The Dark Side of Social Media

When opinions seem more important than truth.

Posted Feb 26, 2021

Istock  by Getty Images Credit pressureUA
Source: Istock by Getty Images Credit pressureUA

I’ve only recently dived into the TikTok cyberverse and it’s been both a fun and eye-opening adventure as a therapist. Posting videos mostly about male sexuality and relationship therapy, I’ve picked up an astounding 300,000 followers in a matter of months. Apparently, the subjects have hit a cultural nerve, and a lot of responses have revealed to me more about the trouble with telling the truth than I anticipated. 

I’ve specialized in LGBT Affirmative Therapy and couples sex therapy for 36 years now, and I’ve heard many things in my office over these decades that have dealt a much-needed death blow to traditional views of sexuality, including my own views. One of the biggies is the ubiquitous idea that sexuality is binary: You’re either male or female, straight or gay, and that’s that, everything else is BS. But that is far from the truth. People are far more sexually fluidity than is commonly believed. 

I’ve made a career of sharing in books, articles, and seminars what I’ve learned about sexuality, particularly male sexuality, from thousands of my clients. What my experience of being on social media has shown me is that there is a deep vein of both ignorance and arrogance out there, and no shortage of opinions, most of them uninformed.  

I’ll share this one example: There is research as well as what I have seen in my clinical practice that straight men can and do have sex with men, and they are not gay or bisexual in their orientation. They might be described as men who are simply curious, bi-curious, heteroflexible, and sexually fluid, and have nothing else in common with “gayness.” Their basic eroticism is heterosexuality. When I share this publicly, inevitably there is a firestorm of reaction. People are strongly opinionated about this despite having never seen what I’ve seen over a long career. 

The Ignorance Plague

You may have heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect. The term arose from a 1999 study by two social psychologists: “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.” Basically, the study revealed that there is a widespread cognitive bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are. Although this appears to be true of most humans, this sort of intellectual blind spot happens more to people with low logical ability—demonstrable through specific logic tests—who lack the skills needed to recognize their own incompetence. Those who score higher on such tests are more likely by far to have what you might call “intellectual humility.” In other words, they are more willing to modify their opinion when presented with factual information, or even admit that they don’t know the answer to something. Those who score lower become even more entrenched in their opinion when confronted with provable facts that contradict that opinion.  

On social media, low-information people likely make up the hordes of trolls, critics, and bullies who strongly believe their own opinion despite having no factual or experiential evidence to support it. Some of these people feel compelled to attack and ridicule anyone who posts something with which they don’t agree and believe that their feeling or opinion about a subject is as good as anyone else’s, even someone who has become an expert in that subject. 

To them, their opinion is as valid (or even more so) as the author’s, who has gained knowledge over years of work and research. They have done no research of their own and yet after watching a short video, they present their opinion as an obvious truth. 

Lack of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking seems to be becoming a thing of the past for many people. Differences are too threatening to be worked through, so it is easier to discard, bully, and make another person bad or wrong rather than try to understand them. 

This is a more serious problem than it might seem. We’ve recently witnessed how with the rise of disinformation and political manipulation, uninformed opinions and ignorance can lead to violence and the breakdown of a society. 

The Projection Problem

What underlies the Dunning-Kruger effect is the phenomenon the mental health profession recognizes as “projection.” This is the phenomenon of projecting onto others the very qualities or actions that we are unwilling to acknowledge as our very own qualities and actions. We do this because we are afraid and mostly unequipped to face our own inner demons—likely unacceptable feelings to the society at large—with honesty, and thus we push them down into the unconscious where we mistakenly think they can be hidden and contained. 

Simply stated, when we point our finger at someone or something else in judgment, there are three more fingers pointing back at us. There’s also the simple phrase, “If you spot it, you got it.” Once you begin to understand and see this, it can change everything about how we understand the world around us.

The TikTok Reaction

So, getting back to TikTok and social media in general, my analytics tell me that most viewers watch my videos for 26 seconds at the most; then some make an uninformed comment and leave. Many neither watch my other videos nor Google the extensive work others already have done on sexual fluidity. When I see someone greet my informed observations with things like ridicule, outrage, bullying, shaming, and so on, I understand where it is coming from: fear of facing oneself, fear of ridicule, fear of being outed or shamed, jealousy, and so on. Thus, it becomes more likely or apparent that those who have strongly held binary views of male sexuality may be struggling with their own erotic underpinnings or with the fear of stepping outside of the traditionalist view of masculinity.

A Long Way to Go

In conclusion, from my forays into social media I’ve realized that overcoming the negative implications of the Dunning-Kruger effect on our culture is going to take a lot of courage and perseverance. I know now that all of us, including me, are subject to thinking that our opinions are sacrosanct, and it will take much self-examination and awareness to develop the intellectual humility needed to become more equanimous and turn around the tide of social and cultural authoritarianism that determines how we view sexuality, particularly male sexuality.