235. Special Request: Social media & its consequence on human psychology

31+ takeaways from this 93 minute interview:

00:00:01 The most popular social media accounts have little to no actual content; they are pictures and videos of (typically younger females) people taking selfies, eating food, and flaunting their bodies.

As a person ‘hacks social media’ to become an ‘influencer’ by uploading these highly-uneducated, lack-of-content, ridiculous posts and watches as follower growth and engagement increases dramatically, they have a conversation with the still small voice in the back of their brain: “This is so stupid! Why am I doing such a stupid thing! Yet this stupid thing is so successful and people are actually asking me for more of it, and I’m starting to make some money from it… so I should keep doing it despite the fact I think it’s stupid… right?”

This conversation with yourself is called cognitive dissonance: “the experience of psychological stress that occurs when a person holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, values, or participates in an action that goes against one of these three.”

00:00:13 “Signaling increases performance anxiety.” Once you’ve branded yourself as ‘rich,’ or ‘successful,’ or ‘sexy,’ or with the particular story you want to tell everyone, you must now maintain all appearances of your reputation; not only in the future, but you must also reinterpret your past.

If your social media posts’ followers, likes, shares, and engagement aren’t growing every time you post, you’re failing.

Your followers have only a limited number of screen time and in most cases can only view one website page at a time, so you’re not only in constant competition against yourself; you’re in constant competition with the millions of other options available to your followers; online and off.

00:02:23 With billions of people using social media, Sam Vaknin predicts social media is reaching the point where it will stop growing and the human population will divide into two psychological groups: those on social media and those who do not. This is a massive, unprecedented re-engineering of human psychology.

Social media has successfully pathologized billions of people. For most of them already conditioned and addicted to social media; it is too late to save them.

00:04:40 Social media was created by a very defined psychological profile of nerdy, introverted, reclusive, socially awkward, asexual men. Like fashion, social media was created in the image of its creators. And to the social media creators’ surprise, social media was a tremendous success.

Social media is designed for a highly-precise psychological profile, yet it is being used, abused, and misused by other psychological profiles. This creates cognitive dissonance.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more on launching a successful business, Ycombinator teamed up with Stanford University to offer an entire course on how to start a startup.

Likewise, once you’ve launched a successful business, Armin Trost has a Human Resources lecture series at Huschule Furtwangon University.]

Studies have shown ‘screen time’ and social media decrease happiness, self-esteem and life satisfaction and increase anxiety, depression and suicide.

00:09:15 Some startling facts arise when you look at the research:

  • Anxiety among teenagers has increased by 20% since 2007, with a risk that this anxiety could become life-threatening with age.
  • Anxiety and depression among 15-24 year olds has increased by 70% over the last 30 years.
  • Since 2010 teenage suicide has climbed by 31% with the leading cause of death among under 25-year olds is suicide.

What needs to be analyzed is whether unhappy, unsatisfied, anxious, depressive and suicidal people gravitate toward social media, or whether social media causes its users to become this way.

Social media isn’t addictive; it intentionally weaponizes envy and aggression to condition its users into compulsive and repetitive use.

00:10:23 Social media (and search engines) algorithms are built upon relative positioning to manipulate emotions such as pathological envy and aggression by:

  • Quantifying engagement (‘likes’ + ‘shares’ + ‘comments’)
  • Categorizing its users (through hierarchies of popularity and publicly shaming – and rewarding – you for moving up and down the hierarchy)
  • Leveraging your emotions to modify your behavior and create addiction

Neuroplasticity is “the ability of the brain to change continuously throughout an individual’s life.” On the positive side, this means you are constantly evolving and improving and learning new things up until you die. On the negative side, allowing yourself to be constantly exposed to envy and aggression provoking social media platforms alters your brain, behavior, and ultimately your personality, in a negative way.

Knowing what we now know about the dangerous effects of social media on humans (regression, loss of impulse control, anxiety, depression, suicide…), its owners could correct social media’s design and usage, however the fact that they a) designed social media to recondition human behavior and become addictive, and b) choose not to correct it, says a lot about their intention.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: In lesson 138. The next revolution will be psychological not technological, Rory Sutherland points that most business models and apps are designed to seduce you into pushing buttons and spending your money rather than save it. But what an app was created that seduced you into saving or investing your money by pushing a button rather than spend it?]

00:11:26 The difference between jealousy and envy is jealousy can constructively motivate you to action in order to also obtain or become what made you jealous. Example: Being jealous of a colleague’s performance bonus may drive you to work harder to obtain a bonus yourself.

Pathological envy evokes anger and frustration due to perceived inequality, which encourages vengeance, aggression, domination, violence, or sabotage.

Comment sections are blank spaces where followers can write anything they want. So why is the internet overwhelmingly full of the dark and negative rather than the positive and uplifting?

00:14:03 Social media is not built to encourage love and acceptance because those emotions aren’t addictive. Social media based on positive love and acceptance is a bad business model. There are addictive forms of love, however they include stalking, infatuation…

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more on the pathological side of love, check out:

Rewards and incentive systems predict behavior & emotions. People only work hard on what the are rewarded for.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out Armin Trost‘s lecture on Human Resources Management: Motivation with compensation & benefits for more.]

00:22:21 The network effects model is an epidemic like the Cov-19 coronavirus. “It is the only self-propagating, self-replicating model that invades you, brainwashes you intellectually, emotionally and psychologically, alters your brain via neuroplasticity, conditions you, and later gets you addicted.” School shooters, serial killers, gangs, terrorists, cults… have all found their role models and reasons for existence through the network effects of social media.

