly social is all about. Social media makes this type of interaction all but impossible as it is a very rare person who interacts truly authentically through their digital persona. Social media allows us to contrive our public persona down to the most minute details, enabling us to filter, edit or photo-shop what we don’t life, thus giving us full control over the perceptions others have towards us. This level of control is too irresistible for most to not capitalise on, however it rarely builds true and authentic relationships and instead builds fake relationships whereby one contrived persona is interacting with another contrived persona, each seeking to control the perception the other has of them. Once again, for most people this is occurring on an unconscious ‘shadow’ level and they do not even realise it is happening.
5) Breeding anxiety and depression
Earlier in the article I spoke about the background hum of anxiety social media gave me. Here is how this is produced according to Dr. Cal Newport, he explains that “something I think we’re going to be hearing more about in the near future, is that there is a fundamental mismatch, between the way our brains are wired, and this behaviour of exposing yourself to stimuli with intermittent rewards throughout all of your waking hours. It’s one thing to spend a couple of hours at the slot machines of Las Vegas, but if you bring a slot machine with you and you pull that handle all day long from when you wake up to when you go to bed, we’re not wired for that. It short circuits the brain and we’re starting to find that it has actual cognitive consequences. One of them being this sort of pervasive background hum of anxiety. Now the canary in the coal mine for this are students from college campuses. If you talk to mental health experts from college campuses, they’ll tell you, that along with the rise of ubiquitous smart phone and social media use among the students, came an explosion of anxiety related disorders.”
The scary thing is that young children and teenagers are being exposed to this technology whilst their nervous systems are still developing, meaning that anxiety could be anchored into them on a permanent basis. I only began using social media when I was about 22 and it affected me deeply, but luckily I was able to detox it out of my neurology to a large extent. Someone who has been using it from the age of 10-16 however (or younger) may not be so lucky. In essence, it is like allowing our children to use a casino slot machine day after day after day and not expect there to be any negative consequences. Naturally these imbalances in the nervous system lead to chemical and hormonal balances and this can lead to a modern phenomenon known as ‘high anxiety’ and depression. Of course, the modern toxic diet and lack of fresh air, sunshine and exercise contribute to this greatly, but social media is playing a big part as well. Unfortunately, more often than not anxiety and depression is treated with drugs, which can then bring upon a host of new unwanted side effects.
6) Disconnecting us from the present moment
Like many people, I have found that the more I get out of my head where random streams of thought swirl uselessly around and around, and instead anchor my awareness into the present moment, connected with my body’s senses and my surroundings, I am MUCH happier and more grounded. Social media makes this all but impossible.
Rather than living life and enjoying life’s pleasures with full presence, most people are wondering how they can capture that moment and show it off to their friends through their insta or snapchat story. This means that they are very rarely experiencing and enjoying reality with full presence through the body’s senses, and are instead experiencing it through their smart phone camera and social media filters. What is disturbing is when people cannot even leave their phone in the car to enjoy a nice dinner or outing with friends without distractions. Everyone’s phones are normally on the table, displaying their intense reliance on these things in the same way a child can’t let go of their favourite blanket. It’s as if our lives have become so intertwined with social media and smart phones that we feel we can’t let go of them for a second, for they contain our entire identity.
When we use any technology we project our consciousness out of our normal bodily based reality, and into a digital reality. Most people are now spending nearly more of their waking hours in this digital reality, experiencing and interacting with life through their digital persona, and forgetting what it means to be human.
7) Breeding hateful keyboard warriors
Another thing that my primary school teacher friend told me was a big problem at her school was cyber bullying, however this not only occurs with children but also with adults. Cyber bullying occurs because when people are sitting behind a keyboard their empathy is switched off, meaning that they are willing to say things to other people online, whilst hiding behind a screen, that they never would say in person. It has been found that empathy is much more effectively triggered towards another person when we are in close contact with that person. My teacher friend has told me that one effective tactic to make a child cyber bully feel remorse is to place them in front of the victim. She says that without any exception, as soon as the bully sees first hand the hurt they have caused the other person, they begin crying and are deeply remorseful.
An article titled ‘The dark side of social media‘ explains explores this further; ‘She (neuro-scientist Baroness Greenfield) argues that today’s youth are developing in a world where relationships are increasingly formed online, which means we are less able to rehearse important social skills.
“Human beings love talking about themselves. Nature has developed body language so you can be sure that your interaction is reasonably secure, and you don’t make yourself vulnerable, through eye contact, gestures and pheromones,” Prof Greenfield told news.com.au.
But words — the primary means through which people interact on social media — make up only 10 per cent of the impact made when you meet someone.
“If you are not rehearsing those visual clues, you are going to be at a disadvantage,” Prof Greenfield said.
She said people were much more likely to insult others online because they didn’t have those cues.
“If someone says ‘I hate you’ to someone’s face, they may not say it again because the way it makes that person feel may be extremely hurtful, which can give the person who said it a physiological churning,” Prof Greenfield said. “Those constraints are not available on social networking. You don’t have that handbrake … That’s what I’m concerned about.””
