Fifteen influencers weigh in on the company’s 15th birthday in Vox:
Jonathan Haidt, author of The Coddling of the American Mind and professor at NYU
There’s an old joke about an optimist who fell off of the observation deck of the Empire State Building. As he was passing the 30th floor someone called out to him: “How’s it going?” He replied: “So far, so good!” I think that joke has some relevance for humanity in the Facebook era. So far, the billions of small positive effects of massively increasing human interconnectivity may well outweigh the growing roster of negatives, large and small. Yet when I look to the future, I see two giant negative effects looming larger and larger, like the pavement rushing up to the optimistic jumper.
First, rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide are rising rapidly in young people born after 1995 — “Gen Z” — which has largely been on social-media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat since middle school. This rise in mood disorders is not happening in all countries, but it is happening — particularly to girls — in the US, the UK, and Canada. There are empirical studies pointing to a causal connection to heavy social media use, and there are studies indicating no connection. I predict that a consensus will emerge by the end of 2019, and that it will be that heavy use of social media damages many young teenage girls, reducing their odds of success in life.
The second potentially gigantic problem is that large, diverse, secular democracies are inherently unstable, inherently prone to division unless there are sufficient “centripetal” forces pulling toward the center (such as having a shared language, shared rituals and values, and high trust in the basic political and economic institutions of the country).
Facebook and other social media platforms are powerful centrifugal forces, binding groups together to fight other groups within their own country, driven mad and propelled into battle by an eternal mudslide of outrage-inducing viral videos and conspiracy theories. We are already seeing these effects in many countries.