Jon Mays with beard

Imagine something that is incredibly unhealthy, yet it is prevalent in homes, on the streets, in bars and restaurants, even the workplace. People take breaks from work to do it, even though they may or may not know it is bad for them. People do it first thing in the morning, throughout the day and, sometimes, right before bed or even in bed before they fall asleep. We warn children to stay away.

It is so addicting that people must get their fix and feel uncomfortable without it. People are congratulated when they quit.

I’m talking about smoking right?

No.

I’m talking about social media.

Countless studies, particularly focused on young people, indicate high social media use causes depression, loneliness and anxiety. People can feel isolated without others granting them gratification through likes, shares and comments. Depression can take place if their interactions or posts don’t soothe their needs, or if they are ignored. There is anxiety through others attacking them, misinterpreting them or shunning them.

The controversy over Instagram kids is a prime example. We know it’s bad.

Too many rely on social media for information and how to think about things. Opinions are often blasted. Perceived slights are magnified. And piling on is considered fair game.

It is one of the most unhealthy things we do to our mental health.

Journalists who post their stories to spread awareness of their work are often targeted. Opinion writers who post their columns experience the same. Many act as if attacking someone’s life work is a completely normal thing. It’s even worse when people easily dive into harassment as if it was a warm pool.

I can handle criticism, even welcome it, but the method of commentary on social media is by default aggression. It can’t be healthy for those who originate the personal attacks either.

What’s sad about the current state of social media is it’s the same as the current state of our collective society. Many consider themselves at war with each other rather than being interesting in exchanging ideas and exploring philosophies.

It seemed to start out fun. On Facebook, people could throw virtual food or post on walls. On Twitter, people posted what they had for breakfast or talked about parties. You could connect with your high school friends.

No more. I’ll give an example. I wrote a relatively mild column last week about the need for San Mateo residents who haven’t gotten involved in the general plan process to do so. There are two groups who generally participate, pro-housing and self-described smart growthers. They have known points of view, but there are others out there who could also provide their input. That would be refreshing. More input is better, right? For using the term smart growthers and saying YIMBY or NIMBY “can be seen as pejoratives by some,” I was blasted on Twitter and told I insulted the YIMBYs by saying it “can be seen as pejoratives by some.” And then they fought with each other. OK, so I learned I could have used the term “self-described” and said NIMBY can be seen as a pejorative by some, and that YIMBY is a derivative of that term. But all that doesn’t matter, because people in this mindset see what they want to see and are looking for a fight. They want the retweets and the likes and the comments because it’s addicting and this horrid online place has become their ersatz version of community. Social media has changed them and, honestly, it’s not necessarily their fault.

Yet, it essentially proved my point that there needs to be more points of view represented in the general plan process. Some of the commenters had decent ideas on how that could happen, but that is lost when it’s delivered in an insult. And it reveals that some people see life as a war to be “won” rather than a life to be lived or a future community to envision. I do not choose to “win,” I choose to live in a better community, one that respects the viewpoints of others.

Not a possibility in today’s world of social media. There is a larger issue here, and that is the radicalization of small groups of all stripes on social media who carry those grudges into public planning processes and diminish the discourse. This is a problem to solve, and I hope new ideas emerge on how to get more cohesive, expansive and civil public input. But more importantly, I see a larger problem to solve and hope we can focus on the utility of social media while reducing the deleterious impact. Social media may not have the exact same health impacts as tobacco, but there is no doubt it has damaged our society. But is that damage permanent? That’s up to all of us.

Jon Mays is the editor in chief of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at jon@smdailyjournal.com. Follow Jon on Twitter @jonmays.

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(19) comments

wlydecker

Addiction? I'd say coffee and cars.

JustMike650

Jon - your article is the article of the century, thank you.

