Yesterday, I wrote of the possibility of regulating social media. The host first suggested such regulation on Thursday’s show and I added to his arguments by pointing to an article that discusses the addictive nature of social media. The article was to my thinking a bit histrionic, but it did make a great case for a feedback loop in social media that conditions a behavior rather than promotes thought. Essentially one is rewarded with “Likes” and notifications given to some online utterance, encouraging one to utter more. Often, due to the extreme democratization of social media, and the self-selected, limited audience of any utterance made thereon, such utterances can be baseless, misinformed, or even evil and still receive some rewarding feedback because there is always someone out there willing to agree with you.
I raised questions about how to regulate the medium without trampling on the free expression of ideas, but was unable to answer them. I suggested there was something deeper at play and would like to address that in this post. I’ll start with Jim Geraghty’s “Morning Jolt” of Friday. In it he addresses other recent times of great social upheaval and concluded:
It’s not surprising that “The X-Files” was a hit and Art Bell was a sensation on radio during those years, because the nightly news was turning twisted and weird and disturbing. Jeffrey Dahmer ate people. That old football star who was in wacky comedies was charged with murdering two people. A Long Island teenager shot her married lover’s wife, and turned into some sort of weird celebrity. A rivalry between Olympic figure skating stars turned violent.
When things are bad, and weird, and ominous, it helps to remember . . . we’ve been though variations of this before, and managed to pull through. We’ll get through this, too.
I agree, things often have a way of working out, which is one of the reasons regulation can be so problematic. Enacted to deal with temporary problems regulations become permanent fixtures. Regulation that makes sense in the moment becomes only burdensome when things once again normalize.
If you think about it, the real problem here is that people think a “Like” is worth something. Yes it’s affirming, but when the chips are down can you spend it? Will it come and bail you out of jail? Will a “Like” bring you chicken soup when you have the flu? It is a fairly worthless currency and I have to think that at some point people will figure that out. But things go even deeper than that.
Consider Proverbs 10:19, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.” This bit of wisdom from King Solomon would indicate that the sheer volume of words social media generates is a huge part of the problem. I think everybody on social media knows that. For everything you do pay attention to, how much is there that you ignore? At some point, people are going to figure out that for every “Like” they receive there are several multiples that just keep moving.
Everybody knows the adage, alternately attributed to Lincoln and Twain, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” Did you know it has Biblical origins? “Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.” This implies that people are quite literally making fools of themselves on social media, not unlike people addicted to substances of some sort. And like those addicted to substances, they will eventually “hit bottom.”
The Apostle James said, “ If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” Social media is addictive because it feeds a thirst, in some ways the same thirst religion feeds. Yet here is one of those that served Christ closely pointing out that a loose tongue, which I think we can all admit is the hallmark of social media, leads to worthless religion. People are getting feedback from social media but they are not getting what they really need or actually want. Turning to Proverbs again, we learn that silence is one of the keys to getting along, “He who despises his neighbor lacks sense, But a man of understanding keeps silent.” I have seen social media break far too many relationships; I bet you have too.
There is a bottom to all of this and we will reach it. Just as alcohol is heavily regulated and yet there are many alcoholics around the country, no regulation will in the end fix this problem. That does not mean issues of national security should not be addressed, but it does mean that the issue at root of the problems created in our society by social media is not one that can be addressed by regulation. Until we “hit bottom” and lay this at the feet of our Higher Power, this will not get appreciably better.