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Social Media Isn’t the Problem… We Are

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Three Common Criticisms of Social Media That Are Wrong

Criticism One: Social Media Harms Mental Health

It is true that over the past two decades, we have seen a worrying increase in rates of suicide, depression, and anxiety, especially in young people. But it’s not clear that social media is the cause.

A lot of scary research on social media usage is correlational research. That means researchers simply look at how much time people spend on social media, then they look at whether those people are anxious and/or depressed. They then look to see if the same people who are doomscrolling Facebook all day are the people who are anxious and depressed. Most results have found that they are.

For example, a 2018 study found a correlation between social media screen time and increases in depressive symptoms and suicide attempts.2 This is just one of many correlational studies finding the same result: lots of social media usage = lots of depressed teenagers.

Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it?

The problem with studies like this is that it’s a chicken-and-egg situation. Is it that social media causes kids to feel more depressed? Or is it that really depressed kids are more likely to use social media?

This is the limit of correlational studies. They simply show you that two things are occurring at the same time. They don’t tell you if those two things are related or not. For example, the divorce rate in the state of Maine is highly correlated with the consumption of margarine. But obviously, nobody thinks that margarine is the leading cause of divorce.

The truth is, correlational studies kind of suck. They are really basic and the results aren’t that useful. So why do people do them?

Well, people do them because they’re easy. It’s very easy to round up a few hundred kids, ask them how much they use social media, then ask them if they feel anxious or depressed, and create a spreadsheet. It’s much, much harder to round up thousands of kids, track them over the course of a decade and calculate how any shifts or changes in their social media usage actually affect their mental health over the years. That would require a lot of time and money and researchers. But that’s also how you would actually know if social media causes mental health problems.

Well, researchers with a lot of time and money have run those longitudinal studies, and the results are in:

But what about FOMO? What about Facebook-stalking? What about the envy of seeing how awesome your friends’ lives are?

A German study following 514 people for over a year found that the more depressed or anxious the social media user, the more likely they were to “stalk” other users or indulge in envy of other people’s lives. The same Canadian study mentioned above also found that depressive symptoms in girls predicted their social media usage. Therefore, the researchers are leaning towards the conclusion that it’s anxiety and depression that drives us to use social media in all the horrible ways we use it—not the other way around.6

Basically: the fucking egg came first. Anxiety/depression leads to greater amounts of envious and voyeuristic social media usage. The more eggs you’ve got rattling around in your head, the more likely you are to sit there and gawk at the latest, greatest narcissistic fuckwit posting their beach selfies on your feed.

Then, there’s the studies you never hear about. Like the one from 2012 that found posting status updates on Facebook reduces feelings of loneliness.7 Or the one from earlier this year that found activity on Twitter can potentially increase happiness.8 Or this one that found that active social media use actually decreases symptoms of depression and anxiety.9

Those of us who were around in 2004 can remember why social media was such a big deal in the first place—it connected you to everybody in your life in a way that was simply impossible in the before-times. And those initial benefits of social media are so immediate and obvious that we’ve likely become inured to them and take them for granted.

Especially because in the last ten years, politics has gotten in the way…

Criticism Two: Social Media Causes Political Extremism or Radicalization

The past decade has seen a rise in populist movements around the world. It’s also seen larger and more frequent public protests, mainstream adoption of conspiracy theories and really fucking obnoxious Twitter arguments. Considering so much political discourse occurs on social media, it’s logical to assume that social media might be the cause of all our troubles.

But three facts make it unlikely that social media is the culprit:

There are plenty of explanations for growing political polarization and populism that don’t involve social media. Growing income inequality is the most obvious explanation. Divergences in educational attainment in different age demographics. Growing immigrant populations and multiculturalism. Globalization and stagnant wages. And so on and so forth.

But what about the disinformation and conspiracy theories?

Well, research shows that despite the proliferation of “fake news,” most people don’t fall for it. In fact, most fake news gets shared not because people think it’s true, but simply because it wins them cool points with their social media friends.13

(Yeah… people suck.)