Tafhdyd

Jon,

Just a FYI tidbit. Before the Covid closures we were at a friends for a get-together. A neighbor or relative had a little tyke, year and a half or two at the most, at the party. I looked over and he was standing in front of the TV swiping the screen trying to get it to scroll to the next picture. I am not sure if it is the fault/cause of the parents or social media but for me that is indoctrinating them on the young side.

markolbert

Every tool has its pluses and minuses. For the "good" ones the pluses outweigh the minuses. I think it'd be hard to argue the pluses of wiring the world far outweigh the minuses...but those downsides are still there.

As a journalist I'm sure you appreciate that society has been through this before: when mass literacy appeared in the late 19th century, and the cost of publishing dropped enormously, newspapers and periodicals sprang up all over the place. They were a tremendous boon, and improved society enormously.

They also led to major problems, perhaps best epitomized by William Randolph Hearst purportedly starting the Spanish-American War with the way he covered the sinking of the USS Maine.

People had to learn just because you see information printed in a nice font on paper doesn't mean it necessarily bears any relationship to reality. That also sparked an effort to create standards of journalism, and publishing reputations, which, while not always followed, enabled readers to better assess how reliable a particular journal was. We learned that stuff published in the NY Times was more likely to be true/accurate than stuff published in the National Enquirer...even while we, collectively, kept reading both.

Today I think we're struggling with learning to "guard" against our built-in paranoiac tendencies being triggered even more continuously. Those are a critical survival tool in primitive conditions -- don't assume the nice, giant kitty wants to play with you because she probably just wants to eat you -- but they pose a danger in complex societies. Which are generally far safer than the primitive conditions they sprang from.

Fox News, and others, have made a fortune by learning how to press the paranoia button, repeatedly and surreptitiously, using visual imagery that bypasses the mental processing involved with reading a journal. They use an old formula: tell people what they fear may be true in a way that asserts it is true...even if the assertion is completely at odds with the real world data. Your viewers will eat it up and incorporate it into their world view. Because it's "confirming" something they already suspect.

That's the far more dangerous addiction, IMHO, than social media per se. As I like to remind folks of my age group who complain about "all those kids with their noses buried in their phones", those young people are likely more socially engaged than we ever were at their age. Technology has allowed them to expand their potential circle of contacts far beyond the folks you can physically run into.

Ray Fowler

Good morning , Mark

I feel we can agree that social media is an addiction, but In my view, your criticizing only one segment of the media is essentially drawing a line in the sand. Similar to the way the YIMBY and NIMBY supporters did when Jon commented on San Mateo's general plan in an earlier column. I think Jon was saying that such divisiveness can derail meaningful dialog, but I could be wrong.

I can also agree with you that some Fox News commentators present information in a way that fires up their audience who share the commentators conservative ideology. (As an aside, I have criticized Fox News commentary that does so in these pages more than once.) However, CNN and MSNBC do the same. You described what Fox News does in this way, "They use an old formula: tell people what they fear may be true in a way that asserts it is true... " The same can be said for CNN and MSNBC. Plus, outlets like CNN and MSNBC hide information that does not conform to their liberal agenda. Is an addiction to firebrands in the media more dangerous than an addiction to social media platforms? Maybe.

Let's not kid ourselves that addiction to social media is not harmful to our society... our culture... our country. "You think someone 80 is hopeless because they can't use an iPhone? Maybe the one who's hopeless is the one who can't stop using it." - Bill Maher

Tafhdyd

Ray,

You know that I don't like absolutes. "Plus, outlets like CNN and MSNBC hide information that does not conform to their liberal agenda." Let's be fair, Fox, Newsmax etc. do the same on the right. IMO Fox does ###, CNN does ### and both hide information... would have been a more inclusive or unifying way to put it.

Ray Fowler

Hey, buddy...

I think we view the issue of hiding info a little differently. I said, "... some Fox News commentators present information in a way that fires up their audience who share the commentators conservative ideology... However, CNN and MSNBC do the same" in support of their ideology.

While both brands probably give minimal coverage to news items that may conflict with their particular ideology, the left side clearly just ditches stories that don't conform to its agenda. Even if the argument can be made that both sides hide stories, the scale tips wildly and lopsidedly to the left.

