Most people with Internet access are on at least one social network, and people who spend an inordinate amount of time scrolling through sites like Facebook or Twitter are not uncommon. Because of its ubiquity, social media is an easy and frequent target of New Media Are Evil. Works employing this trope will portray the use of such websites as overall bad for its individual users or society as a whole, often by portraying its users as obsessed by how they are seen online and by other people taking advantage of this.
This can be played in a few ways:
- The network itself is evil — it brainwashes its users, is a malevolent force-feeding off their energy, is a part of a crapshoot artificial intelligence, or similar.
- Villainous characters exploit social media to target people or make them unhappy via cyberbullying or catfishing. The ease of anonymity online makes this easy.
- The social network is otherwise fine, but induces apathy, aloofness, disconnectedness, and loneliness in its users, especially those who spend a lot of time on it. Alternatively, the network is fine, but it brings out the worst in its users.
- A Speculative Fiction variant extends obsession with social media to an entire government or society, often using a Fictional Social Network. Popularity on this network results in a caste system or similar development among the population. This particular variation can overlap with Techno Dystopia.
There is some Truth in Television to this notion — excessive social media use has been correlated with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. This trope goes hand-in-hand with An Aesop about how one needs to disconnect every once in a while and not let social media rule their lives. It can also suggest that social media can never be a true substitute for genuine human relationships or communication and that people should be careful about who they interact with on the internet. Some works will go with a more balanced view — while too much of it is detrimental, social media can also be an avenue for good deeds and heartwarming moments.
Subtrope of New Media Are Evil and New Technology Is Evil, and supertrope to Social Media Before Reason. Compare Instant Humiliation: Just Add YouTube!, if viral videos are portrayed in a negative light, and Dating Service Disaster if the focus is on dating sites such as Tinder. Can overlap with tropes like Acquired Situational Narcissism and Social Climber if the story focuses on an individual.
This list of examples has been alphabetized.
- In Amazing Fantasy, the Prowler tracks Peter down when people snapped photos of him eating with Izuku and posted them online, allowing her to ambush and nearly kill him. Izuku is wary of doing anything traceable online from then on, choosing to buy things with cash in-person than risk creating any other trails to his mentor.
- Disconnect tells three interconnected social media stories, all about how it's difficult to incorporate your social media presence with your "disconnected" offline life. The stories tackle themes like cyberbullying, identity fraud, screen addiction, and cam strippers.
- The moral of Ingrid Goes West: Depressed and unhappy, Ingrid tries to befriend a superficial social media influencer because of her "perfect" life and goes to insane lengths to do so. This predictably implodes horrifically.
- Ratter: A young girl is harassed by a stalker/hacker who has hacked into her devices and can track her because she's always online.
- Trust's villain is a serial rapist who catfishes young girls on an online chatroom, and the film explores how easy it is to manipulate someone online.
- In When Evil Calls, the evil wishes are propagated through a string of chain texts.
- Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom features a Post-Scarcity Economy where instead of conventional money people have a "Whuffie" rating that goes up or down based on other people's opinions of them. After the protagonist speaks out against the antagonist's who murdered him early in the book planned renovations of Disney World his Whuffie drops so low that his scooter gets swiped the moment he turns his back on it and elevator doors don't open for him.
- Black Mirror:
- "Be Right Back" explores the hollowness of how we portray ourselves on social media — when Martha commissions a robotic recreation of her dead boyfriend whose personality is based entirely on his social media presence, she finds him lacking.
- "Nosedive" exaggerates this trope — Lacey's entire society lives and dies on people "rating" their physical and virtual interactions with each other, Uber-style, on a fictional social network. Those with higher ratings get more perks. Unsurprisingly, this creates a society comprised entirely of plastic Stepford Smilers.
- "Hated in the Nation" deconstructs online mob mentality, as the episode's villain orchestrates murders based on trending calls for death on Twitter. And in the end, the villain uses the bee drones to kill everybody who ever used the "#deathto" hashtag.
- In "Smithereens", the main character is revealed to have lost his fiancee in a car wreck that was caused in part by him being distracted and looking at a notification from the titular social network on his phone instead of the road while he was driving. The company's reclusive CEO, for his own part, is generally well-meaning and a Benevolent Boss who regrets what he's set out on the world, but it's all out of his control and he doesn't really hold any real power.
- Played for laughs on the Community episode "App Development and Condiments", where the development of new online social rating system MeowMeowBeenz first causes people to scramble to get the highest ratings before the community college devolves into a Logan's Run-style dystopia with social classes tiered by the rankings.
- A few episodes of Criminal Minds have dealt with unsubs using social media pages to get information about their victims. While the show doesn't outright condemn social media, the team does caution against posting too much personal information and Rossi, for one, doesn't understand the appeal.
- Dating apps get this treatment in the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode "The Gang Group Dates", where the usage of dating app Bunchers causes Frank, Mac, and Charlie to only care about making good impressions, Dee to date several men low as a means of empowerment, and Dennis becoming singularly obsessed with high ratings.
- The Orville: the episode "Majority Rule" centers around a planet where the entire society is rooted in social media, to the point where they vote on what is considered facts (such as which medicines work, what products are healthy, etc.) with what is most popular being considered the truth, and that people can be turned down from services if they receive too many downvotes (for which the count is never reset, so people who acquire a lot in their youth have to carry them for the rest of their life). This extends to the justice system, with guilty/innocent verdicts being rendered by "likes" and "dislikes". Get a few million dislikes, and you get a lobotomy. Lt. John Lamarr runs afoul of this when someone videotapes him dancing on a statue of one of the planet's beloved public figures.
- Social Nightmare, a Lifetime Movie of the Week starring Daryl Hannah.
- In "Episode 2: Memory" of Code 7, you find out that social media was banned years ago, because became a platform for organized hate, violence and even terrorist groups. All of the other mass communication and sharing services suffered the same fate; only one-on-one communication is possible over the internet now.
- We Become What We Behold is a First Person Snapshooter where the players apparently work with a faceless social news media. #EngineeredHashtag and Clickbait Gag are common for the headlines produced by taking pictures of unusual events. It later devolves into prejudice, murder, and chaos.
- The Futurama episode "Attack of the Killer App" is both the "evil social network" and "social media turns people into jerks" variation. After getting EyePhones, everyone tries to get the most followers on "Twitcher", and are eventually all infected by a "Twit-worm" which turns them into zombies who only want to upgrade to the next model.
- South Park: "You Have 0 Friends" is about the entire town becoming obsessed with Facebook, to the detriment of the main characters.
- The "Duck Lips" episode of Uncle Grandpa deals with a girl who's obsessed with making friends and followers on social media. She tries to follow all the current trends and conform to social standards of female beauty. When she takes a selfie of her "duck lips", it permanently freezes her face like that until she learns to accept herself and stop trying to be popular through trends.