Social Media is a bad thing. The world is a worse place because of it. And you are more agitated, more vain, less patient, less present, less able to concentrate and less happy because of it. It’s crazy, but those statements are as unequivocal as they are true.
Yes, some good has come from social media. Movements of positive change have gained more attention; important causes have been progressed and people are able to connect with old and new friends in a way that is unprecedented. But, for all the good that social media can claim credit for, the bad outweighs and then breaks the scales. Social media echo chambers, wherein we only follow and listen to information and opinions that sync with ours (thus entrenching our ideas instead of challenging them), have deepened divisions, stifled debate and thus our ability to, unbiasedly, critically analyse the most substantial personal, political, moral and societal questions of our time. Cruelty online, including to those with different opinions to ours, has become the norm, and the world has become desensitised to behaviour, insults, and trolling that just ten years ago would have been considered truly shocking.
Can you remember a time in the last year where you said something to someone on social media that you would never even consider saying to their face? It is, after all, much easier to forget someone’s humanity when we are not speaking with them directly, but instead hurling insults at them through the separation and anonymity of a keyboard. Cyber bullying of kids has proliferated and been brought back from school. Home is no longer the haven that it once was. A teenager can be called ugly, stupid… worthless… when alone and surrounded by family at their own dinner table. It does not just have to be bullying. Girls, boys, men, women the world over are daily made to feel inferior by the beauty and glamour of influencers, every time they turn on their phone. And influencers the world over post doctored or heavily curated photos to give the impression of the perfect life that they wish they had, but in reality, are far from ever achieving. Social Media is cited in 20% of divorce cases. 30% of Tinder users are married.
Marriages that do not have influence from social media are 11% happier. It drowns out every life moment that we have to ourselves and erodes our ability to be patient or to concentrate. When was the last time you stood in a supermarket line, or sat on a train, just being present with youself, instead of reaching for your phone and flicking through TikTok? Because I believe that the quality of our mind is directly related to our ability to be happy, I believe that we as a species are more irritable and less happy because of the impatience and hunger for constant stimulation that social media has fostered. Impatience mounts. Concentration diminishes. Fake news spreads. Dictators rise. The ease of which unfiltered hate can proliferate has led to massacres happening the world over. On that basis alone, please, someone, put up a solid defence of social media? Explain how divorce, impatience, intolerance, division, bullying, insecurity, fake news and genocide are every worth it?
Do you remember a time, not that long ago, when there was always that one person that everyone talked about? “It’s so rude. Ben’s always on his phone the whole time that he’s talking to you”. Well, today, we’ve all become Ben. Our phones and social media buts into our time spent with loved ones. We check Instagram in the middle of conversations, while at the movies, while on the beach, while having dinner with our family. When was the last lengthy social interaction you had with someone, when at least one of you did not spend a significant amount of it on their phone fiddling with social media?
And all of this does not even consider the serious privacy concerns that social media creates. Relationship targeting (wherein smart phones will learn patterns of who you hang out with, and start targeting those people’s social media profiles with ads for the things that their algorithms know you want, so that your peers strike up real world conversations with you about those very things to prompt a purchase), retargeting (wherein products you’ve visited once will follow you around the internet), the studying of your daily online routines so that algorithms can learn your daily habits and optimise their ability to sell to you, the selling of your data so that firms can better understand you. Even your DNA is now for sale. DNA testing firms, having targeted you via social media with the promise of telling you about your family tree and ancestors, are flogging the core data of your being to pharmaceutical companies to help them better understand which products to invest in and which not. We are not the audience. We are the product.
I am a world respected marketeer. I run a successful international marketing and SEO agency called Go Up. And, aside from a very scarcely used Linkedin profile (which does not harbour most of the aforementioned issues) I do not use social media. Instead, when I am not working, I do the things that social media keeps you from: I have real interactions with those I love, face-to-face instead of just pressing a ‘heart’ button or writing a few emojis. I can’t believe that I’m having to say this, but face-to-face interactions are real connections. Digital messages are not. I go on walks in nature with my dog and other half, instead of sitting at home, staring vacantly at a screen (or worse still, walking in nature while staring at a screen).
I go to museums and galleries. Have you noticed how, these days, most people at museums don’t actually look at the exhibit? They simply take photos of it, viewing it through their screen, upload it to social media and then move on. How can you be moved by the Sistine Chapel ceiling, or the stillness and beauty of a forest, if your only lens for connecting with it is through your phone? I do yoga and meditate, to be present in the moment, instead of constantly distracting myself with a fake world. When I’m on a train, or line at the store, I stand and practice patience, instead of distracting myself with Instagram.
Switching off social media, for good and forever, may sound extreme. But it is not. It is sensible, and I wish it for everyone. The last time that you were truly happy was not when you were on social media. It was when you switched it off. And refound that space in your life that has been filled in, blanked out and stolen from you by social media. The last time you were happy was not the last time you took a photo of that perfect sunset, uploaded it to Instagram and received a dopamine hit from a few hundred ‘likes’ that came in. It the last time you looked at that perfect sunset and sat with it, no phone, no social media, just present, connected, and peaceful. It’s time to take back the most precious thing in your life, that sacred thing that social media has stolen from you: space.
You may think that a marketeer should be singing the praises of social media. But, I am not. I am a great believer in great content and great experiences. Search Engines have created a world in which the information that we seek is at our fingertips, and Google, unlike Facebook, TikTok or Instagram, has done a great job of making misinformation or harmful content hard to find. The very nature of a search engine means that it is only really providing information that someone is actively looking for, and there are sophisticated algorithms and an army of quality assessors to ensure that egregious information is buried. As such, search engines are a highly functional tool, and have created one giant filing cabinet for all the world’s information. Once you’ve found what you want, you can then put it away. Social Media marketing, however, is intrusive.
Unlike a search query, social ads are not invited in. So, instead, they must muscle their way into your life, crowding out your headspace with junk that you never asked to see and do not need. And, when targeting you is not working, it targets your friends your family, all to find a way to force you to do the thing it wants you to do: buy what they’re selling. More things. More junk that we weren’t ever looking for. Great. Just the answer to the climate crisis. Oh, and social media marketing is infinitely less successful as a marketing tool than search marketing. Because search marketing only puts your content in front of users that are actively looking for it, the engagement and conversion rates of search engine marketing can be eight times higher than on social media. I hear the argument: “You’re a search marketing professional. Of course you’re going to hate on social media!” No. If I had a penny for every time a client requested us run their social campaigns. Better yet, if I was paid to run those campaigns that we are asked to run… I’d be a much materially richer man than I am. We avoid it as a choice, in spite of the additional commercial success that would come our way were we not to make that choice.
As far as I can work out, there is no moral or economic justification for social media. And the downsides are not just negative. They are dangerous.
No ifs. No buts. No ‘digital detox’. No screen time limiting. Just switch it off. Now and for good. Your life will be so much richer as a result. Mine has, and infinitely so.
Could you take the plunge and turn off social media, for good?
By Edward Coram James
Edward Coram James is an internationally respected digital marketing professional and CEO of Go Up, a world renowned and multi award winning marketing agency with offices in London and Los Angeles.