Dr. Jordan B. Peterson said that social media platforms are contributing to a “pollution” of public discourse.
Appearing on “Piers Morgan Uncensored” Friday, Peterson refuted the idea that social media contributes to tribalism and polarization in politics. Instead, Peterson said that social media incentivizes anti-social and self-promoting behavior among users. Peterson cited a paper in the psychology journal Personality and Individual Differences, which found that certain personality traits lead users to spend more time on social media.
“I don’t think we are descending into tribalism,” Peterson said. “I think what’s happening is that the virtualization of the world is enabling people who behave in a particular… [self-aggrandizing] self-promoting anti-social way.”
Peterson then cited an article published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, entitled “Social media use and personality: Beyond self-reports and trait-level assessments.” Among its findings, the paper found that women whose personalities were characterized by traits like narcissism, meanness, extroversion, and sadism used social media platforms like Instagram for longer and more frequently than men. Women who exhibited sadistic personalities used Facebook for a longer time than women with honest, humble, and conscientious ones; they also used the site for longer than men.
“I’ve thought for a while that one of the things that’s happening to us as we virtualize the world is that we’re enabling us the small percentage of people — it’s usually about three percent in general populations — who use manipulation and reputation savaging and denigration and self-promotion, so the genuinely psychopathic types, to dominate the social conversation and to spew their poisonous and manipulative venom into the public domain,” Peterson said. “Not only with no fear of being stopped and no inhibition … but also while being monetized and promoted by the people who run the social media channels.”
“I think the polarization that we’re feeling is a consequence of their untrammeled expression online — Instagram, Facebook and in online comment forums like Twitter,” he added.
“What’s happening in some sense is that we have a new form of pollution, that’s also corporate sponsored, and it’s pollution of the domain of public discourse,” Peterson continued. “And the pollution occurs because the social media companies are either enabling or failing to control those known in the popular parlance as ‘trolls.’ But they’re not just comical trolls, using derision in some cute way and and having their say in the Free Speech domain. They’re really poisonous individuals and they’re poisoning the entire domain.” Peterson then called for social media companies to segregate comments sections to filter out anonymous trolls.
At the end of the interview, Morgan asked Peterson if he would like to be reinstated on Twitter now that CEO Elon Musk is promoting free speech on the site. Peterson said he wouldn’t.
“It’s such a den of pathology that using it I think is psychologically damaging,” he said. “If it’s possible for Musk to get the trolls — and they’re not trolls, they’re psychopathic, Machiavellian, sadistic narcissists — under control, then it’s possible that the platform might be useful. I like to share information. I like to follow people to see what they were up to, a lot of the people that I’ve met over the years, but man, it’s a snake pit, and it’s not obvious to me that we know what to do about it.”