Behind the Curtain of Social Media

I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus Christ

The Social Dilemma is a recently released documentary-style film that offers a variety of insights.  Its core message is both powerful and relatable to anyone who uses technology on a daily basis. 

Various early executives and founders from some of the most successful tech companies today recount the beginning of the platforms they helped create (Google, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.).

The unanimous sentiment they share is that social media has a dangerous side that no one is talking about.

There are only two industries that call their customers “users”: illegal drugs and software.

Edward Tufte

Tim Kendall, former Facebook executive and Pinterest president, spoke to the addictive nature of social media saying “Even knowing what was going on behind the curtain, I still wasn’t able to control my usage.”  He goes further to explain that the dangers of social media are beyond just addiction. “It’s plain as day to me, these services are killing people and causing people to kill themselves.

I’m guessing that your initial reaction to this is something like this: I can see addiction, but killing people seems a little strong.

However, over the last few years many studies have proven a direct correlation between when social media became available on a mobile device to the steep rise in anxiety, depression and suicide in the United States, especially among teenagers and, today, even preteens.

_________

Alarming data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about the rise in self-harm among teenage girls since 2009:

  • Hospital admissions for self-harm have risen dramatically since 2009 for teenage girls.
  • In girls 15-19 years old, the rate has gone up 62%.
  • Among girls 10-14 years old, the rate has gone up 189%.

_________

Even more concerning is that in that same time period (2009-2020) suicide rates have risen 70% for girls 15-19 years old and 151% for girls 10-14 years old.

Generation Z is the first generation in history who got on social media in middle school.

Jonathan Haidt, New York Stern School of Business Psychologist

Jonathan Haidt, New Your Stern School of Business Psychologist shares insight into today’s teens:

“Generation Z is the first generation in history who got on social media in Middle School. How do they spend their time? They come home from school and get on their devices. The whole generation is more anxious, more fragile, more depressed. They are much less comfortable taking risks. The rates at which they get drivers licenses have been dropping. The number who have ever gone out on a date or had any kind of romantic interaction is dropping rapidly. This is a real change in a generation…and remember for everyone of these who is hospitalized, there is a family that is horrified asking “my God what is happening to our kids.”

As if all of this is not concerning enough, The Social Dilemma also proposes just how these companies are impacting the behavior of their users. 

If you are not paying for the product, you ARE the product.

Tristan Harris, former Google Design Ethicist

One of the observations is that our attention is the product being sold to advertisers. Jaron Lanier, American tech philosophy writer, proposes “That’s a little too simplistic. It’s the gradual, slight change in your own behavior and perception that is the product.”

Behind the social media curtain, complicated algorithms track everything about users to carefully curate personalized “feeds” that align with the goal of advertisers and special interests who pay for the user’s attention (not the user).

Beyond the reality of viewing users as the product, the overwhelming challenge of the internet is deciphering what is true. 

It has been said that fake news is six times
more likely to spread than real news.

Tristan Harris, former Google Design Ethicist, explained this challenge by saying, “If we don’t agree on what is truth or that there is such a thing as truth, we’re toast.  This is the problem beneath other problems because if we can’t agree on what’s true, we can’t navigate out of any of our problems.”

This is the heart of the challenge at large in American culture today, but specifically in the internet world. At the end of the day we have moved to a place where truth has become dependent upon our own feelings. 

Christian parents have several major take aways from this documentary to consider:

  • We must be thoughtful as we engage technology. 
    Whether it is considering when your child first gets a phone or a social media account, we must move beyond the standard set by our culture.  We must be willing to look different than other families. 
  • We must use every opportunity to train up our children in light of the Truth.  Our students desperately need to be reminded of what it means to base our lives on God’s truth. 

May we as Christian parents commit ourselves to creating different standards for technology that honor God and protect our children.  May we point our students to the person of Jesus Christ and help them to see truth in light of Him alone.

Doug Langhals
Doug Langhals,
HHCA Head of School

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