Karl Marx is famous for a lot of things. Most notably, the distortion of light and colour that is his black mustache upon an otherwise white beard. One of his lesser known accomplishments is the foundation of communism. Communism, according to Marx, is historically inevitable due to the growing restlessness of the proletariat and will eventually be achieved by glorious revolution. There are barriers to this revolution, however, and one of them Marx believed to be religion. Marx considered religion to be the opiate of the masses, and felt that a promise of a better afterlife would anesthetize the population against the classist oppression that they suffer in the current one.

Whether or not Marx is accurate in his critique of religion (a notable religious organization is currently in the throes of a violent revolution against their oppressive living conditions, which, if nothing else, demonstrates a lack of the lethargy brought on by a narcotic; ISIS, if you were wondering), the idea of an opioid numbing the minds of the people has since gained traction. Television is considered a new opiate of the masses, and it is not difficult to see why. After having killed the brain cells of a generation, parents now long for their children to misbehave as it means that they are not actually glued to a screen. “Netflix and Chill” has inseminated the dating scene to illustrate a population quite adequately placated by the lull of the television screen.

Television has been slowly overtaking the household for decades now, but today many people are spending their time on social media instead. Social media is lauded as the new platform for progress and enlightenment, and judging by what you’ve read so far you have likely ascertained that I am imminently about to disagree. Not wanting to make you feel silly, I do in fact disagree.

The greatest success to come out of social media was the Arab Spring in Egypt where it was used to disseminate critical information regarding demonstrations and retaliatory behaviour practiced by Mubarak’s government. Regardless of the results of the Arab Spring, it did prove the usefulness of social media as a complement to real-life activism. Information is needed for organization, and social media is ideal for its proliferation.

However, the potential and the reality of social media are reflective of the nature of the internet in general. Though given great acclaim for its cornucopia of easily accessible information, the internet is much more widely known for giving unprecedented access to untold amounts of pornography and cat videos.

The predominant use of social media is not altering the state of the world or even really making a dent. It’s a way to waste a shit load of time. Community-based games such as Farmville and its successor Clash of Clans are notoriously addictive, and Clash of Clans (a free game) has gathered enough money to create Superbowl ads with A-list celebrities based solely on real money users spend in-game, which is to say a lot. That’s like a heroin dealer giving heroin away for free, and yet still somehow making millions of dollars by selling extra heroin on the side. This is in addition to the already mind-numbing function of scrolling through one’s Facebook newsfeed to scope out the activities and wedding pictures of friends and strangers alike, which is inexplicably compelling, garnering Facebook the appropriate nickname Crackbook.

Another issue with social media is that it often becomes an echo chamber. If a controversial topic is posted, most people will simply unfriend any dissenting voices, leaving them with a circle of peers who essentially agree with everything they say. In their defense, arguing on the internet is a meaningless task, as it is inherently lacking any kind of actual confrontation that would lead to concessions by either party. This leads to stagnation and a closed-minded outlook which creates a poverty of intellect in anyone’s Facebook page.

Further, with the instantaneous nature of social media, the demand for information is immediate. If something cannot be expressed in a meme or a 30 second clip, it will not be consumed, so the media becomes a reflection of that. News outlets are shedding their investigative reporters because long term journalism is becoming overshadowed by in-the-moment tweets. People need prompt information and will essentially ignore the critical nuances that a longer look might uncover because the speed with which social media operates cannot abide drawn-out events. This is seen repeatedly in prolonged violent attacks where news reporters will essentially make up stories so as to have something to deliver, leading to grave misrepresentation of the events taking place.

Politicians are also encumbered by this hasty demand and can no longer play the long game as answers to problems must be delivered in minutes. In addition, public opinion is available to an extent never before seen, and in order to pander to it for voter appeal, the medium within which it operates must be met, and unfortunately this medium is detrimental to critical thought. This leads to politicians like Barack Obama participating in the comedic Between Two Ferns, or Donald Trump hosting Saturday Night Live. Effective policy is essentially lost in politics, as the game more than ever before becomes about being palatable to mainstream voters through sharable clips and quips.

Social media does have the infinitesimal potential to be a boon to society, but that small chance is exaggerated into a panacea and in turn obscures the dangers of its use as a societal tool. The success in the Arab Spring was built upon the physical, not digital, actions of a large group of people. The digital component was ancillary to the revolution, but it was not the revolution itself. Social media can only perform within the cult of awareness, where new topics may be broached, but will ultimately remain ineffectual if they remain within that realm.

The frightening aspect of social media as an opiate of the masses is that it purports to be the opposite; an eye-opening engagement of the people with the world at large. In reality, social media distracts the populace with its addictive narcotic quality, and dulls and restricts progressive conversations that happen within it. People are further pacified by their belief that they are making a difference, and Marx’s inevitable revolution is delayed even further.

Because social media sucks, here are my other two posts about it.