Social media

Must we live in perpetual fear of being named and shamed?

You should feel thoroughly ashamed of reading this infamous rag. Or else you might decide to revel, shamelessly, in its critics’ prim disapproval. From political squalls to global wars, David Keen argues that a ‘spiral of shame’ and shamelessness now traps individuals and societies in arid cycles of pain, rage and revenge. Manipulative actors – ‘advertisers, warmongers, terrorists, tyrants and charlatans’ – sell us ‘magical solutions’ to the anguish of the shame they themselves stoke. But they merely pass the burden to other groups, leaving us with more suffering. Keen writes: ‘Such actors do with shame what the Mafia does with fear.’ The author teaches conflict studies at the LSE.

Are smartphones making us care less about humanity?

Generation Z were the first to grow up attached to smartphones. They spent their adolescence bathed in screen-light and now they’re depressed and anxious. Should we have seen it coming? Until very recently my parent friends were in determined denial. Z is the best generation that has ever lived, they said, free from prejudice and determined to recycle. I remember a piece by Caitlin Moran in which she insisted that her children were far more noble and caring than her contemporaries. No one picks up their iPhone to grapple with complex ideological truths Well, those optimistic days are over. The stats are now too stark. We daren’t take the kids’

‘Childhood has been rewired’: Professor Jonathan Haidt on how smartphones are damaging a generation

Something strange is happening with teenagers’ mental health. In Britain, the US, Australia and beyond, the same trend can be seen: around the middle of the last decade, the number of young people with anxiety, depression and even suicidal tendancies started to rise sharply. Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, noticed a change when students who were brought up with smartphones started to arrive on campus. They were angrier. More fragile. More likely to take offence. Social media, he concluded, was shaping their view that society is in permanent conflict, which in turn led to ideas about microaggressions and competitive victimhood. All this,

Can topical comedy survive?

Seen any good stand-up recently? It’s a loaded question, but if you have, there’s every chance you didn’t view it via terrestrial TV. You might instead have laughed at some brash American on Netflix, or a deeply un-PC comic on YouTube – or more likely still, a comedian sitting in the palm of your hand. Over the past 12 months in particular, stand-up clips have been going down a storm on platforms such as TikTok and Instagram. The kind of clips which do well online have come as a surprise to some of the industry’s traditional gatekeepers. In a shock twist, it seems audiences still find stuff about the differences

Starting a Threads account feels like adultery

As I hit the pillow, up popped a notification: ‘Threads’, Meta’s new offering, is available to download. My heart thumped – I’ve been excited about this launch since I first heard of it. As a frustrated influencer, and somebody who couldn’t care less what Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk are doing to each other, I don’t care about the politics. I just thought Threads could be just right for me. And social media is all about me, me, me, obviously.  It’s easy to take a photograph of myself. I do it a lot. But Twitter is a different kind of vanity – for people who aren’t necessarily obsessed with images. That’s

The case for culling friends

Since I’m so old – 64 this summer – Facebook has always been my preferred form of social media. But if I was a softer soul there’s a feature on it that might really tug at my heartstrings: ‘See your memories.’ Because many of mine – going back more than a decade – are now blank of any actual memory: ‘Content not available.’ I know what these were: photographs of me with ex-friends (they’d always take the selfies, as I don’t have a camera-phone) who I’ve fallen out with and who have since deleted the photographs. In 90 per cent of cases, I’d say that I was the one who

Stop turning dead authors into sex symbols

‘As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a TikTok sensation.’ This is not – blessedly – how Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis begins. But almost exactly a century after his death, the Bohemian writer would be astonished to find that not only had his friend and literary executor Max Brod disobeyed his instructions and published works of his that included The Trial and The Castle, but that he had become, of all things, a social media sensation. It was reported recently that Kafka has become the unlikeliest of sex symbols. One breathless news story announced that ‘for literature-loving Gen Z-ers, the Czech novelist may as well be

The toxic women of gym TikTok

The hashtag ‘gym creep’ now has more than 37.3 million views on TikTok. Honestly, I’ve watched hundreds of these videos and the only weird behaviour I can spot in any of the clips is from the women recording the unsuspecting men while they work out. ‘Watch this creep,’ the lady will say as a confused male just happens to glance at the camera that’s been shoved in front of him. Scandalous! Gina Love is one of these women. The TikTokker, whose feed mainly consists of her trying on different shades of lipgloss, went viral after posting a video of her doing deadlifts, supposedly catching out one of these so-called #gymcreeps. ‘Watch this

Stop broadcasting your ‘personal news’

‘Some personal news! Delighted to announce I’ll be joining [insert major company] as the new [insert extremely impressive-sounding, well-paid, prestigious job title] this week! It’s been great working at [insert other major, if slightly less gleaming company] but I’m so [insert word denoting excitement or thrill, including “excited” and “thrilled”] at what the future holds! You can find me at [new prestigious institutional email address].’ It is no exaggeration to say that over the past week, half of my Twitter feed has been composed of alerts that follow this exact script. As the trickle thickened to a deluge, I wondered if there was some secret spoof going on. Were they

Why I couldn’t wait to buy a Twitter blue tick

I’ve just given Elon Musk $8 a month to get a blue tick by my name on Twitter. The fact I haven’t been able to secure one of these ticks on merit like so many other nonentities has been a source of near-constant irritation for the past half decade, particularly given how much time I spend on the site. My assumption had been that a Spectator-reading Twitter employee would eventually accept my brilliance – perhaps after reading something rude I’d written about Meghan Markle – and press the required button to make it happen. But when I finally accepted this wasn’t likely, about two years ago, I decided to take

