Human Psychology “Hacked” by Social Media

By Terri Klein

November 11, 2020

So often in life we are dealing with the daily emergencies. We get stuck responding to problems, that oftentimes present themselves one after the other. We seem to be good at finding solutions and fixing things, but fixing the individual problems only offers a kind of band aid solution to treat the symptoms. What if we could change that model and get to the root
cause and fix the systems that are causing the problems themselves? This has been at the top of my mind for years.

Our children are suffering with record levels of anxiety and depression. Self-harm and suicide rates have never been higher. Our children spend most of their time at school, yet our schools refuse to prioritize emotional health and well-being. The educational system is not changing enough to meet the needs of our changing world. Rather than reinventing the curriculum itself, we spend inordinate amounts of time and energy dealing with the consequences of our children’s emotional instability.

And it’s not just our children that our systems are failing, it’s everyone. So many people are suffering, feeling stuck, and emotionally exhausted. They are struggling to navigate their way through life’s many chapters and challenges. Like education, many other systems are not questioning their broken parts and are also neglecting to prioritize mental health.

Now, during this global pandemic, thankfully there has also been a global awakening towards prioritizing one’s emotional life. More people are exploring the root causes of suffering and are seeking ways to transform—both people and systems.

Tristan Harris, who has been referred to by The Atlantic Magazine as the “closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience,” is one of those phenomenal people. He has made this exploration his raison d’etre. Tristan was featured in The Social Dilemma, the new Netflix documentary that thankfully everyone is talking about, and he is also the co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology.

What made The Social Dilemma so extraordinary was that it featured interviews with many of the big behavior change geniuses who helped develop the platforms and build the products that they are NOW calling out. These tech experts have awakened to a shared truth—that we are now ten years into a mind warp that continues to cast its evil spell on all who succumb to it.

The tragedy of social media is clear: Every interaction you have on it involves attention manipulation. The goal of every company like Google, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook is to increase your screen time in order to monetize. Social media is a drug that has become an addiction for so many of us. But the biggest problem lies with the younger
generation who use it to seek validation and worthiness. According to Tristan, social media is a “digital pacifier” that is destroying the mental health of our teenagers.

How, you wonder? Please read the following quotes carefully and you will see the power the social media platforms have over our lives.

What exactly is being sold? We are.

“We’re the product. Our attention is the product being sold to advertisers.”

~Justin Rosenstein, former engineer Facebook and Google, co-founder of Asana‍

“It’s the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behaviour and perception that is the product.”

~Jaron Lainer, founding father of Virtual Reality Computer Scientist‍

What exactly is being manipulated? We are.

“We’ve created a world in which online connection has become primary. Especially for younger generations. And yet, in that world, anytime two people connect, the only way it’s financed is through a sneaky third person who’s paying to manipulate those two people. So, we’ve created an entire global generation of people who were raised within a context where the very meaning of communication, the very meaning of culture, is manipulation.”

~Jaron Lainer

“It is evil. Because of this competition for attention, the companies started getting really aggressive about what they could dangle in front of your nervous system to get you to come back…It’s like a digital drug lord.”

~Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google and co-founder of the Center for Humane

“We will see completely different realities based on what the algorithms will say—this is the thing that is likely to keep you here…What that did was take the shared reality we have, put it through a paper shredder and gave each of us a micro-reality.”

~Tristan Harris

What exactly is at stake here? Everyone’s Mental Health.

“We’re training and conditioning a whole new generation of people that when we are uncomfortable or lonely or uncertain or afraid, we have a digital pacifier for ourselves. That is kind of atrophying our own ability to deal with that.”

~Tristan Harris

“When we were making the like button, our entire motivation was ‘can we spread positivity and love in the world?’ The idea that fast forward to today and teens would be getting depressed when they don’t have enough likes or it could be leading to political polarization was nowhere on our radar.”

~Justin Rosenstein

“It’s destroyed the mental health of our teenagers, it’s polarized our societies, it’s addicted each of us, and it has really warped our psyche…Our natural psyche is now fractured against itself…We are ten years into this mind warp where we have been fed an individualized reality.”

~Tristan Harris

At last, a root cause gets exposed. These social media platforms that consume ours and our children’s lives are a huge contributing factor in our current mental health crisis.

Although technology is proving to be our lifeline during this unprecedented COVID time, we also have to be aware of the consequences of improper use of the social media platforms. I strongly encourage you to watch The Social Dilemma documentary and help to make this invisible threat far more visible.

Initiate conversations with your children; listen to them. Make sure they feel seen, heard, and understood. It’s not about control, it’s about understanding and co-creating change together as a team—as families and schools, as communities and cities. This is how movements expand and systems get disrupted and replaced with healthier ones.

We have a duty to do so, for “as long as social media companies profit from outrage, confusion, addiction, and depression, our well-being and democracy will continue to be at risk” (the Center for Humane Technology). This is a movement that requires a collective conscious effort, one that will support our mental health, that of our loved ones, and all future generations.

Sincerely,

Terri Klein

Resources:

  1. Netflix Documentary – The Social Dilemma
  2. Website – Center for Humane Technology (humanetech.com)
  3. Podcast from the Center for Humane Technology – Your Undivided Attention

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