Jonathan Haidt: The Case Against Social Media | Lex Fridman Podcast #291

Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist at NYU and author of The Coddling of the American Mind, The Righteous Mind, and The Happiness Hypothesis. Please support this podcast by checking out our sponsors:
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Jonathan’s Twitter:
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Documents & Articles:
1. Social Media and Political Dysfunction: A Collaborative Review:
2. Teen Mental Health Testimony:
3. The Atlantic article:
1. The Coddling of the American Mind (book):
2. The Righteous Mind (book):
3. The Happiness Hypothesis (book):

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0:00 – Introduction
1:25 – Social media and mental health
15:14 – Mark Zuckerberg
24:51 – Children’s use of social media
35:36 – Social media and democracy
51:42 – Elon Musk and Twitter
1:08:13 – Anonymity on social media
1:14:12 – Misinformation
1:21:06 – Social media benefits
1:23:50 – Political division on social media
1:30:22 – Future of social media
1:36:14 – Advice for young people

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Written by Lex Fridman


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  1. Here are the timestamps. Please check out our sponsors to support this podcast.

    0:00 – Introduction & sponsor mentions:

    – Uncruise:

    – Notion: to get up to $1000 off team plan

    – Blinkist: and use code LEX to get 25% off premium

    – Magic Spoon: and use code LEX to get $5 off

    – Eight Sleep: and use code LEX to get special savings

    1:25 – Social media and mental health

    15:14 – Mark Zuckerberg

    24:51 – Children's use of social media

    35:36 – Social media and democracy

    51:42 – Elon Musk and Twitter

    1:08:13 – Anonymity on social media

    1:14:12 – Misinformation

    1:21:06 – Social media benefits

    1:23:50 – Political division on social media

    1:30:22 – Future of social media

    1:36:14 – Advice for young people

  2. I am off social media and I love it. I feel free. I can understand why people who have a large following would love it. It just made me feel like shit and I wasted a lot of time I did not ever feel authentically connected using social media either. I seem to be in the minority though so I just live my life and I have gotten used to sitting at a dinner table with people on their phone half the time as the norm.I just enjoy my alone time in those moments and observe.

  3. He makes a pretty vast generalization about nobody having a thousand phones. I think this is objectively untrue. Entities that would engage in scamming and influencing would certainly circumvent this by actually maintaining thousands of accounts with verification.

  4. Would the concrern about Elon's political affiliation exist if the statement were Left leaning? I suspect not as CEOs everywhere seem to be in a competition to appear more woke than the next.

  5. Hi Lex

    I just wanted to quickly thank you for doing this podcast. I have been avoiding some media for a long time now for several reasons. But as a consequence I also isolated myself to what is happening in the world. I am glad that a friend suggested listening to your podcasts. I feel like your conversations really opened the window to world for me again. Thanks for your smart, sometimes funny and balanced way of enabling people to talk about stuff that you normally only get to hear if you visit elite universities. And thanks for making it (mostly) understandable for people without an academic background.

    Your doing a great job in creating a better world. Thank you!

  6. I don't know if I 100% agree with giving social media users a literal social credit score ( I think it would be really difficult to detect humor and think it could keep contrarian opinions from surfacing) but I really enjoyed the conversation.

  7. This guy had my attention until his russophobic nonsense about Russian misinformation. He suggests that Russians have been the primary perpetrators of this since the 50's as if they've had some sort of unique monopoly on this somehow unaware that every single country's intelligence services engage in this behavior, non more so than the US needless to say.I guess he's never heard of the CIA.
    Hey instead of a kindness quotient how about a bullshit scale?

  8. I'm gonna have to disagree with Hr Haidt when it comes to limiting politicis to minimal spaces. He is grossly underestimating the enemy. There is no finding common ground with the left or agreeing on more civil discourse. This was thrown out by the left a long time ago. I'm sick of conservatives always been forced to give up gracefully or appealing to respect for all views. Look, the left wants to abolish the four olds entirely and that includes any meaningful remanence of white/sys/Christian. It is time for seperation and a swift divorce while we still can!!

