Social Media Is Today's Tobacco Industry

There’s no doubt that social media has created an incredible amount of value. We have all become more creative, especially the new crop of social media influencers who cater to literally almost any niche or broad interest group. We have all become far more connected, and can learn about something within mere minutes, or even seconds. The social media economy delivers enormous opportunity to sellers of literally anything, and it has created a valuable and effective advertising platform for almost any target audience.

But we also know it’s doing enormous harm. People are getting hurt. People have died -- some because they replicated dumb trends on TikTok, some because they try and score social media fame by performing outrageous stunts. And some because they are bullied, harassed, and punished for merely having a social media presence.

So yeah, social media is part blessing, part curse. Perhaps the balance is more curse than blessing.

As marketers, we can’t ignore social media as a means to connect with consumers, or as a tool to sell our wares. The blessings for the platform shareholders, marketers and the social media content industry are simply too large. But the curses are so damaging that they should not be ignored either.



This challenge was on full display this week when the social media tech titans sat in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing called "Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis." Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified along with X CEO Linda Yaccarino, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew and Discord CEO Jason Citron, and were dressed down by a remarkably bipartisan group of Democratic and Republican senators.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told Mark Zuckerberg: "You have a product that's killing people." Senator Josh Hawley challenged Zuckerberg to apologize to the parents of exploited and harmed children. Zuckerberg did, as did Spiegel.

The examples and stories that were shared made for uncomfortable viewing, so we can only imagine what it must have felt like to be at the receiving end of the fully valid criticism.

This crisis is real.

All the tech leaders talked at length about what their companies are doing to build technology solutions that prevent and block harmful content. Clearly these measures are failing, as important as they are. I can only imagine what these platforms would look like without the tech solutions that are the first layer of defense against all the awfulness. So we need tech solutions, simply because the volume of content is too large to be governed by people.

Perhaps we need to look at social media as the new tobacco industry. It makes a lot of money. It is not healthy. We probably need continued legislation and more health-related studies to truly understand the problem and what we should and should not permit. But if the analogy holds, isn’t the inevitable solution the one thing we can’t realistically do, which is to ban it from our lives?

2 comments about "Social Media Is Today's Tobacco Industry".
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  1. Ben B from Retired, February 2, 2024 at 10:48 p.m.

    I don't think fines will do anything from the government they can't police they really shouldn't be policing it truth be told. I don't believe that social media is today's big tabbacco this is low hanging fruit. And now the slimy lawyers already got social media lawsuits up and running, it's up to the parents to take personal responsablity along with adults as well in my opinion. When I was on Twitter/X I knew when to get off sometimes I'd be on it a little too much but not offen I was suspended I wouldn't give info just to stay on the site this was a few weeks before Elon became CEO of Twitter/X.

    I don't think that the CEO's didn't need to apologize they did nothing wrong they weren't the ones telling those to hurt themselfs or doing a dangous challenge on social media and posting it. There will be rules but nothing will really or ever change truth be told it's just politicans pumping there chest acting like there doing something when they aren't doing anything look at me in those hearings and grandstanding I'll believe it when I see it.

  2. Steve Rosenbaum from SustainableMedia.Center, February 2, 2024 at 11:06 p.m.

    Do you know the Molly Russell story?

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