The Reality of the Social Media Companies Business Model


Social media gives us the extraordinary ability to connect with strangers, share our work, and access resources all for free! Well…somewhat free. While there’s no monetary fee to sign up for an Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook account, our behavior and mental health may be paying the price. In an interview with Channel 4 News, Jaron Lanier, author of 10 arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, discusses what being on social media is actually costing us.

When you research Lanier’s name you’ll hear him speak one consistent message — “Social Media companies have one goal in mind and that’s to change our behavior.” He calls media giants like Facebook and Instagram, behavior modification empires. In his interview, Jaron was asked, “Why should I delete my social media account?”, and this was his response —

“For your own good and for society’s good. Society has been gradually darkened by this scheme by which everyone is under surveillance all the time. It’s made people irritable and cranky, it’s made teens depressed and it’s made our politics strange. We don’t know what is real anymore.”

Social networks are designed to engage users and get them addicted, while the actual paying customers, such as advertisers, are doing the manipulating. How are they doing this? Lanier explains,

“Algorithms are taking our social media activity patterns and changing what we see next. They follow you and look for (your) quick responses.”

Studies have also shown that social media usage releases a chemical called dopamine, the same chemical released when you receive a hug, exercise, or accomplish a goal.* Dopamine is also known as the “reward molecule”. So when our followers, likes, and comments increase, we feel a sense of euphoria, we feel triumphant. In the end, this rewards based business model is leading to addiction and behavior modification.

Let me ask you a few questions: Have you ever noticed how many times you click on your Instagram app in one day? Or how many hours your teen spends scrolling and posting on their feeds? What reaction do you have when someone likes your post? How do you feel when you read a negative comment directed towards you or others? What’s your child’s behavior like after some screen time?

I bet you’d be surprised by some of the answers. The hard truth is, social media is driving our behavior while altering it at the same time. While it may be free to use, the real cost is our emotional wellbeing.

So, what does this mean for us and our teens?

As parents, it’s important to know what’s happening behind the scenes and the media tactics used to impact our own decisions and our teens’ behavior. We aren’t saying that all social media is bad and we know it’s here to stay. You’ll hear us say constantly that social networks can grow your business, expand your network, and share your work in great ways. However, if addiction continues to drive tweets or posts and people continue to log-on without setting proper boundaries, that’s when unhealthy users on social media can cause more harm than good. We need smart thinking, not an addiction, to drive our usage and the education and tools to navigate it well.

For our tweens and teens, they are growing up in an age where double taps and snaps are influencing their choices on what to watch, how to act, what to wear and who to be friends with. Each download or share drives them further down a road that’s difficult to break. Did you know that the rise in depression and teen suicide correlates with the rise and use of social media?* That indicates a deeper root issue. It’s important for the younger generation (and our own!) to know who they are well before they sign up for any app and log-on. It
means, first and foremost, connecting with peers on a human level, learning how to use apps responsibly, and making
real person-to-person conversations a priority. As their parents, we have an obligation to establish that foundation and speak the truth about their purpose and identity so social media doesn’t do it for us. Tip: Start by teaching them the art of asking conversational questions and listening for the answer!  

We don’t share this information to instill fear or worry. We share this information as more of a caution and to offer awareness that leads to practical action. Let’s share what we learn and what’s important with fellow parents, educators, and friends. Finally, may we use social media responsibly and make educated decisions for and with our children. We know this may be overwhelming and it’s hard to know where to start,


 but that’s why we’re here to help.

All this information and more can be found in the following Jaron Lanier interview. Click below to learn more!

Here are some practical tips:

To young people:

We echo Jaron Lanier’s advice; he suggests to users, especially young people, to quit social media for at least six months.  Because social media is so algorithmic, it doesn’t involve direct communication and people don’t get the cues to understand what’s happening to them. So being off of it for a time will offer you the chance to get a clearer view, learn who you are, establish your likes and dislikes, and gain a greater sense of self-awareness. “The greatest gift you can have is self-knowledge and until you can get to know yourself apart from social media, you can’t know yourself as well.” – Lanier

To parents:

Now that we all know how social media can be highly addictive, your choice may be to also take a small break from it. Other tips: Monitor your teen’s phone time, Set up parental controls (How to’s can be found here), or download apps like QualityTime and check your screentime habits on Apple devices under settings to track you and your teen’s digital habits.

Now what?

Possible action steps:

  1. Watch the Jaron Lanier interview and determine how some of the principles work or don’t work for your family.
  2. Identify and name reactions or emotions you or your teen have when spending time on social media. What does that tell you?

For more in depth research listen to Jaron Lanier’s C-SPAN talk on 10 Reasons to get off of Social Media


Do you have ideas and thoughts on the topic? Please share in the comments! Let’s talk.

By Vivien Reed Content Director 2

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