  9. I feel like Lex is insistent on looking for a technical solution to a technology that exponentially amplifies the worst human nature. For kids, much like the cigarette, there is no such thing as "safe" social media. Period.

  10. Lex SIMPing for Musk is pretty ridiculous. Does he really think Musk’s tweets are not contrived? You think he is just lighthearted Tweeting. Stop being so Pollyanneish Lex. Musk has used Twitter over and over again to distract from his failing. Don’t worry he is only a few month away from solving that problem too. : )

  11. All due respect to Dr. Haidt but it's 2022 and cops can't tell a spoofed phone number from a valid one. Yes, I'm sorry but swatting is a thing. Good luck with the magic AI.
    Also, why do the democrats lean into this non existing "replacement theory" by applauding white deaths resulting from the "pill epidemic"? A few minutes of research gives you "it's not happening" and "it's good that it's happening". I was born at night…

  12. Jonathan seems stuck in the blame game. Twitter is just a social media channel, not a parent, or a culture at large, and I think the struggle of young people is not going to be cured by restricting Twitter more and Elon’s plan makes sense. Twitter holds a mirror up to the culture that it emerges out of. Is Twitter a cause or an effect?

  13. Simple things could have a large impact on girls mental health. For example, watermarking Instagram photos, clearly showing the filter applied to the image.

  14. Lol … "control bullying"??? They haven't been able to control bullying at school, in the workplace, etc. How do you think they're going to control bullying on "Social" media ?? They can't, they won't, they probably just don't care. When society realizes the problem of "Social" media and moves toward abandonment of this "media", we might begin to see change.

  15. One of the big problems with social media is the unintended social engineering side effects of the like system itself. At the root of it is an internet business model that's entirely focused on advertising, which means capturing attention by any means necessary, but the entry into that model is a like system that preys on humanity's addiction to banality and stupidity: it turns out what people 'like', universally, on every platform, is sex, wealth and conflict. And so what the algorithm really does is inflates the status rewards of sexual attractiveness, wealth and insults, which people then conflate with credibility to develop a new form of anti-intellectualism. The algorithm very efficiently finds, essentially, high school cool kids who have no real credibility and elevates them to a level of status that makes people desire to emulate them and grants them a platform to inflict their ideas on society in a widespread way that reshapes society in their own image.

    Part of this is because the internet functions like a region, with its own culture, its own leaders, its own rules, and so on, and as much as people like to say crypto is the currency of the internet, the true currency of the internet is popularity: follower counts can literally be converted by metrics like retention, average engagement and CPM into cash — a conversion rate like any forex currency. Until the internet, on the backend, is divorced from a reward system that's based entirely on social status an popularity, you will have a system that incentivizes people to seek to lead the world in tits, flexing and sick burns and gives almost zero reward to actual achievements or intelligence. It's not just depression and political division that social media incentivizes: it's also rampant, unending, unmitigated, shameless stupidity.

    The widespread nature of advertising also incentivizes content to aim toward the lowest common denominator — a gigantic race to the bottom — because content generates more popularity and therefore more income if it's widely viewed. If a youtube video, twitter post or anything else is extremely intelligent and high quality, the amount of appreciation a small amount of people get doesn't translate into higher income. There's little incentive to create that kind of content in the advertising model, unlike some other models where people are willing to pay more for high quality. There's the old adage, there are popular answers and then there are correct answers. In the current model of the internet, there is no incentive to produce correct answers, only popular answers.

    Ultimately, skipping a few steps, I think the solution begins with realizing the FAANG companies operate as a de facto government of the internet which, again, can be viewed through the lens of being a nation in all but physicality, and with VR, in the long term, say a generation or so, beginning to breakdown even that distinction. And as a government, the FAANG companies have a certain responsibility to address the social ramifications of their policies, in this case an economy that is almost entirely beholden to undiversified advertising that gives influencers, on the basis of sexual attractiveness, wealth (often inherited wealth) and general proclivity toward conflict & meanspiritedness, an undue amount of power and status. What social media has done, in essence, is turned all of society into a high school where prom kings and queens run the roost, even if they're failing all their classes and are awful, awful human beings who treat people terribly. It's turned society into a system where popularity is the biggest predictor of success.