Not only that, research shows that most fake news doesn’t originate on social media, it actually originates on televised news.14

Which actually makes sense. Fake news is hardly anything new. Back in the 18th and 19th century, people would anonymously publish newspapers and pamphlets spreading horrible rumors about their political opponents. In the 1790s, one newspaper, secretly financed by Thomas Jefferson, wrote slanderous op-eds claiming that George Washington was going to declare himself king of the new republic. During the Civil War, southern newspapers claimed that Abraham Lincoln was not only going to abolish slavery, but force whites and blacks to intermarry.

As for political extremists, you don’t have to read much history to discover that political extremists are the rule, not the exception. How quickly we forget the “Red Scare” McCarthyism in the 1950s, or the bombings by left-wing revolutionaries that ravaged government buildings and universities in the 1970s, or the socialists who were imprisoned for their beliefs in the 1910s.

None of this shit is new.

Criticism Three: Big Tech Companies Are Profiting Off the Mayhem

From soccer moms to politicians to Cardi B, the Big Tech companies of Silicon Valley have become everybody’s favorite punching bag. Mark Zuckerberg has been called in front of Congress four times in the past couple of years to answer for… well, I’m still not sure exactly what. Top executives from Twitter, Google, Apple, and Microsoft have similarly been called to Washington to be burned at the proverbial stake for the public’s satisfaction.

The assumption here is that social media is destroying the fabric of society, and Big Tech is gleefully cashing in on it.

But social media is not destroying society, and even if it was, Big Tech is not fanning the flames. They’re actually spending a lot of money trying to put it out.

These companies have spent billions in efforts to fight back against disinformation and conspiracy theories. A recent study to see if Google’s algorithm promoted extremist alt-right content actually found the opposite: the YouTube algorithm seemed to go out of its way to promote mainstream, established news sites far more often than its fringe looney figures.15

Similarly, last year Facebook banned tens of thousands of conspiracy theorist and terrorist groups. This has been part of their ongoing campaign to clean up their platform. They’ve hired over 10,000 new employees in the past two years just to review content on the site for disinformation and violence. They’ve also become absolutely draconian in banning ad accounts in the last year. Leading up to the election, hundreds, if not thousands, of legitimate businesses saw their ad accounts shut down with no explanation.

Not only is Facebook not making a profit off disinformation, they are undoubtedly losing lots of money trying to clean it up. Whether you agree with their policies or editorial decisions, you can’t argue that they’re standing by doing nothing.

This content was originally published here.

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The Hidden Form of Racism That No One Is Talking About: How the Food Industry Perpetuates Social Injustice on the Most Vulnerable | Dr. Mark Hyman

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The Hidden Form of Racism That No One Is Talking About: How the Food Industry Perpetuates Social Injustice on the Most Vulnerable | Dr. Mark Hyman

Could it also be that the reason for the disproportionate burden, hospitalization and death from COVID-19 on African American and Hispanic populations is that these communities often live in food deserts and food swamps, survive on Supplement Nutrition Assistance Plan (SNAP or food stamps), which provides much assistance but little nutrition. Seventy five percent of the SNAP benefits are used for ultra-processed food and ten percent for soda (or about $7 billion a year).

In Chicago and Louisiana, 70 percent of COVID-19 deaths are in African Americans who make up only about 30 percent of the population in those communities.  Deaths in predominately black counties are sixfold higher than white counties.

A legacy of poverty, lack of access to healthy food, health care, living wage employment, inadequate housing, and race based advertising and targeting of minorities by food companies, or what are referred to as social determinants, explain these health disparities, not race. On a good day life expectancy in African American communities burdened with poverty is up to 15 less than average. And today is not a good day.

The highest rates of obesity, diabetes, and chronic disease are found in the African American, Hispanic, Native American, and poor communities. In the last decade, type 2 diabetes rates have tripled in Native American children, doubled in African American children, and increased 50 percent in Hispanic youth. Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, and Asians are also twice as likely as Caucasians to get diabetes. And African Americans are more than four times as likely to have kidney failure and three and a half times as likely to suffer amputations as whites.

