Is Social Media the New Smoking?
We can no longer deny the significant dark side of social media
The horrific events in New Zealand on March 15 have once again put social media, and Facebook in particular, under intense (and deserved) scrutiny. The mass shooter who killed 50 people was trying not only to inflict death and injury to as many as possible, but to achieve notoriety via social media by streaming the sickening rampage online. In a powerful piece in The Register, Kieren McCarthy suggested we — the users — have created a monster in social media, through avarice and a lack of moral compass.
Any suggestion that social media companies should be policed, restricted, or otherwise made to abide by established norms and legal rules inevitably attracts a deluge of trolling — but what happens when the good that social media certainly provides is increasingly outweighed by the harm it causes? This surely deserves more considered debate, and I would argue, some sort of action. Banning social media is not a feasible solution, self-regulation has failed, and while government regulation is a popular proposition supported by a number of politicians, actually making it work may be harder to achieve. So what is the answer? Perhaps looking at another industry could provide some ideas.
Smoking is a habit which many find pleasurable. It helps ease social interaction and provides important breaks and opportunities to relax and unwind. It is of course also highly addictive, damaging to your health and those around you, and exacts a huge cost on society. Governments around the world have acted to limit the harm from tobacco — and those efforts have been effective. In the U.K. in 1948, approximately 4 out of 5 men smoked some form of tobacco. Now, the number has fallen to 1 in 5 adults.
A combination of public education programs, on-pack warnings, strict enforcement of age limits for purchase, and bans on where people can smoke have proven effective in protecting the health of millions of people. Social pressure from friends and relatives, even disapproving looks from others, acts as a multiplier, increasing the incentive for…