January 15, 2021

The Social Media Dilemma: Boycott or Stay and Be Reasonable

boats frozen in the snow

Suppose there was a social media platform out there somewhere that you considered problematic for whatever reason. Maybe it is rife with conspiracy theories, creationism, racism, misogyny, opposing political viewpoints, Scientology, or whatever else you might find objectionable. Or maybe it is less about the user-created content found there and more about how the platform is run. Perhaps the owners routinely sell user information, manipulate content to inflame emotions, censor information based on religious objections, prohibit the individual you regard as the greatest president of your lifetime from using the service, etc. Should you refuse to share your content there so as not to contribute to the platform in any way, or should you share your content there because the sort of people on that site are even more in need of being exposed to rational voices than the rest of the population?

The argument for taking your content elsewhere seems compelling. By sharing it on this platform, you are contributing to it. The presence of your content could attract new users to the platform. Even if it doesn't, it is giving current users a reason to stay. If you genuinely dislike what is happening on the platform, it makes sense that you wouldn't want to contribute to it in any way. Instead, it seems reasonable that you'd go in search of an alternative or use this as an opportunity to scale back the time you spend on social media.

On the other hand, the "rational voices" argument seems compelling too. We have all seen what happens when the rational voices leave the scene. Shouldn't you strive to be a voice of reason in a context where such a voice is so desperately needed? You aren't going to change every mind, but you might change a few. By exposing the users of the platform to a rational alternative to the content they are more likely to encounter, you are helping to make sure that they are at least exposed to reality.

This would normally be the point in the post where I tell you which side I come down on and explain why. Unfortunately, I can't do that here. I see the merit in both of these competing positions, and I am not sure what the correct answer is (or even if there is one). Like any real dilemma, it feels like I am being pulled in opposite directions with roughly equal force. The moment I find myself drifting toward one side, the voice in my head says, "But what about..." and I am pulled toward the other side. I'm curious what you think. Is this a real dilemma where neither option seems ideal, or do you believe there is a clear and obvious choice?