Social Media Erodes Social Trust
In 2011, while sitting in a restaurant conversing with several people, I mentioned something that immediately launched the young couple sitting 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 was trying to help after asking for my advice. Referring to the number of links on the page, I said, “Your webpages 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 my phrasing led to this miscommunication, but had he listened instead of Googling, he would have understood my discussion and how filling his web pages with links made his website a spam farm. By this time, many similar incidents commonly occurred but no longer held any humor.
After an illness in 2018, I shut down my web development business, and despite losing money, I felt relieved. I will never build a website for anyone again unless for a friend, and even then, I will only help if not questioned. Sadly, occupation only inspires some of my frustration; many casual meetings left little desire to meet, work, or associate with new people since no one seems to listen and questions every answer checking the internet. The stupidity of this behavior is astounding. Like the guy asking me why the search engine wouldn't index his web pages, people ask for help but then try to verify the answer using the very system that couldn't provide the solution. In most instances, this behavior is harmless curiosity, but innocent or not, the web search drives a wedge between people because you can't study and discuss a topic simultaneously. In many instances, this behavior offends because you're not listening to the person, and when asking advice, you infer the internet represents the authority, not the person sitting in front of you. If the internet could provide the answer, why ask for help? More importantly, why are you verifying the answer using the internet as your source?
Social media is the primary cause of this problem. People might argue the internet bred this problem by providing instant answers, but if this were the cause, the issue would not continue to worsen. Over time you would learn to differentiate websites and trust certain ones over others, but instead, the problem increased, coinciding perfectly with social media’s rise and proliferation of misinformation, which degraded even highly regarded information verification such as peer review,
The 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 (Evan et al, 2021).
What should be unsurprising is the farce of equal voice social media promises that breeds biased, erroneous answers and mistrust. 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.
While turning off comments for lack of substantive value might sound arrogant or lack equity, 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 who have no interest in writing a thoughtful argument, wanting only a place to quickly spew hate or uncritical opinion. Believe it or not, this saddens me because many people who would add to discussions become excluded, but this is social media's achievement: a pervasive state of mistrust of users. Social media may yet make news outlets like CNN, NPR, BBC, or other established services valuable since most sites lack credibility. Even then, I feel the need to check these sources with peer-reviewed journals 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.
The effects of social media are well-documented, revealing the detriment of exposure, especially amongst younger users,
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 between people for making them feel bad. Social media experiences cause us to see 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 is not a new problem, but far worse today than ten years ago, and despite the 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 their jobs, are denied work, but worse still, an unknown number of people find social rejection because of this problem.
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, I'm isolated, not because of quitting social media, but for less openness to meeting people, usually caused by them whipping out their phone to verify something said in passing or enduring conversations filled with misinformation obtained from social media.
Living at the mercy or need of a digital lie detector isn’t how people should live, no matter how innocently motivated the search. 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.
Article Updated: 03/04/2022