In the adult world this also occurs, whereby people are constantly getting into arguments over topics they disagree on and saying spiteful things to each other they would never say in person.
8) Spreading propaganda, fear and disinformation
As social media has demanded more and more of our attention, news outlets have capitalised on this and now use social media to reach us. Many people tend to forget that news outlets are privately owned business’s and therefore to remain in business they must continue to demand our attention. This is why nearly all of the stories you see on the nightly news are based around fear, drama, and creating ‘heroes and villains’ as these are the tactics that ensure we tune in. A steady flow of positive and happy stories might make us feel good, but they won’t be too effective at grabbing our attention. News outlets are also well known to spread propaganda and disinformation and this is how the elites of the world shape our perceptions to suit their agendas. Normally you could simply choose to not watch the news or read the newspaper to protect your mind against these sinister influences, but now they can easily reach you through your smart phone and social media accounts.
9) Surveillance, data mining and tracking
This last one may come across as conspiratorial, and if you are judging it based on the true definition of the term conspiracy, which is “the activity of secretly planning with other people to do something bad or illegal”, then you are absolutely correct. As I have delved deeper down the rabbit hole in regards to what is truly happening on this planet, I have realised that a remarkably small volume of people control the direction of where human societies are going. Once this becomes accepted the question then arises, what is the agenda of these people and do they have humanity’s best interest at heart? The direct and simply conclusion I have come to is that their agenda is to control humanity, and therefore they certainly do not have humanity’s best interest at heart. One of the agendas they have for humanity is to tiptoe western countries into what is known as a ‘social crediting system‘ (SCS), which is already being implemented in China and is something straight from George Orwell’s 1984. Already there are people in China who are being blacklisted from being able to use public transport or buy airline tickets simply because they criticised their government on social media.
The elites of the world see themselves as far superior to the average person, and in many ways they see us sheep that need to be controlled and farmed so that our energy and creative talents are harvested to the best ability to suit those sitting comfortably at the top of the pyramid. They cannot control us through force for there are too many people on this planet, and so that is where technology comes in. The SCS is all about social control, and whilst China has been prepped to accept this system sooner than western countries, I am absolutely convinced that we are being prepped for it right now, and that social media plays a major role in this.
The producers of the British show ‘Black Mirror’ have clearly predicted this as well. In episode one of season three, titled ‘Nosedive’, they portray a world whereby technology and social media completely controls daily human interactions and human life. Literally everything everyone does is rated out of 5, and the collections of one’s ratings add up to produce their social credit score, and this score basically determines one’s standing in society and what one has access to. Human behaviour is already deeply affected by our conditioning received through the education system, Hollywood, and mainstream media, just to name a few, but once the SCS is implemented, everyone’s interactions will become excessively contrived and artificial as people will be seeking the highest rating (just as we already do on social media now). The elites will control these scales of ratings as well as the technology that provides the ratings, and through that they will control global human behaviour, creating a world of highly mechanical beings. Future generations who grow up in this system will simply not know any other way of existing and being rated for every interaction they have, every single day, will simply be considered normal. In my opinion, social media is preparing us for this as we speak by allowing us to become accustomed to presenting ourselves to the world in a way that will receive the highest validation, and being rated by our peers in the process.
The SCS also means the end of any little privacy that we have remaining, as literally every thing we do will be tracked and monitored. This of course is already occurring to a large extent as strict algorithms aimed at censoring/filtering any information on social media that exposes the elite’s agenda have already been implemented, with ‘political correctness’ becoming the new trend. However, it will soon become a way of life unless the level of public discernment towards these technologies increases greatly. Hopefully this article has helped achieve this to some extent.
There are two things I believe are the most important keys for the modern user of social media, they are discernment and intention. By discernment I simply mean that we apply a critical mind to the way we use these platforms. Like me, most people began using them thinking they were harmless and that there would be no unwanted consequences, which means we began using it with very little to no discernment. However, if you have read this article up to this point you no longer have the excuse of that ignorance, as we now know that great harms are indeed being done. In order to prevent this from happening further we must be able to discern with full honesty and transparency the effect social media is having on our individual lives. Are we addicted? To answer that, ask yourself whether you could have 6 months off without experiencing withdrawals, or even 3 months, 1 month, or 2 weeks for that matter? If you struggle to do this, or even struggle to have a single day away from social media, well I hate to break the bad news but you are probably addicted. As well we must apply discernment to the purpose of social media, and why it was created and the intention behind those who created it. Was it designed to be harmless or designed to hook us in? I think we now know the answer to that. Without asking these questions however we will never be able to gain control of our social media usage and it will instead control us. Rather than apply discernment, most people use it mechanically without much thinking at all.
Finally, what is our intention when we use social media? We must ask ourselves this every time we use it. Are we posting it to genuinely connect and to support or awaken others to new truths, or do we simply want attention and validation to compensate for childhood wounds? There is no right or wrong answer here, the most important thing is that we are honest with ourselves, for if we deceive ourselves then we will also deceive each other, and no true community can grow from that. And building a stronger community is what social media is actually meant to be about is it not?