As part of my doctoral coursework, I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about systems.
Relationships, it turns out, are a lot like the mobiles we hang over the cribs of infants. If you remove one floating giraffe, the rest float at a different height. This is a system. Every part affects every other part.
This is also how human relationships and organizations work. This is why dysfunctional families, churches, and businesses have the same problems over and over. They are systems at (unhealthy) equilibrium. But there is hope. When individuals change what they put into the system, the system initially tries to restore equilibrium (by pushing back), but then it changes to accommodate the new input.
There are no problem people in an emotional system. There are only people whose poor behavior is empowered by the system. The system is always perfectly designed for the present results.
Social media is a toxic emotional system. But it is not toxic because there are problem users. It is toxic because of us. We are loyal participants in a system perfectly designed for thoughtless engagement, for rewarding takedowns, for sarcasm, for trolling, and for reducing human persons to abstractions of wrongness. The system is perfectly designed for the present results.
The solution to this toxicity is not a change in corporate policy, but rather a change in our inputs. To call social media toxic is to implicate ourselves. There are no problem people. There’s just us.