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Social media regulation as a problem of collective action

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A new study found that most users of the social media platforms TikTok and Instagram would pay other users to stop using the apps – in order to be able to avoid having to continue being active on the platforms. The researchers also write that 64% of active TikTok users and 48% of active Instagram users feel “negative well-being” when using the platforms.

This means that the network effect of the platforms creates a trap for users: they feel the negative effects of the apps, but cannot leave them, precisely because everyone else is also active on the platforms.

And social media companies are caught in a different trap: they are well aware of the harmful effects of their platforms, but every action against the exploitation of human psychology creates advantages for the competition.

Jonathan Haidt now writes about these problems of collective action in the face of a “race to the bottom of the brainstem”:

Like oil companies who compete to extract and sell as much oil as possible, social media companies vie for human attention, aiming to sell this attention to advertisers. Due to intense competition and limited regulations, these companies are engaged in their own race to the bottom, but this time, to the bottom of the brain stem.

In order to get an overview of the problem and possible solutions, he has created a Google Doc with approaches to regulating social media platforms: Social Media Reforms – A Collaborative Review, on 94 pages so far there are lots of suggestions on platform design and Regulation, legislative submissions, reports and studies.

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I really like the approach of collaborative knowledge preparation and networking as a means of countering the psychological traps of capitalist-exploited network effects. The regulation of the social psychological drug social media requires a non-dogmatic and pragmatic approach, and a detailed collection of sources and ideas seems to me to be a good step in the right direction.

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