Wikipedia originally used the network effects model but abandoned it for the curated-style model because its pages became “a cesspool of aggression, misinformation, slander, libel…

00:26:00 Faced with this reality, businesses and users have two options:

  1. Exploit the network effects model and reap the short-term viral and financial benefits to the detriment of humanity
  2. Establish barriers to entry to promote civility, maturity and positivity

How will humanity cope if/when these billions of pathologized individuals become formally recognized as being handicapped and sue for disability benefits as a result of their addiction?

00:35:34 Teenagers tend to prefer interacting with each other through social media than through real life exchanges. In extreme cases the amount of social interaction (social and sexual) among people under the age of 34 has dropped by 70%.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more on teenage dating, check out the article Why Generation Z is Giving Up on Dating.]

00:38:00 Social media creates bubbles and enhances like-mindedness. Based on your own personal interests, and guided by the online algorithms, you gravitate towards communities of people who think and believe the same way you do, and the content you consume – the content which is presented to you in your feed – will reflect more of what you agree with and less of what you disagree with. This holds true for your political position, your sexual orientation, your hobbies…

‘Selfies’ make up +60% of modern social media content.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: In the BBC article ‘Selfie’ named by Oxford Dictionary as word of 2013, the word’s “frequency in the English language had increased by 17,000%” between 2012-13]

51% of internet users consume pornography on a daily basis, and for 15-45 year old men, masturbation is the main sexual activity.

00:56:02 The only reason why you do things that make you feel dead inside is because you cannot help it.

  • With addiction, there is a mission and a goal with a strategy that when met leads to a sense of accomplishment. Take for example the drug addict who wakes up every day with the goal of finding enough resources or opportunities to obtain their drug and then get high. Despite being self-destructive, there is a sense of meaning and accomplishment at the end of the mission. It’s like running a business.
  • With conditioned behavior, there is no mission, there is no goal, there is no sense of accomplishment. There is only automated and meaningless actions that lead nowhere and do not provide you with a sense of accomplishment. Worse, if you are aware you’ve been conditioned by someone else, the sense of helplessness that you are not even in control of your own actions.

00:57:40 Results drive behavior. If I post a selfie on social media and get 100 likes, I’ll post another selfie with the objective of getting more ‘engagement’. This is the objective of conditioned social media addicts; is this also not the objective of ambitious businesses?

The more simple the platform (UX/UI), the more it is geared toward conditioning.

00:59:02 Given that generation Y and Z were born into the age of the internet and social media, and assuming all I (Sam Vaknin) has argued above is correct, I (Sam Vaknin) see 3 groups emerge:

  1. Those exposed to the internet in their late 20s, 30s, 40s… (Baby Boomers and Generation X) who use the internet as just another means of communication similar to mail, email, fax, beepers, telephone calls… As social media and the internet is just another tool, their risk of becoming addicted would be low. This group of people grew up with an intact family with a mom and dad as well as the extended family of uncles, aunts, cousins, grand-parents…
  2. Those exposed to the internet during their adolescents (Generations X & Millennials) who are likewise more face-to-face and reluctant to become too involved in online communications for intimate communications. For this group, social media is a means of idea exchange, social positioning and competition… As social media and the internet is an online tool for offline objectives, their risk of being addicted would be rather low because they grew up in a world that incorporated the internet into their daily lives. This group of people grew up in divorced families and broken or re-constituted homes and perhaps with limited access to extended family, or with step-extended families.
  3. Digital natives, those born into the internet era with a tablet in their hand during their formative years (Millennials & beyond…) are ‘doomed’ because for them online is the only means of communication they have ever known. Because gratification is instantaneous and message delivery and response times so fast, having to wait for responses, and having to deal with face-to-face interactions in real time, is unbearably frustrating. Statistically speaking, this group of people have grown up in homes with no nuclear family: children of single-mothers or fathers, and their only source of community are the online digital renditions of others (real other humans as well as robots) they interact with online. For digital natives, social media IS the real world.

Given all the damage social media has done to the generations, why is it only now that we are beginning to have the conversation about ‘controlling’ social media usage?

01:13:44 Intimacy is “an interpersonal relationship that involves physical or emotional intimacy.” This intimacy includes sexual as well as nonsexual relationships. For example, if you enter into an intimate relationship with a romantic partner, you’re also forced into an intimate relationship with their network of friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, etc.

Social media competes with intimacy; you’re either intimate or you’re online. Dating apps such as Tinder, Happn, and Loko – Norm McDonald’s new video-based dating website – have a vested interest in you not actually finding love and developing intimate relationships which will pull you away from using their app. Likewise, trying to find love though social media is extremely difficult because you’re trying to build intimacy with people conditioned against intimacy.

01:16:00 Successful start-ups and businesses build products and services that are indispensable yet with planned obsolescence. This is why consumers purchase the iPhone 11 even though the iPhone 5 is still sufficient. This is why shares, tweets, and blog posts are ‘old news’ almost as soon as they are ‘successfully uploaded’.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more on how to launch a successful startup, check out the Ycombinator lecture series at Stanford University.

For more on how to maintain mature, healthy personal relationships, check out lesson 168. Sex & Dating: The 3 phases of love & why we love and cheat by Helen Fisher.]

Facebook & Linkedin don’t allow Google to crawl their public databases because Google would steal their users and advertising revenue.

00:29:00 Communication creates filters, and you both attract and repel people by the verbal and non-verbal communication you send.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more on how storytelling & communication create filters, check out Lesson 141. Why you should be suspicious of the stories you hear.]

One Comment on “235. Special Request: Social media & its consequence on human psychology

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