[thsindex.org] “Students ponder The Social Dilemma”

At this very moment, as I sit at my desk and write this article, my phone is adjacent to my computer, sitting on the counter. I know that whenever I want, I can pick it up, and in a couple of seconds, click on an app and see what my friends are doing. After that, I can go see what celebrities are doing, then check if anyone followed me, then watch a video of a person cutting a banana-shaped cake. I feel the temptation to go down this path; I know that as soon as I do, I will be rewarded with a hit of dopamine. But, I know myself—I know if I start, I will want to keep scrolling, scrolling, and scrolling.

I wonder if this cycle is bad. I wonder if, maybe, life would be better without it. When I watched The Social Dilemma, a documentary on Netflix about the problems with social media, I became convinced that maybe this cycle is kind of bad, yet I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

The documentary consists primarily of interviews with tech insiders, social psychologists, and academics. Together, they make a compelling case that technology companies manipulate their users, but it was one simple statistic that a social psychologist cited that convinced me that there is a problem. The psychologist’s name is Johnathan Haidt, and he works for the NYU Stern School of Business. He explained that the number of teenage girls who were admitted to a hospital because they cut or otherwise harmed themselves “was pretty stable until around 2010-2011, and then it [began] going way up.” Since 2009, this number is up 62% for older teen girls and 189% for preteen girls. But this isn’t even the worst of the statistics. The number of older teen girls committing suicide is up 70% in the last decade and up 151% for preteen girls.

“Gen Z, those kids are the first generation in history that got on social media in middle school,” Haidt said. “A whole generation is more anxious, more fragile, more depressed.”

This is my generation he’s talking about. Me, my friends—we are the people who are supposed to be uniquely more anxious, fragile, and depressed than any past generation, and I’m sure a pandemic isn’t helping us with any of those. Yet the worst part is that we know what causes this widespread depression and anxiety. It doesn’t come out of thin air; it comes out of social media.

After watching the documentary, I knew that social media had affected me in ways that probably weren’t good, but I wanted to find out if I was alone or if the people around me—Haverford students—have had similar experiences with social media.

Over the course of a week, I interviewed five Haverford students, all Fourth Formers, about their social media use. Because of the small sample size, this article can’t speak for Haverford as a whole, or even the upper school students as a whole, but it does represent the true feelings of the students I spoke to—feelings that I hope will resonate with people throughout our community.

The first thing I noticed was the sheer amount of time spent on social media, especially TikTok.

“Basically, when I’m bored, I go on TikTok and just waste all my time,” Student A said (names have been changed to protect students’ identities). “I wish it was gone. I hate it so much. It’s so addicting,” he said in a kind-of-a-joke tone of voice. When I asked him if he was considering deleting TikTok, he said he wouldn’t because he’ll “probably just redownload it later on.”

It is for this reason that deleting social media seems like a near-impossible feat to many people, yet there was one student, Student B, who deleted both TikTok and Snapchat because of the high amount of time he spent on those platforms.

When Student B did this, he faced social repercussions. He kept in touch with his friends from his old school primarily through Snapchat, and the moment he deleted his account, he lost some connections with these friends.

“I can see why kids wouldn’t want to delete Snapchat ’cause that’s kind of how you keep your connections nowadays,” Student B said.

Student B was not alone in feeling like he was spending too much time on social media, but he was alone in thinking that deleting the apps would solve that problem.

As it turns out, most people who use social media feel like they have a hard time controlling their time on it. In The Social Dilemma, Tristan Harris, a computer scientist who left Google to start a nonprofit, tried to explain why we are so vulnerable to social media algorithms.

“Realistically speaking, you’re living inside of hardware, a brain, that is millions of years old,” Harris said. “And then there’s this screen, and on the opposite side of the screen, there are these thousands of engineers and supercomputers that have goals that are different than your goals. And so, who’s going to win in that game?”

Student C, a fourth former, said that he gets his work done on time and his social media usage is not a big problem, yet he still maintained that, at least on TikTok, “you watch it, and you just go, you keep going, and you can lose track.”

When you “lose track,” it doesn’t just happen—technology companies intentionally design platforms so that psychologically, it’s nearly impossible not to “lose track.”

The former president of Facebook, Sean Parker (you may know him from 2010’s The Social Network, played by Justin Timberlake), acknowledges that Facebook is “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” He says, “I think that the inventors—me, Mark [Zuckerberg], Kevin Systrom at Instagram—understood this consciously, and we did it anyway.”

“Exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology” is, contrary to what some people think, not a win-win situation. I talked to one Fourth Former, Student D, who said, “I’m getting that sweet, sweet dopamine rush from scrolling on that feed, and they’re just getting my personal data. It’s not bad.”

He said this with a fair bit of irony, but, often, this argument is not a joke. How often do you hear people say they don’t really care how much data tech companies have about them?

The problem with this argument is that it doesn’t represent the relationship that social media companies have with their users. These companies aren’t stalkers who pay for your “data” simply because they are interested in you.

“A lot of people have the misconception that it’s our data being sold. It’s not in Facebook’s business interest to give up the data,” said Sandy Parakilas, the former Operations Manager at Facebook. “They build models that predict our actions, and whoever has the best model wins.”

What results is that Facebook and other tech companies can predict what will keep us scrolling, watching, and liking. The Center for Humane Technology, the nonprofit that Tristan Harris co-founded, made an alarming analogy to describe how social media companies keep you engaged.

“Just like a tree is worth more as lumber and a whale is worth more dead than alive—in the attention extraction economy a human is worth more when we are depressed, outraged, polarized, and addicted,” Harris said.

Thus, it would make sense that social media algorithms recommend polarizing, unfactual content, thereby leading unsuspecting people to become entrenched in fake news.

Student D said that in middle school, he fell down a rabbit hole of polarizing content on social media. Content that, as he described it, “radicalizes people.”

“I would watch commentary YouTubers, and a lot of them at the time we’re really on the right side of the spectrum,” Student D said. “I would slowly dip farther to the right, more radical, worse, and worse until it got to the point where I realized where I was going, and I turned around.”

He would see content that was “blatantly anti-Semitic or racist” getting upwards of 50,000 likes, and he would see comments agreeing with the post.

“Before, I really didn’t think there were that many people who believed in this stuff, but then you see how many people like it,” Student D said. “It’s really weird to think that that many people believe that [antisemitic and racist content].”

Eventually, Student D realized the malice behind the content he was watching and managed to escape the rabbit hole, yet many people never get to this point—they descend further into the false content that social media platforms recommend to them, falsely believing they are finding the truth. So what did Student D do to get out of the rabbit hole and find the truth?

“I kind of just stepped back from social media in general and looked at the real world and observed that [the radical content] doesn’t make sense. Like, it’s stupid,” Student D said.

It was necessary to step back from social media for Student D to free himself from misinformation. For Student B, it was necessary to delete some social media accounts to limit the time he spent on his phone. I wonder whether the rest of us should follow in their footsteps, freeing ourselves from the constant advertising, misinformation, and addiction to social media.

I want to say yes. I want to declare, as I reach the end of this article, that everyone “get off of social media right now!” I want to remind you that our generation is more depressed than any other, that we are addicted, that we are polarized.

While all of this is true, it is also true that people will continue to use social media whether I like it or not, and they will do this because there are some truly positive sides to these platforms. And, in all honesty, I don’t plan on deleting my Instagram or Snapchat accounts in the near future either—the fear of being “left out” once I delete them is too great for me to seriously consider it.

I can’t tell you to delete your social media accounts (without being a hypocrite), but I will tell you to do something else: question social media. Question how meaningful it is. Question how it makes you feel.

Question everything.

Students ponder The Social Dilemma

Note: I’ve decided to revive this website — but I think I will have to rethink the approach. I’m not certain how I will configure it, and remain open to suggestions. This post is one example of many possibilities.

The author (“Joey Kauffman ’23”) does not provide any way of commenting at all, so I decided to comment here.

Joey, I quit reading your survey of students as soon as it became clear that you were not going to define you you refer to as “social media”. Without a clear definition, this is simply a complete waste of time. I hope you do it again, and please provide us with an update if you feel like it.

Thanks! 🙂


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[vickysventures.wordpress.com] “Stewarding Social Media”

Stewardship. Right off the bat my mind immediately jumps to finances. I think about tithes and budgets and numbers, the very things that bring up a great deal of anxiety within my heart. I want to fight against God’s commandments to be a good steward with my money because in my pride I want to take control. Consequently, when I think of stewardship the hair on the back of my neck stands on end in the same way that my cat bristles when I pet her for too long.

However, the Bible tells us to be stewards of more than just our money. 1 Corinthians 4:1-2 says,

“This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.”