Why I’m paying to lock myself out of the internet

First comes disbelief that I have done something so extreme, followed by denial as I pick up my phone repeatedly to check it’s not just a bad dream. But no – it’s really happening. Panic segues into frustration; then, finally, I arrive at acceptance. For the next three hours I will not be able to log on to social media or my favourite websites, and there is nothing I can do about it. In a last-ditch attempt to stop myself compulsively scrolling, I have spent £70 on a lifetime membership of the internet blocking software Freedom. When activated, it prevents access to specified sites across my devices until a set

Cancelled Kanye West buys cancelled free speech platform Parler

Hear Ye Hear Ye! The news today has broken that Kanye West – who calls himself Ye – has bought Parler, the Trumpist social media platform. The news was announced earlier by Parler CEO George Farmer, the son of Lord Farmer, the Conservative peer. ‘This deal will change the world and change the way the world thinks about free speech,’ said George. Farmer is also the husband of Candace Owens, the American MAGA celebrity, who appears to have been an important influence – is muse the right word? – in Ye’s conversion away from Hollywood La La Land and towards Trump-infused right-nationalist populism. Candace and Kanye both recently appeared together wearing ‘White

Dear Mary: Why aren’t I getting more Instagram ‘likes’?

Q. As a novice user of Instagram I was flattered at how quickly I gathered followers – 200 already. Many of these are old friends of 40 years or more who I never get to see, partly because my circumstances have changed – very much for the better – and I have moved out of London. Although I say it myself, I have posted 16 stunning videos, which have been viewed multiple times, but I am averaging only 12 ‘likes’ per post. Mary, how should I interpret this traffic? — M.N., Bridport, Dorset A. Unless you are selling something, and your Instagram is designed to drive commercial traffic, you should

I’m a one-woman man

Gstaad There’s a fin de saison feeling around here, but the restaurants are still full and the sons of the desert are still moping around. Building is going on non-stop and the cows are down from the mountains, making the village a friendlier and more civilised place. Something of a twilight mood has crept in, especially when I compare the cows with the people. Reclaiming vanished days is a sucker’s game, but it’s irresistible. I was up at my friend Mick Flick’s chalet the other afternoon, talking with Gstaad regulars about how much fun the place used to be. I tried the reverse of an old Woody Allen joke, announcing

Why I don’t do WhatsApp

If I could ban one question ever being asked of me again it would be: ‘Are you on WhatsApp?’ I don’t know how many times I’ve answered this in the negative, 57,983 times at least, but the question just never stops being asked. Nobody wants to use even a fraction of a penny of the almost limitless text and call capacity in their perfectly affordable phone packages to send a text any more. What they want is totally free, completely limitless blathering capacity. Consequently, everything has a WhatsApp group attached to it. Every activity I take part in, every hobby, every social group I belong to, now comes with its

Can Elon Musk take on the tech censors?

After three centuries of failing to assert power over the printed press, the House of Commons is finding the digital world easier to conquer. The Online Safety Bill now going through parliament will give ministers the power to decide what can and can’t be said online by banning what they regard as ‘harmful’. The word is not very well defined – which, of course, gives sweeping powers to the government regulators who will define it. It will be one of the most ambitious censorship laws that the world has ever seen. Enter Elon Musk. His $44 billion takeover of Twitter is intended, he says, not to make money but to

The algorithm myth: why the bots won’t take over

Google once believed it could use algorithms to track pandemics. People with flu would search for flu-related information, it reasoned, giving the tech giant instant knowledge of the disease’s prevalence. Google Flu Trends (GFT) would merge this information with flu tracking data to create algorithms that could predict the disease’s trajectory weeks before governments’ own estimates. But after running the project for seven years, Google quietly abandoned it in 2015. It had failed spectacularly. In 2013, for instance, it miscalculated the peak of the flu season by 140 per cent. According to the German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer, this is a good example of the limitations of using algorithms to surveil

Job vacancy: social media editor

The Spectator is looking to hire a new social media editor to oversee our channels and to drive engagement online. Responsibilities Posting and scheduling stories on all major social media platforms. Writing social posts quickly and accurately after articles are published. Repurposing written content from online into creative posts for social media platforms. Giving feedback to staff about performance data from social media posts. Job requirements Experience of creating engaging social posts and managing social accounts. A sensitivity to controversy and an ability to drive engagement without resorting to clickbait or lowering our intelligent tone online. A proven track record of building communities online. Experience using Photoshop or similar. Task

What really happened to Politics For All

On 2 January I woke up late to the sound of my phone buzzing continuously and a sense that something had gone badly wrong. The first message was from a friend. ‘Having a nice holiday?’ he wrote, above a screenshot of my political Twitter account covered in block letters: ‘Suspended.’ My reaction was to swear in just the way my dad does whenever he crashes his car. Politics For All was a news aggregation service I started two years ago when I was 17. It took the most salient lines from news articles and posted them across social media, always pointing readers to the original publication. The aim was to

My strange encounter with foot fetishists

Around five years ago I started to receive requests online for photos of and details about my feet. I’ve been asked for foot pictures intermittently ever since. Most of the gentlemen are upfront about what they’re after (‘send foot pic plz’), but one man went above and beyond in his pursuits. Posing as an academic, he sent several emails to my work account claiming dozens of women in the British media had submitted their shoe size to help him with a research project. He was just waiting for my details to finish his ground-breaking study. Although I never responded, I commend his efforts. I was never able to work out