After the election, Biden voters in seven swing states acknowledged that they had never heard of one or more of a series of stories that were either positive for Republicans or negative for Democrats. Some did not know that Donald Trump had received three nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. Now, you can hold a position that says the nominators were suspect or that Trump did not deserve the nominations. OK... but to be totally uninformed about it happening three times? Remember, the nominations (whether you agree with them or not) were for moving the peace process forward in the Middle East. That's kind of a big deal...

Some of those same Biden voters did not know that their VP candidate, Kamala Harris, was rated the most "left-wing senator in America." Then there's the story about the Hunter Biden investigation, his laptop, and ties to the CCP... just ditched by big tech and the MSM. I'm guessing that those same Biden voters who had no idea about the Nobel Prize, Kamala or Hunter stories were probably watching CNN and MSNBC.

Tafhdyd

Hello again Ray,

I have no doubts that people didn’t hear about the items you mentioned. Personally I had heard of them all and I don’t tune in Fox, Newsmax or OANN except for maybe a few minutes most days just to see their take on everyday stuff. I don’t waste time with Hannity or Carlson except for about five minutes now and then to see what Trump told them to say.

The questions I have are who was conducting the surveys? How were the questions framed? What were the control groups or questions? What sources of news did the respondents actually listen to or watch? Don’t forget that there is always ten percent that don’t get the word.

Somewhere along the line I ended up on the NRCC, NRA and Judicial Watch and a couple other right wing groups mailing lists so maybe that is how I hear about their one sided narrative. They send surveys every once in a while and the way they frame the questions there is no way a sensible person can answer them. They are just pieces of meat to attract their knuckle dragging base.

Side note. I suspect there are just as many on their side of the aisle that don’t know what is going on with the right wing leadership. About a year ago the regular MSM… ABC, CBS etc. was covering a Trump rally in Florida and they asked one of the silver hairs in a golf cart why they supported Trump and the answer was something like it was so nice to have an honest person in the WH. Naturally the reporter had to ask how they could reconcile that with the lies Trump had told. They almost had to call the paramedics, as he was gasping for air he said lies, what lies? When did Trump ever lie?

In closing I guess there are deniers on BOTH sides (in an effort to be civil and unify).

Ray Fowler

Aargh! We discussed "holes" in MSM coverage not too long ago. I couldn't find the info re: negative Dem stories not covered, so I looked around some more. Anyway... thanks for the debate... it builds character.

Going all the way back to Trump's first year, a Harvard study confirmed a liberal media bias. I'm OK with a bias either way... as long as we know it's there.

The election six months ago ratcheted up the "my guy is good, your guy is bad" rhetoric on both sides. And looking at the reportage over those six months, you really have to peel back layers of stories to get to core facts.

Here we go... The McLaughlin Group and Media Research Center complied data a couple of weeks after the election on the effect of omitted news stories.

Ray Fowler

Double aargh! That last comment was only about half of what I wanted to post. Sorry.

MRC will arch some eyebrows, but their data in this case is based on interviewing 1750 strictly Biden voters. The McLaughlin Group is better. I picked up most of the numbers from an article on the surveys at muckrack.com. MRC found:

45% of Biden voters didn't know about Hunter's woes.

35% didn't know about Tara Reade's allegations,

25% didn't know about Kamala being the most left-wing senator,

50% didn't know the US became a net exporter of oil in 2019, and

45% didn't know about the peace deal brokered in the Middle East in 2020.

You raised a very good point... were these folks even plugged into the media? Don't know, but when a third to a half of them don't know about major stories, I think it's safe to say those who do watch and listen are plugged into liberal MSM outlets.

The McLaughlin Group reported that 36% of Biden supporters did not know about the Biden connections to Chinese businesses, and that 4.6% of those same voters would not have voted for Joe if they had known. The conclusion pollsters then make is that if all the stories were know to voters, Trump wins.

Now, I don't have access to the actual surveys, and while I believe there is ample reason to believe the left "hides" a lot more than the right... anyone who says full disclosure by the left would have changed the outcome of the election is just speculating. I said the same when we kicked this topic around earlier. Why? Maybe those Democrats don't vote for Joe, but that doesn't mean they'd vote for Donald.

