Why and When Did Social Media Go Wrong?

Following my last post about how social media is bad for your health - an idea that I think most people would agree with  - I also feel that social media has undeniably transformed communication and society in numerous ways. If you assume that is true, then you should ask why and when social media went wrong. This is a cross-post from my Weekends in Paradelle blog.

Despite lots of media attention about the negative effects of social media. it is still widely used. I started thinking about when social media became unhealthy. Any answer is subjective and complex and probably depends on individual factors such as personal experiences, societal norms, and technological advancements.While it offers many benefits, there have been turning points that have contributed to negative perceptions of social media.

Here’s my list of some turning points:

Privacy Concerns: As social media platforms evolved and became more integrated into people’s lives, concerns about privacy and data security emerged. High-profile incidents, such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal involving Facebook, raised awareness about the potential misuse of personal data collected by social media companies. This eroded trust among users and led to increased scrutiny of social media platforms’ privacy practices.

Spread of Misinformation and Fake News: Social media has facilitated the rapid spread of misinformation, rumors, and fake news. The ease of sharing content on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp has made it challenging to verify the accuracy of information, leading to the proliferation of false narratives and conspiracy theories. This phenomenon has had serious consequences, including the exacerbation of social divisions, political polarization, and public health misinformation.

Cyberbullying and Online Harassment: Social media platforms have provided avenues for cyberbullying, harassment, and online abuse. The relative anonymity afforded by the internet, combined with the viral nature of social media, has enabled individuals to target others with hurtful or threatening behavior. This has had particularly harmful effects on young people, leading to mental health issues, social withdrawal, and even suicide in some cases.

Impact on Mental Health: Research has highlighted the negative effects of excessive social media use on mental health, including increased feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Factors such as social comparison, cyberbullying, and the pressure to present a curated and idealized version of one’s life contribute to these negative outcomes. Additionally, the addictive nature of social media platforms, characterized by endless scrolling and notifications, can exacerbate feelings of stress and overwhelm.

Erosion of Civil Discourse: Social media was once seen as one way to “democratize” the web. But it has been criticized for contributing to the erosion of civil discourse and the rise of polarized and hostile online environments. Echo chambers and filter bubbles, where users are exposed primarily to viewpoints that align with their own, can reinforce existing biases and prevent constructive dialogue across ideological divides. This has implications for democracy, as it hampers informed decision-making and compromises the ability to find common ground on important societal issues.

So, when and why did social go wrong?

When I was teaching a graduate course in social media, we talked about its timeline history. That was 2016 and we were only talking about the negative effects as a fairly new point on that timeline. If I were teaching that today, I would need to add developments in the history of social media that mark shifts toward negative effects:

Here is a start on that list:
Proliferation of Platforms: Social media platforms began to gain popularity in the early 2000s with sites like MySpace and Friendster. As more platforms emerged and gained widespread adoption, the sheer volume of social interactions online increased dramatically.

Introduction of News Feeds: The introduction of news feeds, where users could see updates from friends and pages they followed in real-time, marked a significant shift in how people consumed content on social media. This change led to increased time spent on platforms and potentially unhealthy comparison behaviors.

Rise of Smartphones: The widespread adoption of smartphones made access to social media constant and ubiquitous. People could now engage with social media anytime, anywhere, blurring the boundaries between online and offline life.

Algorithmic Changes: Social media platforms began to implement algorithms to curate users’ feeds based on their interests and behaviors. While these algorithms aimed to increase engagement, they also contributed to echo chambers, filter bubbles, and the spread of misinformation.

Data Privacy Concerns: High-profile data breaches and scandals, such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal involving Facebook, highlighted how social media platforms could compromise users’ privacy and security. These revelations eroded trust in social media companies and raised concerns about the ethical implications of their practices.

Overall, while social media has brought about numerous positive advancements in communication and connectivity, its negative effects have become increasingly apparent over time. The exact point at which it became “unhealthy” is difficult to pinpoint, but these developments have collectively contributed to growing concerns about the impact of social media on individuals and society.

