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Part one: The toxic state of social media

Zlatko Najdenovski


November 4, 2021

Before I begin this writing, let me say the following:

Get out of Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok, and Snapchat! Close your accounts, and never turn back!

People who are familiar with my character know me as calm and composed. And I still am. These words are not uttered in an emotional outburst but spoken out with full awareness. Because the damage done is too large to compromise and rationalise.

Good. Now that I cleared that out, in this blog post I‘ll address the problems of the current state of social media, and in the next two, I‘ll reveal solutions that comply with the current state of human awareness.

You are the product

Countless articles are written and talks given that point out the bitter truth: You are the product! By using Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, it‘s your identity with all your intimate data that‘s being sold to advertisers. And I‘m sure you already know that, so there is no point in stating the obvious. But do you know how it has come to that? There is a faulty business model at stake.

Do you know that you are worth $31 per month to Facebook, $5 to Instagram, and $47 to TikTok? Now, ask yourself? Would you pay $31 per month to use Facebook, 5$ to use Instagram, and $47 to use TikTok? How about all of them combined? Do I hear a no?

These companies know that most of their members won‘t subscribe to such a monthly sum, which is why they can‘t switch to being a paid social medium. They‘ll simply go bankrupt.

To support a business model based on ads and maximise return on investment, these companies must keep finding ways to capture and fragment your attention, so that you spend as much time as possible on their platforms. More time spent equals more value because that value gets translated into profit when sold to advertisers. This is no secret, and it couldn‘t be said more loud and clear than during the senate hearing when Marc famously exclaimed, Senator, we run ads.

I‘m not against making a profit. I‘m in favour of it. That‘s the whole point of running a business. But at what cost?

Features destructive to our mental health

Those Instagram stories… cool right? No, not cool. That Facebook like? Obsolete. That “Add as a friend” button? Enticing, but it doesn‘t equate to the semantics it implies. Followers? It‘s just a number. The indicator that shows you are online? Provokes urgency. Those Snapchat streaks? Dangerously addictive. And that AI-controlled Newsfeed? Destructive to our mental health and our entire perception of social reality.

We think these features are designed to make the platform look cooler and be more entertaining, but we are wrong. They are business features to help maximise engagement rate, at the cost of our well-being.

Have you noticed how hard it is not to check out the new stories your friends on Instagram just posted? You know they are going to disappear within 24 hours, so it triggers your FOMO. Have you also noticed how bad you feel when you get fewer likes on a Facebook status you believe you deserved more? It triggers your need for social validation. Have you also noticed that on days where your feed is full of contradictive and angry content, you end up scrolling more than on previous days where your feed serves you calmer and saner information? That‘s not by mistake, but by design, constructed by an AI algorithm that favours emotional reactions and more time spent on the platform. Have you also noticed that clicking a video on Facebook doesn‘t pause it (like on every other video platform), but maximizes the video screen? That‘s such a deceptive pattern. I can go on and on, as these triggers are countless. Some even bypass the conscious mind and trigger us on an unconscious level.

We‘ve been using a broken social media model where our psyche has degraded to dangerous levels, our attention span has been reduced to less than a goldfish, and the pillars of our democracy have been shaken, multiple times.

Do you want to live in such a world? Do you want your children to grow in such a future?

A wee bit of history

I believe that in the very beginning, Facebook didn‘t have malevolent intentions. It started naively, as a platform to share photos of our dearest and nearest, to our dearest and nearest. And to this day, I still believe that the people behind the product are benevolent humans. It‘s just the product that has been rotting for too long, and at this point, they can‘t help themselves. The Frankenstein is already out.

Instagram too. It began as a niche community for photographers, and it was fun. But the party was broken soon enough when Facebook purchased Instagram and injected all their deceptive engagement tactics. It was a decision based on the realisation that Facebook‘s users are getting old and less engaged. So, they needed to buy Instagram in order to keep growing. And that‘s where the party music was dialled up to an unbearable rhythm, and Instagram‘s original community and sense of belonging was lost.

As for TikTok, it‘s a different story. There was no benevolent reason. They are being malevolent right from the start, using all the dark spells from the digital grimoires, building a platform with hyper-inflated modes of gratification that hook you instantly, in return for your constant attention, leaving you sleepless, emotionally drained, and sometimes even contemplating suicidal thoughts.

Declaring moral bankruptcy

It‘s clear by now that, nowadays depression and anxiety is to a great extent a byproduct of relentlessly using these broken social media spaces. And the addiction created by them is as close to a chemical substance that almost passes the blood-brain barrier. Luckily it cannot.

Still, the damage is enormous. And as long as the same business model is applied to current or new social media, we cannot expect any better consequences. Therefore, it‘s time for the social media behemoths to declare moral bankruptcy. But they won‘t. They‘ll simply mutate and slowly disintegrate. Because the current state of social media is incoherent with the current state of rising human awareness.

What‘s next?

Even though my entire writing is pretty much accusatory, it‘s necessary because it serves as a preparation for the next ones. So, in the second writing, I explain how community building startups can transition us to a healthier online social interaction, and in the third writing I‘ll reveal an ideal state of social medium that fully supports the current growth of human awareness, human needs, and human values. Because social media is not inherently bad. It‘s only the current paradigm that makes it corrupt. It‘s time for a new paradigm.