Similarly, 1 Peter 4:10-11 says,

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

When I started to learn that I didn’t only need to learn how to be a good steward with my finances, but with all areas of my life my initial reaction was to bristle against the notion. But as I examined my own heart, and learned more about God’s Word, I started

to realize that stewardship is simply an opportunity to glorify God, whether that’s our finances, our time, our relationships, or our words.

So how does this apply to social media? Who would even think that social media is worth considering as something we should steward? I mean, what’s the big deal about posting a picture of your food, or a status about what you’re doing, or sharing a video that you think is funny? I would highly encourage you to read Colossians 3:11-17 and genuinely meditate on how God has called us to use our gifts, but verse 17 sums it up very well: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Everything. Do everything in the name of Jesus.

For many people, like my parents who travel a great deal, social media is a tool to connect with their various communities and family members from all over the world. Regardless of where they are, or where we are, we can all know that they are renovating their house and that they’re cute in the masks they wear to the grocery store. For others, like stay at home moms, it’s a tool to share tips and tricks on how to teach their kids at home, or to share in the struggles and joys of being a homemaker. And for others, like professional artists or entrepreneurs, it’s a beautiful platform to share their products and insights in their business journey.

Social media is an amazing tool, but even a hammer has the potential to hurt someone.

I am part of the millennial generation who weren’t entirely raised with social media. I remember when Facebook was created, and I remember a time before it. I didn’t get a smartphone until after I graduated from college and could afford it on my own, which also means I didn’t have things like Instagram or Snapchat until I was in my early 20s. I can see how social media pervaded my life, how I have become consumed by it, because I was self-aware enough before I started using it. I’m fortunate that I’m old enough to see how social media has changed the fabric of how we connect with others, and so I can, a little more objectively, adjust how I rely on it. I am by no means perfect, and I often catch myself caring too much about how many likes I get on a post. However, as I have learned the importance of stewardship in my life, I have adopted a few principles to use social media as a tool to build up rather than tear down, which I would like to share with you.

I. Be Intentional

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
(Philippians 4:8)

How often have you opened a social media app to check on something ‘real quick’ only to blink and then realize it’s been 30 minutes and you’ve just been scrolling the whole time and you still haven’t done what you intended to do? Yeah, I’m guilty of that, too. What’s crazy to me is that during that time that we are ‘mindlessly’ scrolling, we are

taking in information. We are absorbing, like the sponges that we are, everything that passes before our eyes. Maybe we don’t react to it all. We definitely don’t retain it all. But it is seeping into our mind, and therefore, also into our hearts (see Psalm 19:14 for some conviction about what we put into our hearts).

This is my nice way of telling myself (and you) that we need to exercise self-discipline. I think self-control is a fruit of the spirit that isn’t spoken about often enough. We like to talk about love, kindness, or peace because those are nice things. They make us feel warm and fuzzy. Self-control is hard. Oh man, it is so hard. Being disciplined takes work, it takes time, it is something we have to actively choose on a daily basis. And frankly, we don’t. We would rather hit snooze than get up right when the alarm goes off, and in the same way we would rather scroll than [insert your most disliked chore here].

So how do we make the change? The only way to break bad habits we have to set good intentions. We have the ability to make a choice. Sure, it’s easy to fall back into patterns, but the beauty of the brain is that it’s moldable. In the same way that we can retrain weak muscles by exercising, we can retrain the brain into good habits.

Recently (as in, within the last couple of years) smart phones have made it possible to set screen time limits, as well as app limits. Parents are familiar with the concept of limiting screen time for their children, but because of the addictive nature of technology, specifically of social media, I think it’s time that we adults start to hold ourselves accountable as well. I know that I want to set a good example for the younger generation, especially for my nieces and nephews who look up to me, and I don’t want them to see me waste away my life on my phone.

But intentionality isn’t limited to how much time we spend on social media, it’s also important to be intentional about what we put on social media. Which brings me to my second point:

II. Cultivate Joy

“Wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction. The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.”
(Proverbs 18:20-21 NLT)

Ok, so it’s time for a real talk. Call it a ‘come to Jesus meeting’, if you will. We, as humans, have an uncanny ability to use each other to make ourselves feel better. It’s as old as Adam blaming Eve for giving him the fruit. Our sinful nature leads us to hide in shame, just like Adam and Eve hid in the garden of Eden, and one way that we hide is by putting others down so that our failures aren’t as noticeable. And what we say about people has a great deal of power, whether we are talking about ourselves or others (see Ephesians 4:29 and James 3:1-12 to remember the power of the tongue). It takes intentionality, and I believe the grace of God as well, for us to break free from that habit. That’s why I say we have to cultivate joy. Cultivating something means we have to genuinely consider where we plant our seeds: what soil are we using, which direction is it facing, are we actively taking care of our plants. That’s the intentional part. But we also need God’s grace: the right amount of rain and sun, gentle winds instead of storms, all things that are out of our control.