Social Media Is Bad for Your Health

Amber macArthur

a dark @ambermac

"Too much social media is bad for your health," wrote Amber MacArthur recently in her newsletter. "This is true for adults and especially true for kids. Almost a decade ago I wrote a book exclusively on this topic, endlessly worried about how tech companies saw young users (including my son) as a goldmine for data and dollars. My 2016 book (don't buy it, it's out of date) focused on how tweens and teens were spending time on social media apps - and how parents could help them stay safe."

I used her book in 2016 for a graduate course I was teaching in social media design. Not even a decade later and almost everything I used in that course is out of date. Amber notes that a recent survey of thousands of people in 142 countries and territories found that one in four people are lonely (Source: Statista). Perhaps, fewer face-to-face relationships are to blame?

on another blog    One area I addressed is the impact on mental health: Research has highlighted the negative effects of excessive social media use on mental health, including increased feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Factors such as social comparison, cyberbullying, and the pressure to present a curated and idealized version of one's life contribute to these negative outcomes. Additionally, the addictive nature of social media platforms, characterized by endless scrolling and notifications, can exacerbate feelings of stress and overwhelm.

Are there any possible solutions or at least some ways to improve social media use - especially with younger people?


Many suggestions are controversial from age verification to smartphone bans. Take age verification, which seems reasonable but opens up privacy issues.  In the book The Anxious Generation, Jonathan Haidt suggests that there should be no phones before high school, no social media before 16, and no phones in school. Sounds good but they are all very difficult to enforce, at home or in school. I was always told that kids shouldn't be watching screens until age 3. Good luck with that.

A social psychologist, Haidt lays out the facts about the epidemic of teen mental illness that hit many countries at the same time. He then investigates the nature of childhood, including why children need play and independent exploration to mature into competent, thriving adults. Haidt shows how the “play-based childhood” began to decline in the 1980s, and how it was finally wiped out by the arrival of the “phone-based childhood” in the early 2010s. He presents more than a dozen mechanisms by which this “great rewiring of childhood” has interfered with children’s social and neurological development, covering everything from sleep deprivation to attention fragmentation, addiction, loneliness, social contagion, social comparison, and perfectionism. He explains why social media damages girls more than boys and why boys have been withdrawing from the real world into the virtual world, with disastrous consequences for themselves, their families, and their societies.

In my next post, I'll try to figure out when social media went wrong.



Logo Elgg.orgsource

I wrote here about the open-source software called Elgg almost two decades ago. (Not to be confused with elgg.net which was a social networking site for educators back around 2006 and no longer exists.)  Elgg is open-source social networking software that provides individuals and organizations with the components needed to create an online social environment. It offers blogging, microblogging, file sharing, networking, groups, and a number of other features. It was also the first platform to bring ideas from commercial social networking platforms to educational software. It was founded in 2004 by Ben Werdmuller and Dave Tosh

I view those older posts and many of the ones on this site that dates back almost 20 years as historical documents of a sort. I'm tempted at times to update them, and I do sometimes fix a broken image of proofreading mistake, but they may have some value as the documentation of another time in edtech history.

How many of the alternatives to commercial course management systems from my 2006 list still exist? I looked up Elgg to see if it was still in use. The Wikipedia entry shows that an impressive list of sites are using Elgg. The list includes Oxfam, the Australian, Dutch, Canadian and British Governments, New Zealand Ministry of Education, State of Ohio, USA, The World Bank, UNESCO, and the United Nations Development Programme.

Here is one of those old posts - expect broken links.

Elgg is software for building a personal learning landscape.” OK, and what is that? The software is from the Unired Kingdom. I first saw it mentioned on the Moodle site and thought it was a kind of plug-in to Moodle. It uses blogs, e-portfolios, shared files, RSS feeds and other "social networking" tools. I thought it had been designed for educational use, but looking through the users, it has a good number of general users.