Why are minorities suffering so much? An insidious but subtle form of racism is harming their health and their communities, but few, if any, are asking the tough questions. It’s a topic I address in depth in Food Fix.

Food & racism

When we talk of racism we think of white supremacists, police brutality, job discrimination, limited opportunities, and hate speech, but rarely do we think of food. Hundreds of thousands of African Americans, Hispanics, and the poor are killed every year by an invisible form of racism, a silent and insidious injustice. Here’s how:

You may have heard of food deserts—where the closest grocery store is more than a mile away and it’s hard to find fresh fruits and vegetables or other healthy food. About 23 million Americans live in these food deserts. But the problem isn’t only food deserts. It is also food swamps, communities filled with fast-food chains and bodegas plying highly processed addictive foods. Food deserts imply a natural phenomenon, like an unfortunate desert somehow just occurred. Nothing is less true. It’s hard to find fresh produce but easy to find gallon cups of soda and other sugar-loaded beverages, and fast-food chains peddling burgers, fries, and fried chicken are on almost every street corner. These toxic food swamps are more predictive of obesity and illness than food deserts.

Black communities have almost twice as many fast-food restaurants as white neighborhoods. Only 5 percent of African Americans have a healthy diet. That is a big change from the 1960s, when African American diets were twice as healthy as average diets, with more fruits, vegetables, fiber, and good fats.

Perhaps a better term is food apartheid, an embedded social and political form of discrimination. The history of sugar is closely linked to slavery. The slave trade served the growth of sugar production. Legal American slavery is over (although slavery still occurs on some farms with migrant workers). But today sugar, especially in its new form, high-fructose corn syrup, is connected to a new kind of oppression—food oppression, which makes people of color sick, fat, and disabled. It is a form of apartheid in which the poor and minorities live in areas that lack healthy food and have an overabundance of foods that can kill them.

Why this matters

How did this happen? It’s a combination of factors: poverty, social disenfranchisement, racial targeting by the food industry, and government subsidies and programs that support the most profitable foods for the food industry—the very foods that also happen to be the most harmful to our health. This form of internalized racism is not as obvious as limiting voters’ rights and employment opportunities, the bombing of churches, or hate speech and hate crimes. But it is far more pernicious and destructive, in part because most of the victims don’t know it’s a problem.

Of all deaths, 1.1 percent are caused by gun violence. Seventy thousand people die every year from the opioid epidemic. Those problems are real and tragic and need to end. But 70 percent of deaths, or more than 1.7 million deaths, a year are caused by chronic disease such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, and stroke—mostly the result of our toxic food system. More African Americans, Hispanics, and poor people are killed by bad food than anything else.

Even when food is available to disadvantaged communities, fresh whole foods can be expensive, which leads to the purchase of cheap, unhealthy junk food. Those who are on limited incomes struggle to get enough food, so when the decision is between facing hunger and eating cheap processed food, the choice is inevitable. Yet we remain silent about the role of the food system killing millions of Americans.

Food companies use cultural icons to influence minorities. Do you think LeBron James actually drinks Sprite? McDonald’s uses Serena and Venus Williams and Enrique Iglesias in their TV ads to attract black and Hispanic consumers. Is a Big Mac, fries, and a Coke really Serena’s pregame meal? No matter, their dollars are well spent. Race-based advertising works.

Big Food’s marketing ploys are amplified even more for minority children. In 2019, the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity published a damning report entitled, “Increasing Disparities in Advertising Unhealthy Food to Hispanic and Black Youth.” The big food companies target black and Hispanic youth with their least nutritious products, including fast foods, candy, sugary drinks, and snacks. From 2013 to 2017, food advertising on black-targeted TV increased by 50 percent. Black teens viewed 119 percent more junk-food-related ads—mostly for soda and candy—than white teens. The top ads came from Nestlé, Yum! Brands (like KFC and Taco Bell), Mars, McDonald’s, and General Mills. The average teen saw more than 6,000 junk-food ads a year just on television.

