Opinion: Social media insanity

Photo/Jason Henry/The New York Times / Twitter’s headquarters building in San Francisco is shown on Friday, Nov. 18, 2022.

I was transfixed when Elon Musk first took over as Twitter's CEO weeks ago. It was like watching a massive highway car pileup as folks heard Musk pledge, "No, we're not dead!"

I was tempted to exit the social media platform but decided to stay. So when the GOP first tweeted its intent to tear apart Hunter Biden, I responded, "How about the $2 billion Kushner got from the Saudis ... Are you going to investigate that?" The support was beyond anything I'd experienced from the Twitter-verse.

Hundreds of people have liked and continuously re-tweeted my remark. Some of the comments are humorous: "OMG Now they have Hunter's toaster, RYE crumbs and all. Investigation starts right after breakfast!" Other tweets were more political: "Raise your hand if you are FAR more interested in whatever caused all those House Reps to ask Trump for a pardon than in the contents of Hunter's laptop."

Fight or flight time? Did I really want to be involved in this online warfare or leave? That's when I received this tweet: "Reminder: they want you to feel defeated. They want you to leave Twitter." So I stayed.

I watched as Musk tweeted multiple times daily and reinstated Donald Trump after with a survey that former employees called a "bot-o-rama.' Musk then force-fed extremist tweets to Twitter users ' profile feeds or timelines. Here's a typical response: "This is serious and takes Musk's interference into people's feed to a whole new level. This isn't 'free speech' but the opposite. This is 1984 dystopian level manipulation."

The force-feed was meant to "expand recommendations," with Twitter claiming that the unwelcome tweets were the "best content on the platform." Several right-wingers praised Musk's "free speech absolutism." They insist that exposure to misogynistic, racist, antisemitic and transphobic and homophobic messages is "good" for progressives.

The New York Times reported that antisemitic posts soared more than 61% in the first two weeks while ISIS supporters came roaring back. Federal officials warn that posts by Nazi supporters and QAnon proselytizers will translate into violent acts. Unsurprisingly, Europe is demanding content moderation. Musk's response? "Isn't this fun!"

That's when I turned to American computer scientist Jaron Lanier, who coined the term "virtual reality." He warns about the dangers of being at the mercy of tech lords such as Musk. "We're putting that fundamental quality of humanness through a process with an inherent incentive for corruption and degradation," he said in an interview with The Guardian. Describing our era as fundamentally about power and influence, Lanier said, "the web is not a free market of information as originally envisioned. It's a gamed system being rampantly abused." And that game is to manipulate us into a hypnotic mindset where our fixation on social media spirals into a daily, often hourly, addiction.

Lanier calls this addiction "Twitter poison." That's how he accounts for the problematic personalities of Elon Musk, Donald Trump and Kanye West. "I have noticed that all these people converge on a similar personality type that wasn't present before." Lanier predicts a dismal future with more people being reprogrammed while humanitarian voices go unheard. He warns that we're addicted, not transfixed, by social media. We're being manipulated into becoming unnaturally mean, ugly and angry.

Can we reject this reject perpetual war and take back our humanity? What can I do personally? That's when I got a tweet begging me not to leave, but show Twitter folks how to keep their sanity and humanity. Wow. I'm definitely open to suggestions.

Contact Deborah Levine, an author, trainer/coach and editor of the American Diversity Report, at deborah@diversityreport.com.