We have the wrong discussions about social media

Ted Bauer
4 min readJun 8, 2022

Really good article on The New Yorker about how harmful social media truly is. There’s a ton of good stuff in there, but I will admit that when someone sent it to me, I initially groaned — because it does feel like “hating on the impacts of social media” is basically an at-scale global parlor game these days, even though very few people really change their behavior around it, even when they complain. (“But how else would people see photos of my beautiful Harrison, and my lunch?”) I even tried to hot take this discussion back in 2015. I largely failed, of course. I think probably the best thing about this New Yorker article is that it admits where we’ve failed in the discussions, which I now want to reveal in a couple of screenshots for you to ponder on.

“We’re not going to be saved with an algorithm.”

This one seems like an important point — well, actually, two important points. The first point is that three of the main stories we tell ourselves about social media’s pervasive impact (echo chambers, Russia/China, and radicalized algorithms) aren’t necessarily true. Now, this is also academic research, which needs to flow a specific process that isn’t always rooted in how people operate in the real world. So, you can take it with a grain of salt. But in the article, they also discuss how most people who are deemed to “get radicalized” by YouTube were actually long-time subscribers to that channel. They didn’t “get radicalized” so much as they opted in. Now, is that still bad? Yes. But it’s a different narrative than the one we chase.

“The expansion of Internet access coincides with fifteen other trends over time.”

It is hard to say “We don’t know, the evidence is weak” — and even harder to say that if you’re fighting with someone on one of these platforms. (Irony.) But the whole thing about the rise of the Internet happening at the same time as lots…

Ted Bauer

Mostly write about work, leadership, friendship, masculinity, male infertility, and some other stuff along the way. It's a pleasure to be here.