On top of that, our government is complicit in the perpetuation of these behaviors and the support of the production and sale of the very foods it tells Americans not to eat in its Dietary Guidelines. What may shock some is that government-guaranteed loan programs support fast-food outlets, which are far more prevalent in poor communities of color. Why do government loans pay for the expansion of food that kills Americans?

This oppression must end

The work of transforming this system of oppression must come from multiple sectors—changes in government policies, regulation, nonprofits creating local programs to educate and empower people, and grassroots efforts of citizens working to change their communities.

Imagine if black church leaders (or any affected minority group) collectively joined in a campaign to link the struggles of minority communities to food, to food apartheid, to racial targeting by the food industry, to the invisible form of oppression that keeps communities down, and created a call to action to change all that. They might follow the example of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Martin Luther King Jr.’s church in Atlanta, that started a 2-acre urban garden where parishioners participate in growing food for the local community. Or Ron Finley, the Gangsta Gardener from South Central Los Angeles, started curbside gardens, turned lawns into food forests, and created raised-bed gardens in dilapidated vacant lots, helping gang members, ex-convicts, and drug dealers find a way out of their struggles.

In West Oakland, California, a very poor neighborhood of 30,000 with no grocery store but fifty-four liquor and convenience stores, community members started the People’s Grocery, a mobile grocery store (much like an ice cream truck), that brought produce to the local community for 15 years.

In the Bronx, Karen Washington founded Black Urban Growers to support black urban and rural farmers and helped turn abandoned lots in the Bronx into thriving community gardens. These are a few of the stories of hope and empowerment that I write about in Food Fix, as well as Food Tank, Soul Fire Farm, Black Church Food Security Network, and The Bigger Picture Project. These pockets of redemption and innovation are happening all across the country; they are models for breaking the cycle of food injustice. But we need so many more, and we must expose this problem for what it really is.

Sources: 

Mayer-Davis EJ, Lawrence JM, Dabelea D, et al. “Incidence Trends of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes among Youths, 2002–2012.” N Engl J Med. 2017 Apr 13;376(15):1419–29.

Wheeler SM, Bryant AS. “Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health and Health Care.” Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am. 2017 Mar;44(1):1–11.

CDC, “America’s Drug Overdose Epidemic: Data to Action.” https://www.cdc.gov/injury/features/prescription-drug-overdose/index.html

Cooksey-Stowers K, Schwartz M, Brownell K. “Food Swamps Predict Obesity Rates Better Than Food Deserts in the United States.” Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017 Nov 14;14(11):1366.

Block JP, Scribner RA, DeSalvo KB. “Fast Food, Race/Ethnicity, and Income: A Geographic Analysis.” Am JPrev Med. 2004 Oct 1;27(3):211–17.

Luna GT. “The New Deal and Food Insecurity in the Midst of Plenty.” Drake J Agric L. 2004;9:213.

Nutrition and Well-Being A to Z. (2019). “Diet and African Americans.” http://www.faqs.org/nutrition/A-Ap/African-Americans-Diet-of.html.

Freeman A. “Fast Food: Oppression through Poor Nutrition.” Calif L Rev. 2007;95:2221.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). “National Vital Statistics System.” https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/deaths.htm.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). “Deaths and Mortality.” https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm

Harris JL, Frazier W, Kumanyika S, Ramirez AG. “Increasing Disparities in Unhealthy Food Advertising Targeted to Hispanic and Black Youth.” UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. 2019. http://uconnruddcenter.org/files/Pdfs/TargetedMarketingReport2019.pdf=.

Appiah O. “It Must Be the Cues: Racial Differences in Adolescents’ Responses to Culturally Embedded Ads.” In Advertising and Consumer Psychology. Diversity in Advertising: Broadening the Scope of Research Directions, ed. Williams JD, Lee WN, Haugtvedt CP, 319–39. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers; 2004; Pereira MA, Kartashov AI, Ebbeling CB, et al. “Fast-Food Habits, Weight Gain, and Insulin Resistance (the CARDIA Study): 15-Year Prospective Analysis.” Lancet. 2005 Jan 1;365(9453):36–42.