    You could start by recognizing the social engineering side effects of the 'like' button and adding sophistication to it like you see a little bit on linkedin, where rather than 'like' you can have 'interesting', 'smart', 'funny', 'kind' or other socially positive features and aim towards using those positive attributes in the income conversion from engagement/views into income, so you see less banal and base level things incentivized financially by the system. That's one thing, in the short term, but in the long term, the internet needs to diversify its economy from advertising, and in order to do that you need property rights, stricter copyrights, and a general system of legal recourse, which would mean if you have to /buy/ content rather than receive it for free contingent on advertising, you won't buy a lot of this trash content, you'll spend your money on things of real value. This is something the public has no appetite for, though, nor do companies who can't profit at scale.

    You also have the issue that these companies are profiting off of the content people create, in most cases without compensating them. On youtube this is not the case (though they take a HEFTY cut, which if you could almost view as a tax, and an unreasonable one at that), but on twitter, instagram, and facebook, you are generating views for the website, their direct source of income, AKA you are doing all the labor, and you are receiving no compensation for that labor. The issue here is people view this labor as leisure, even though it's mostly compelled through addiction, but posting memes and mining salt are not much different in terms of how they function in the economic model.

    In conclusion, 3 things:
    – Replace the like button with sophisticated, positive social attributes: intelligent, kind, well-researched, insightful, etc in order to incentivize content that has a positive effect on society instead of addictive banalities.
    – Diversify the economy away from advertising by incentivizing models where people sell their content directly and have legal protections and enforcement that only the FAANG infrastructure can provide for that sold content.
    – Require social media companies to pay the fair CPM rates for all content provided to their sites to all users who produce content.

    But what do I know, that's just my opinion.

  16. You wouldn’t let your kids talk to everyone in a room who were complete strangers all day so how is social media different? It’s not good for the world!!!

  17. While I appreciate the sentiment of concern for people who have been emotionally captured by various social media platforms, I am doubtful that the conversation will ever recognize the notion that this is the actual business model of these companies and that without sepatrating our national politics from corporate capture there will not be reform that impacts this model. We must recognize that there may be some very powerful entities who prefer divisive rhetoric and vulnerable constuents. Unfortunately, like most issues of pollution, our only option for reform will most likely not include governments or corporations. I also would appreciate a recognition of how national security apparatuses manipulate social media platforms for covert operations, psyops, etc.

  18. Lol, Come on Haidt, you can't REALLY believe that shadowbanning/segregation based on a social (media) credit score doesn't count as "censorship". Just admit that you want censorship bro.

  19. Not sure what Lex was on here. I love that he pays devils advocate, but he seemed opposed to kids be off social media… Bruh, it's been obvious since day 1 this was a disaster.

  20. Who gets to decide what is offensive and what’s being an asshole?

    Censoring is a slippery slope. If someone is breaking the law by threats, intimidation, harassment, etc then they should be reported to the cops but shouldn’t be censored

  21. Great conversation! Haidt is one of the few academics actually doing objective research without being polluted by censorship or political bias.

    The ultimate issue with kids today is the parents. A LOT of lazy, dumb, bad parents. Nearly every single issue we face in America today is strongly correlated to the bad parents raising bad kids and the breakdown of the family unit (man women kids)

  22. Haidt has been saying this stuff for a long time and I feel like he shows his frustration at having to repeat himself here. Great interview but could smell the impatience.. not the easiest to listen to.

    And I get what he's saying with Elon musk compromising his ethical integrity by displaying partisanship… But I think it's a much more overt and egregious violation of ethics when someone like Maxine Waters encourages citizens to harass each other in public. I think he's making a worthy criticism of musk I'm just not convinced it's as dire as his presentation would suggest and it doesn't seem to be applied in a necessarily non partisan way either…

    Haidt comes across as extremely human in this interview.

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