Social Media Erodes Social Trust
In 2011, while sitting in a restaurant conversing with a group, I mentioned something that launched the young couple across from me into an internet phone search. I thought their antics a humorous millennial idiosyncrasy and joked, “Are you checking what I'm saying?” Everyone laughed, but this topic became the conversation’s focus for the next hour as others also noticed this trend.
In 2016, I chatted online with a guy, trying to explain something about web pages and the number of links per page. Mind you, this was not a customer but someone I helped after asked advice. Referring to the number of links on the page, I said, “Your web pages have a high link density.” Saying this instigated his Googling my discussion, which he mistook for "keyword density," which was not what I was talking about, and he proceeded to call me an idiot. Perhaps poor phrasing led to this miscommunication, but had he listened instead of Googling, he would have understood my point and how filling web pages with links made his website a spam farm. Since 2011, many similar incidents commonly occurred but no longer held any humor.
After an illness in 2018, I closed my web development business, and despite losing money, I felt relief. I will never build a website for anyone again unless for a friend, and even then, I will only help if not questioned. Sadly, work inspired only some of my frustration as many casual engagements also diminished desire to meet, work, or associate with new people since no one seemed to listen and questioned every answer using the internet.
The stupidity of this behavior is astounding.
The guy asking why search engines did not index his web pages, overtime, became an ever increasing annoyance of people requesting help while simultaneously verifying my answers with the internet. In most instances, this behavior appeared as a harmless curiosity, but innocent or not, the web search drives a wedge between people because they can't research and discuss a topic simultaneously. In many instances, this behavior becomes offensive since they are not listening, and by looking up everything said, they make the internet the authority, not the other person. Why ask for help, and more importantly, why verify the answer using the internet as your source since it already failed to provide an answer?
Social media is this problem's primary cause. People might argue the internet bred the issue by providing instant answers, but if this were the cause, the issue would not continue worsening since over time people learn to differentiate websites and trust certain ones over others. Yet this same practice fails with people in a compulsion to check everything said. This rise of mistrust coincides with misinformation's proliferation on social media, which degraded even highly regarded sources like peer review as researchers found,
...increasing emphasis on fast research dissemination, often absent quality peer review, comes mostly but not exclusively because of the immediacy of the internet and broader media and societal trends. In an era in which the companies whose major product is the immediacy of information are the economic leaders (Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Apple), it is unsurprising that the immediacy of information is challenging that of quality as the value proposition in the research marketplace.
What should be unsurprising is the farce of equal voice social media promises that instead breeds biased, erroneous answers. Rational humans learn to distrust unreliable things, most of the time, and online comments and discussions reveal social media untrustworthy. Cyberbullying, echo chambers, fake news, and people egotistically arguing to prove nonsensical points make social media a miserable obstacle course of lies.
People ask why I removed commenting from my website, and I tell them, “Why would I place an article I spent days, months, sometimes years writing alongside a comment someone spent thirty seconds to scribble.” Is it any wonder reputable news outlets did away with commenting? Absolutely not, and though their diplomatic answer claims social media is where the commenting belongs, I'm more inclined to believe news outlets ended user commenting because it was an exercise in lunacy, guerrilla spamming, and conversations lacking critical thought.
Shutting off comments for lack of substantive value might sound arrogant or lack equity, but anyone can use social media or build themselves a blog for free and post rebuttals to anything I write. Nothing stops them other than lack of posting ease, which says a great deal about most commenters having no interest in developing a thoughtful argument and instead wanting a place to quickly spew hate or uncritical opinion. This saddens me because many people who add value to discussions become excluded, but this is social media's achievement: a pervasive state of user mistrust. Social media may yet make news outlets like The Guardian, NPR, BBC, or other established services valuable since most sites lack credibility. Even then, I feel the need to check these sources whenever possible. Perhaps I should have already fact-checked with this zeal, but today, the process seems imperative. Worse than eroding user and source trust, the mistrust experienced online extends into the real world.
Social media's well-documented detriment of exposure, especially amongst younger users, should make everyone apprehensive,
Studies consistently highlight that use of social media, especially heavy use and prolonged time spent on social media platforms, appears to contribute to increased risk for a variety of mental health symptoms and poor wellbeing, especially among young people (Andreassen et al. 2016; Kross et al. 2013; Woods and Scott 2016) (Naslund, J.A., Bondre, A., Torous, J. et al, 2020).
If social media increases the risk of mental health issues and poor well-being, then rationally, the same online socializing likely erodes trust by making people feel bad. Social media experiences make suspect everyone as liars, agents of misinformation, or users with hidden agendas. As a conditioned response, meeting people or engaging in conversations offline now requires a search engine check. This problem is not new, but far worse today than ten years ago. Despite a plethora of information concerning the mechanics and issues of social media, people still don't realize the unreliability of Googling or Facebooking a person. People lose jobs and opportunities for career advancement; worse still, an unknown number of people find social rejection.
On a positive note, terminating social media lacks effect. The world doesn’t end, and you don’t worry about anything in that fake world. However, despite feeling better, damage has been done, with people less trusting, feeling the need to verify things said in passing or fear of misinformation.
Living at the mercy or need of a digital lie detector isn’t how people should live, no matter how innocently motivated the search. Social media isolates and drives wedges of mistrust between people. We are communal creatures, evidenced by our congregation in cities or at venues to share events. The true hermit is rare, and many lonely people would rather not be alone. We need to trust one another, not isolate in distrust. For this reason, above all else, I quit social media.
Evan D. Kharasch, Michael J. Avram, J. David Clark, Andrew J. Davidson, Timothy T. Houle, Jerrold H. Levy, Martin J. London, Daniel I. Sessler, Laszlo Vutskits; Peer Review Matters: Research Quality and the Public Trust. Anesthesiology 2021; 134:1–6 doi: https://doi.org/10.1097/ALN.0000000000003608
Naslund, J.A., Bondre, A., Torous, J. et al. Social Media and Mental Health: Benefits, Risks, and Opportunities for Research and Practice. J. technol. behav. sci. 5, 245–257 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41347-020-00134-x
Scott Montgomery (2016) Beyond Comments: Finding Better Ways To Connect With You NPR.
Photo by Christopher Ott on Unsplash
Originally published: 10/18/2021