Edwards C. “Empowering Citizens to Monitor Federal Spending.” Cato Institute. 2006. https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/tbb_0718-38.pdf.

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Tigers knock off No. 14 seed Oregon in dramatic fashion, advance to Supers

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Tigers knock off No. 14 seed Oregon in dramatic fashion, advance to Supers

EUGENE, Ore. (WAFB) – LSU head coach Paul Mainieri’s career will extend for at least one more weekend as the Tigers took down the No. 14 national seed Oregon Ducks 9-8 on Monday, June 7 in PK Park in Eugene, Oregon. LSU won four straight elimination games to keep their season alive.

The Tigers will now head to Knoxville, Tennessee to take on the No. 3 national seed Tennessee Volunteers, a team that swept LSU earlier in the season back in March. Game one between the Vols and Tigers will be on Saturday, June 12 at 6 p.m. on ESPN2

LSU left fielder Gavin Dugas was named the MVP of the Eugene Regional, over the past three games for the Tigers Dugas went 6-for-8 at the plate with three home runs, two triples, six RBI and six runs scored.

It was a back-and-forth game between the Tigers and Ducks that saw five different lead changes and that saw the Tigers winning their ninth Regional Championship under coach Mainieri in his 15 seasons at the helm for LSU. It will be the Tigers 15th Super Regional appearance in program history.

Landon Marceaux picked up the win for the Tigers as he pitched in relief for LSU, just two days after throwing over 100 pitches against the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Marceaux threw 2.1 innings, allowing one run, on four hits while striking out two batters.

LSU got things started in the bottom of the first inning as Gavin Dugas hit a two-run home run to center field to give the Tigers a quick 2-0 lead.

MOONSHOT🚀@gavin_dugas04 hammers one to center and the Tigers lead, 2-0

📺: ESPN2 pic.twitter.com/1TjFuppTim

— LSU Baseball (@LSUbaseball)

That lead would be short lived as the Ducks responded in the top of the second inning as Sam Novitske hit a RBI double to right center to cut the lead to 2-1. Sam Olsson would tie the game on a deep fly ball to center field that would score Novitske to tie the game at 2-2.

In the top of the third inning Oregon took their first lead of the game as the PAC-12 Player of the Year Aaron Zavala launched a two-run home run to left field to make it 4-2.

The Ducks would add another run in the top of the fourth inning on a Tanner Smith RBI single to make it 5-2.

LSU would answer in the bottom of the fourth as Dugas hit his second homer of the game, and third in two days to left field to make it 5-3.

The Kid Don’t Quit@gavin_dugas04 launches another one out the park

ORE – 5
LSU – 3
📺: ESPN2 pic.twitter.com/lmORByLAiN

— LSU Baseball (@LSUbaseball)

The Tigers would cut the lead to 5-4 as Drew Bianco hit a single up the middle and would later steal second and advance to third on a wild pitch and Bianco would score on the second wild pitch of the inning.

End 4 | Any Means Necessary@DrewBianco8 comes home on a wild pitch

ORE – 5
LSU – 4
📺: ESPN2 pic.twitter.com/KSNbAkXwLB

— LSU Baseball (@LSUbaseball)

LSU would retake the lead in the bottom of the sixth inning as Bianco hit a no-doubt home run to left center to make it 6-5. However, the Tigers lead would be short lived as Kenyon Yovan hit a two-run home run to center field to give the Ducks a 7-6 lead.

5 BALL DOES IT ALL@DrewBianco8 | 📺: ESPN2 pic.twitter.com/Rc2yM5Fiug

— LSU Baseball (@LSUbaseball)

In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Tigers would retake the lead for good in a weird inning. Cade Beloso would get Dugas in from third on a RBI fielders choice as Dugas slid under the tag at home to tie the game at 7-7.

Gavin gets across and the Tigers have tied it‼️

ORE – 7
LSU – 7
📺: ESPN2 pic.twitter.com/AXEo25ba6A

— LSU Baseball (@LSUbaseball)

LSU would take the lead on a balk as Oregon’s closer Kolby Somers attempted to pick off Beloso at first, but was called for a balk that would score Cade Doughty from third.