In the western world I think this is especially difficult. We have an individualistic mindset rather than a community culture. What I mean by that is in the western world we tend to think about and strive for self-promotion. We encourage people to pursue their goals, we tell children that they can be whatever they want to be, and we’re constantly in the ‘pursuit of happiness’. The danger with this mentality is that we forget that we need others to make any of those things happen. If your dream is to become an actor you have to be able to work with other actors to tell a cohesive story, not to mention being willing to take direction. If you want to run a business, you have to work with your management team to make sure tasks are divided evenly and that everyone is working towards the same goal. But the problem with social media is that it’s the one place where you don’t have to work with anyone else. It’s all about you.

So, I ask the same question again, how do we make the change? Instead of making social media about ourselves why don’t we make it about others? What if, every time we posted something, we asked ourselves, how will this affect those who read or see this? Now I will make the disclaimer that your answer will be incredibly subjective. It depends on who your ‘friends’ are on Facebook or Snapchat, or who follows you on Instagram or Twitter. This is where it’s important for you to actively decide what type of tool you want your social media to be. The best way I know how to explain this is to demonstrate it with an example.

III. Be Honest

“Let all that you do be done in love.”
(1 Corinthians 16:14)

About a year ago I graduated from my master’s degree program and moved back to the Midwest. When I moved back and started to break out of the routines of academic life it felt like I lost my identity. If I wasn’t a student, if I didn’t have a goal, then who was I? That insecurity began to rear its head in how I used social media. I posted pictures or stories about what I was doing to make myself feel valuable. I tried to maintain the theme of my degrees in order to stay ‘connected’ to the people who had been my peers (my degrees are in Shakespeare, so that’s a hard theme to maintain from day to day). And then I started to notice that I was constantly checking my social media to see how many people reacted to my posts, what their reactions were, and my heart sunk every time I opened and didn’t have any new ‘likes’.

I began to feel convicted to stop posting. God showed me that I was using social media to validate myself rather than turning to Him and finding my identity in Him. I still used social media to see what others were doing, but I also started to follow different people, especially on Instagram, who inspired me. At first, I looked at travel bloggers to see beautiful landscapes, and interior design pages to develop my own personal style. Then a dear friend introduced me to the Enneagram and a few Instagram accounts that she followed. Their pages were filled with honesty, vulnerability, God’s word, and advice.

Even though many of them were using their social media for business purposes, they used their social media as a platform to speak truth, and they did so by being vulnerable.

As I began to process my own emotional and spiritual journey, I realized that’s how I wanted to use my social media, too. I chose my tool. I decided that, for me, social media would be a platform to share what was most important to me: my faith.

It’s important that we are actively choosing how we use this tool, and that we hold ourselves accountable to that choice. You may have seen those memes that compare expectation to reality floating around on the internet. Sometimes they’re funny (especially when it comes to baking failures). But I think there’s a deeper truth lying underneath those comparisons. We use social media to curate an image of ourselves, and when we do it’s easy to try to cover up our flaws and shortcomings. But when we are honest about who we are and where we’re at then we have the opportunity to give God glory because “[His] grace is sufficient for [us], for [His] power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Honesty to you might mean not using a filter when you want to cover up a blemish. It might mean sharing a piece of art that you don’t think is perfect but was something you made while worshiping the Lord. It might mean writing a post about how God has humbled you. Or maybe, honesty to you simply means being honest with yourself and realizing you need to take a step back from social media so that God can be your first focus.

I hope that these few suggestions and stories can help you consider what social media really means to you. Like I said before, I think it’s a beautiful tool, but I pray that we aren’t ignorant about its power. May we choose to use it in a manner that is pleasing to the Lord, not just today, but for all our days.

All Scripture is pulled from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

Hi Vicky 🙂

That’s a lot to read! Was it just as much to write? (LOL 😉 )

Could you do me a favor and tell me what you mean when you refer to “social media” — just a quick definition of the term would help me a lot. Thanks!

🙂 nmw


[2020-04-10 10:23 UTC]

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