Tafhdyd

Ray,

I have some chores to do because it is at the 5 PM hour. I just put in negative news not covered by the media and came across A PEW research study that I quickly scanned and noticed at the end they give some links about how they did the study and what questions were asked, they have info back about 30 years which looked interesting to compare. I don't have time at the moment to crunch the numbers but here is the link if you want.

https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/10/28/americans-blame-unfair-news-coverage-on-media-outlets-not-the-journalists-who-work-for-them/

Ray Fowler

Tafhdyd...

Thanks for PEW Research article. I like their stuff generally better than someone like MRC. Wow... 80% of all Americans think the media is biased. What's interesting is that 90% of Republicans believe the media is biased, and the Harvard report found that 90% of the stories published by a couple of major MSM outlets were biased. Coinkydink?

Hmmm... I'm little skeptical about the finding that at least 80% of bias falls onto the organization's shoulders instead of individual journalists. I think the reporters play a bigger role than what that number suggests. That's just me.

I'm done for the day... please add to the thread if you feel so moved.

Luego, amigo

Tafhdyd

Ray,

Thanks for the update on the previous comment. I thought that maybe a link or something didn’t make it through cyberspace. It looked a little less detailed than usual. What I would be curious to know is if there is a similar survey dealing with the Republican side of things.

I know it is after the fact but what if some of the current info was available before the election. Like Gaetz alleged sex scandal, or MTG harassing AOC before she was elected and after being elected and her possible ties to the insurrectionists of Jan. 6th, or some of the other players. Would the right have changed their vote on some of them. If not, this country is in a lot more trouble than what is on the surface.

That is about it for this weary horse. I think he has had his share of pain for one day.

Terence Y

Mr. Olbert, unfortunately, the failing NYT has lost the credibility they previously earned. Nowadays, the NYT may actually be worse than the National Enquirer. BTW, you forgot to add how the NYT. CNN, MSDNC and other TDS-infected media happily bought into, or created every TDS-related hoax and conspiracy and happily spread it to their lemmings.

wlydecker

One reason conservative news outlets built a strong following was that the main news outlets, including the AP, were doing such a poor job. AP had a near monopoly on news after UPI became moribund. A good read on this is "Philip's Code: No News is Good News - to a Killer."

Dirk van Ulden

Mark - you had the nerve to post your slanted view on Nextdoor, a site that is supposed to be non-political but you ignored it. I am surprised, or maybe not, that your article wasn't yanked. Nextdoor is very left leaning and had me kicked me off. Who said this once that "I would not be a member of this club if it allowed members like me?" And please speak for yourself if you weren't socially engaged. Kids nowadays are scared to even look away from their 'device' and are by and large hopelessly uninformed about current events. their circle comprises anonymous characters whom they will never have substantive contact with.

DavidKristofferson

There is a recent well-thought-out article on this and related issues at https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/04/the-internet-doesnt-have-to-be-awful/618079/.

Ray Fowler

Hello, Dave

Haven't head from you in a while. I'll take a look at the article. Thanks.

Ray Fowler

Hey, Dave

Very, very good article. It clearly makes the point that "the-internet-doesnt-have-to-be-awful." While analogy is sometimes seen as a weak form of argument, I like the author's comparison to cleaning up the environment around a river. It's not just a matter of stopping a company from polluting the river. Ya gotta take into account all users (including the fish) to figure out a way to manage the river. So, in the same way, all participants using the internet must be represented and invested in the conversation.

Gosh... how do we get our arms around this issue? How do we get rid of the awfulness of "automated exploitation"?

Tocqueville praised our democracy, and our creation of associations that fostered camaraderie. Disagreement is OK... the question is how can we articulate a point of view without being disagreeable? Maybe te time to return to openness and civility is long overdue. I don't know enough about technology to advance a way to promote the kind of associations praised by Tocqueville, but looking at a way to fairly prioritize content may be a start.

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