Balk ‘Em Down‼️

ORE – 7
LSU – 8
📺: ESPN2 pic.twitter.com/gnHdkvrllQ

— LSU Baseball (@LSUbaseball)

The Tigers added another run as Jordan Thompson collected his first hit of the game a RBI single to make it 9-7.

JORDY‼️@J_thompson_24 singles and scores the pinch runner, @WillSafford3, from second

ORE – 7
LSU – 9
📺: ESPN2 pic.twitter.com/ichB60QNh2

— LSU Baseball (@LSUbaseball)

Oregon would threaten in the top of the ninth inning, as they scored a run on a RBI groundout from Josh Kasevich to make it 9-8.

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High School Cheerleader’s Profane Social Media Rant Is Protected Free Speech, Says SCOTUS

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 today that a Pennsylvania public school district violated the First Amendment when it punished a high school freshman for posting a profane, off-campus rant on the social media site Snapchat about her failure to make the varsity cheerleading squad. “It might be tempting to dismiss [the cheerleader’s] words as unworthy of…robust First Amendment protections,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the majority. “But sometimes it is necessary to protect the superfluous in order to preserve the necessary.”

The matter of Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. originated with these words: “Fuck school fuck softball fuck cheer fuck everything.” They were posted to Snapchat on a Saturday night and were accompanied by a picture of B.L. (known by her initials in court filings because she was a minor at the time) and a friend with their middle fingers raised. To say the least, B.L.’s cheerleading coaches did not like that post when it was later brought to their attention. As punishment for it, B.L. was suspended from the junior varsity cheerleading team for a full year. The question before the Supreme Court was whether school officials may punish her for this off-campus speech.

The Supreme Court ruled today that the school may not. At the same time, however, the Court made it clear that its decision was not a sweeping one. In fact, the majority stressed that under certain circumstances, schools may punish students for speech that occurs off-campus. “Thus, we do not now set forth a broad, highly general First Amendment rule stating just what counts as ‘off campus’ speech and whether or how ordinary First Amendment standards must give way off campus,” Breyer wrote for the majority.

Instead, Breyer made three more general points. First, “geographically speaking, off-campus speech will normally fall within the zone of parental, rather than school-related, responsibility.” Second, “when it comes to political or religious speech that occurs outside school or a school program or activity, the school will have a heavy burden to justify intervention.” And third, “the school itself has an interest in protecting a student’s unpopular expression, especially when the expression takes place off campus.” To that he added: “America’s public schools are the nurseries of democracy. Our representative democracy only works if we protect the ‘marketplace of ideas.'”

“Taken together,” the opinion concluded, “these three features of much off-campus speech mean that the leeway the First Amendment grants to schools in light of their special characteristics is diminished. We leave for future cases to decide where, when, and how these features mean the speaker’s off-campus location will make the critical difference.”

The cheerleader won this time around, in other words, but future off-campus student speakers might well meet a different legal fate. The free speech side prevailed but it was a limited victory.

Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined the majority opinion in full but wrote separately to emphasize a few points. Among them was this:

there is a category of speech that is almost always beyond the regulatory authority of a public school. This is student speech that is not expressly and specifically directed at the school, school administrators, teachers, or fellow students and that addresses matters of public concern, including sensitive subjects like politics, religion, and social relations. Speech on such matters lies at the heart of the First Amendment’s protection.

“Even if such speech is deeply offensive to members of the school community and may cause a disruption,” Alito wrote, “the school cannot punish the student who spoke out; ‘that would be a heckler’s veto.'”

The sole dissenter today was Justice Clarence Thomas. In his view, “a more searching review reveals that schools historically could discipline students in circumstances like those presented here.” In fact, Thomas faulted the majority for failing “to consider whether schools often will have more authority, not less, to discipline students who transmit speech through social media.” As he put, “because off-campus speech made through social media can be received on campus (and can spread rapidly to countless people), it often will have a greater proximate tendency to harm the school environment than will an off-campus in-person conversation.”

The Supreme Court’s decision in Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. is available here.

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