Their site has a demo community set up and their resources/links are set up using an embedded wiki. You can create a free user account and will get space for a blog, RSS feeds, aggregator to read other peoples content, space to store your own resources (files). As a guest, you can still view items made public in user profiles - here's mine

Since their new release is version 0.601, this is obviously new beta software. So does this replace a Moodle or Blackboard, or supplement it, or serve a different purpose?

I'm hoping that my collaborator here, Tim Kellers, will have more to add in a follow-up posting. He has installed Elgg and worked with it for a while.

http://webapps.saugus.k12.ca.us/community - California's Saugus Unified School District uses it and as you can see, it is a secure environment with user id and password access. However, take a look at their user introduction pdf document. It's a nice 9 page intro with screenshots. Another K12 district getting ahead of the colleges!

Elgg = software and elgg.net is a site that uses that software.

Ready for the test? Elgg is to Elgg.net as ____ is to Wikipedia. (Answer: Mediawiki)

Well, to deal with that confusion (or further confuse you), elgg.net will now be edufilter.org.

Here's an email that went out to users from the Elgg folks:

Changes are afoot at Elgg.net!
Actually, you've been accustomed to change throughout the existence of the site since we started it in 2004. New features pop up all the time, and we think you'll be pleased to hear that this isn't going to stop soon.
However, we're going to change the name. Next Wednesday, Elgg.net will become Edufilter.org.
This is because, for a lot of people, Elgg.net is Elgg. Granted, it's a confusing name. But Elgg is a free, open source, white label social networking framework that anyone can install on their own servers. Want it running at your institution? Point your elearning folks at http://elgg.org.
Elgg.net, meanwhile, is a social network for education - and therefore, we think Edufilter is probably a better name.
You've probably got concerns, so let's deal with the most important:
#1: We're not going to break any of your links. While the front page of Elgg.net will forward to the main Elgg software homepage, anyone visiting elgg.net/your-username will still get to your page. We have no plans to end this, so if your address is printed on materials, don't worry. Everything's fine.
#2: The site will not be discontinued. It continues to be our flagship installation.
Furthermore, making the site overtly educational means we can give you more directed content and features. Sponsorship opportunities are available; if you'd like to promote your product or service available to some of the world's leading lights in elearning, let us know.
Best regards,
The Curverider team

Tim Kellers installed Elgg software here at NJIT, so drop by and register if you want to try it out. I also suggest you go to the elgg.net site and create an account so you can become part of that educator community. I have made some interesting contacts outside the United States from there. Right now I am just having this blog's content mirrored to my elgg blog account by using an RSS feed (yeah, there are some formatting & image issues doing that).

A Few Other Posts





Rebranding Twitter

twitter x logo
                                                What is happening?! Indeed.


Recently, Twitter owner Elon Musk officially changed the company’s famous bird logo to an “X” as part of a rebranding.

Musk acquired the platform for $44 billion late last year, He posted that the company would soon “bid adieu to the twitter brand and, gradually, all the birds.”
The following day his domain X.com sent people the same Twitter homepage which remains live with no other changes apparent other than the logo.

Musk's vision is for the transition from Twitter to X to turn the platform into what he calls an “everything app.” Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino posted that X will be “centered in audio, video, messaging, payments/banking" and that it will be powered by artificial intelligence.

This transition began in April when court filings changed the name of Twitter Inc. to X Corp.

Musk wants tweets to be called “x’s,” though I predict that will take some time to take hold - if ever. Musk was asked what retweets would be called. He wrote that the “concept should be rethought" - meaning the word or the ability to repost something?

X.com is not a new domain. It was an online bank co-founded by Elon way back in 1999. X.com merged with competitor Confinity Inc. the following year to create an easy payment system. The merged company changed its name to PayPal, and then eBay bought PayPal for $1.5 billion in 2002, and in 2015, PayPal was spun off and became an independent company.


He shared a photo of the X logo projected onto the company’s headquarters Monday.