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  • Writer's pictureAnders Åslund

Social Media Will Kill Us All

Fair warning: I’m going to come off as a grumpy boomer in this post. I don’t really hate social media. I just think it’s more complicated than good or bad. Hear me out.

I work with social media as part of my day job. I work for a university, and among my chores is creating content for our various accounts. Sometimes it’s fun and easy, sometimes it’s less rewarding and almost impossible to do without making someone angry. The main purpose for our social media presence is of course to attract new students and colleagues, as well as “customer relations,” as it were.

Social media, good or bad?

I had a chance to talk a little bit about social media with some students today, and I found their reactions to what I said interesting. The phenomenon has been around for less than two decades now, at least in its present form, and I doubt anything has taken such a deep hold so quickly before, with the possible exception of radio and television.

The students expressed surprise that I was on the fence about social media’s positive or negative impacts in the world. On a personal level, I tend toward negative, because I think the world looks the way it does today partly because of social media. On a professional level, I’m slightly more positive, mainly because it’s a cheap, effective way of getting a lot of people to see us strut our stuff.

Social divides and ethics

Ethically though... I’m really uncomfortable with how these communication channels have developed. They started out as tools for socialising across borders and genders and socio-economic demographics–and I know there are millions of people who have been empowered thanks to social media. Millions have found a way to connect, strengthen their views and skills, and build communities of like-minded people. But millions have also been used as pawns in an information war, duped by desinformation, and backed into a corner where they feel so invested in their own delusions that they might never be able to get out of it.

The divide that social media has created in societies around the world makes me think that maybe it wasn’t such a great idea after all.

See, the reason why I’m this grumpy about it is that the lessons of the 20th century seem to have gone in one ear and out the other, and here we are, once again deifying proto-fascist ideologues, applauding offensive behavior, and cheering for leaders who are openly unpleasant and chauvinistic.

The allure of the strongman

I read a book recently called On Tyranny, by Timothy Snyder, author and historian. It is a terrifying read, because in it, he lays out the path towards freely accepting authoritarianism and tyranny. And we’re already walking the path. Some have gone farther down it than others, but we see the tendencies everywhere. At the first hint of difficulty, humans regress into a flock of animals cowering behind the strongest male of the group.

Do I really want to be a part of something that actively promotes this? I kind of have to. An indie writer without social media... I don’t even know how that would work.

So while we have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, and all the others to thank for a lot of things, we need to be careful. And be ready to dump them if things don’t change for the better.

Incidentally, my upcoming novel, The Challenger, deals with this theme a fair bit: the rise of authoritarianism and how easy it is to pick democracy apart, piece by piece, without people noticing. It was inspired by world events in the past decade, and I really hope that it will provide food for thought for young readers.

Enough grumpy griping. I’ll be more cheerful next time.

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