Is Social Media Shallow?


This article appeared last week reporting on recent neurological research that, according to a media scholar, shows that social media can lead to bad moral reasoning.  The reasoning goes like this:

  • Moral decision-making requires time for reflection (according to common sense and now backed by neurological research).
  • Likewise, compassion and admiration are two essentially human social emotions; and both take longer to develop than simple reaction to pleasure or pain in oneself or others.
  • “Fast-paced digital media” are not conducive to reflection, and thus “may direct some heavy users away from traditional avenues for learning about humanity, such as engagement with literature or face-to-face social interactions.”

The author backed away from a blanket denouncement of digital media:  “‘It’s not about what tools you have, it’s about how you use those tools,’ she said.”

The article begins with this title:  “Tweet this: Rapid-fire media may confuse your moral compass.” As a result, for a scientific article it got tweeted a lot.  In the first hundred tweets or so many people were simply tweeting part of the article’s title.   Later tweets ended up including a lot of ironic play with the “moral compass” term.

With Twitter people get rewarded for tweeting posts and links that are most likely to get people’s attention.   With many articles, especially those with provocative titles, there’s very little need to actually read the article.  Just tweet it.  Cool!  This behavior of course proves the article’s point.  And so does the use of a provocative title for the article.

However, the best tweets are of course packed with meaning.  There is an art to it.  Social media is part social artistry, and part compass confusion.

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