Discover more from The Rabbit Hole
Social Media and the American Culture Dynamic
The United States is as much a fascist, hypermasculine nation as it is a socialist/communist one. Whether it’s Fox News believing that the country is moving towards socialism, or former President Barack Obama’s Drug Policy advisor arguing that libertarianism is to blame for San Francisco’s drug crisis, the blame game looks more and more like a spider man meme.
What I believe to be one of the main issues in our society is more cultural. And nowhere else in America has culture been front and center than on social media. While social media started out to legitimately connect friends, many cultural problems have been exacerbated by social media and have become detrimental to the well-being of society overall. Social media has been utilized by numerous entities to exert influence. Whether it be from companies advertising their latest products, or governments trying to influence voters, the weaponization of social media has had lasting effects on the American people. The former has led to a surge in mental health crises and materialism. The latter has had an effect on how voters think about what is important and how they deal with issues. We’ll touch on the latter a little bit, but advertisements and what people see on social media will be under the microscope today.
At over three billion downloads, TikTok has become one of the world’s biggest platforms. It is estimated that over 100 million Americans engage on TikTok on a monthly basis, or 37.36% of the population to be exact. But as with any social media app, it is not without its controversies. TikTok, and to a lesser degree their Chinese parent company ByteDance, have been under fire for attempting to capture Americans’ data. While this is a valid issue that needs to be addressed, it is also worth mentioning that TikTok markets to the American public in a different way. “60 Minutes” recently did a segment about how ByteDance markets things to their children differently than to the rest of the world. Duoyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, shows science experiments, educational videos, etc if you’re under 14 years old. Kids are also limited to 40 minutes per day. In the U.S., children have been exposed to social issues earlier than other generations and earlier than children in other countries. Here, children can be exposed to more mature content, like violence or sex.
This can also be linked to a 2019 study where more American kids were interested in becoming a social media influencer than any other profession, whereas Chinese kids were more interested in becoming an astronaut. Books like “Antiracist Baby”, “Diversity Ninja”, and “Jack (Not Jackie)”, and other children’s books are making their way onto store shelves. Children are now exposed to social issues that they didn’t need to know about until they’re older. Six and seven-year-olds should not be exposed to racism, white privilege, or LGBTQ+ issues. They’re kids. Let them be kids. There will be more than enough time for them to focus on social issues once they hit middle school and beyond. Coaching them into victimhood will only cause paranoia and distrust. While not only related specifically in regards to children, social media and the way we interact with it have most likely helped exacerbate an ongoing mental health crisis.
To boost self-esteem and feel a sense of belonging in their social circles, people post content with the hope of receiving positive feedback. Couple that content with the structure of potential future reward, and you get a recipe for constantly checking platforms. When reviewing others’ social activity, people tend to make comparisons such as, “Did I get as many likes as someone else?,” or “Why didn’t this person like my post, but this other person did?” They’re searching for validation on the internet that serves as a replacement for meaningful connection they might otherwise make in real life.
The above article from McLean Hospital highlights the unrealistic expectations people have on social media, and how those expectations can change the way we behave. Couple this with videos from political pundits and news outlets, and you begin to believe in almost anything that crosses your feed.
Americans have this great belief of “live and let live.” But “live and let live” doesn’t mean you can’t have your own opinions. For example, divorce, once a taboo in society, is now morally acceptable among 73% of Americans. Divorce has become so commonplace that about three-quarters of Americans don’t bat an eye about it anymore. Going back to the political pundits and news outlets flooding social media, many of these videos have the same premise: our side is good; the other side is evil. Once you subscribe to an ideology, algorithms tend to show you more videos of that same ideology, in essence becoming an echo chamber. This “they want to destroy the country” message being spilled has increased polarization, with a growing number of people not wanting to be friends with those that have a different ideology. When social media users are only being shown what they believe in, it’s no wonder that partisanship has skyrocketed.
In addition to echo chambers, a consequence of what we see on television, the internet, and social media is an increase in consumerism. Consumerism itself is not a bad thing. An increase in the purchase of goods and services has historically been a good sign for the economy. But a result of this is materialism, an attribute that’s largely affected the U.S. since the end of World War II. There are tables showing that Americans consume more than what they can afford. Internet advertisements cost companies a whopping $218 billion in 2022, around $65 billion more than in 2021. Total expenditure on ads in 2022 was around $345.2 billion. Being bombarded with images online of things that you don’t have or places your friends have been but you haven’t takes a mental toll over the long run. This can cause a feeling of relative deprivation or the feeling that you are doing worse than those around you. To take this a bit further, reference the “The Racial Industrial Complex” articles to show how companies are making more money by inducing a race-based narrative. In essence here, companies are paying money to show you products and political beliefs on repeat, all while you become more isolated from society.
According to the World Health Organization, 19.86% of adults in the U.S. have a mental illness, and Mental Health America believes that social media use has played a significant part in it. We are surrounded by negativity, stupid videos, and things on social media that don’t better our life in any capacity. We have become materialistic while becoming too lazy to do anything more than write a hashtag or provide ‘thoughts and prayers’ for a cause. We have become more concerned with popularity and material goods, and our mental health is suffering because of it.