This provocative question has been raised by Ben Maynard online at One Zero, as curated by Medium. Psychology has already identified excessive use of social media as a problem similar to bio-physiological addictions like narcotics and nicotine. (Think FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out.)
The book Zucked, by Roger McNamee, is a searing indictment of Facebook’s leaders Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, and their “profitability at all cost” business model, knowingly based on engineering the site’s algorithms to create an addictive dependence on Facebook and its other social media captures, Messenger and Instagram.
McNamee suggests that social media giants need to either be treated as monopolies and broken up or, at the very least, regulated.
Regulation of such a complex industry, however, is fraught with difficulty if it is built around the idea of censoring content.
What Maynard is proposing seems to me a much more feasible alternative: creating anti-social media messages that treat social media use like smoking and making it uncool. I guess we might call it a “cancer of the mind.” After all, smoking remains legal, yet it is also recognized as harmful. Maynard notes that social media have a good side but that they also are harmful, a point that McNamee’s book makes in chilling detail. Anti-smoking messages achieve maximum traction not because they emphasize negative physical harms but because smoking has become uncool. It’s really a psychological appeal.
I think Maynard’s on to something. Can we have a social media equivalent of a surgeon general’s warning?
Others are suggesting we all need to simply opt out of Facebook but I admit to enjoying the posts I see from my far-flung network of family members, friends, and a few Facebook groups I belong to, that I find both enjoyable and wholesome.
Here’s the link to Maynard’s article: