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 entity 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, even driving them to acts of villainy.
- 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, and such apps may be run by less-than-moral Tech Bros. Shallow News Site Satire and Bad Influencer are related tropes. Internet Safety Aesop is associated with this since it teaches users how to be safe online and how to maintain your privacy.
- Aggretsuko: During the Christmas Special, keeping up with the "perfect" expectations of social media (not helped by peer pressure from a colleague popular on Instagram) clearly makes Retsuko unhappy.
- Innocent: Marie Antoinette prefers to have fun with her circle of friends than facing her responsibilities as a queen, and the series uses a lot of literal comparisons to modern internet users, with showing smartphones in 18th century France for Rule of Symbolism.
- 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.
- The Mitchells vs. the Machines presents a mixed view. Nature-loving Mitchell patriarch Rick is disappointed in how attached his family is to their phones, matriarch Linda is insecure about their neighbors' photogenic Instagram-worthy life, and the data the omnipresent tech company Pal Labs collects on its users helps its AI start a robot uprising. However, social media also allows Katie to express herself and connect with people who share her interests—it also helps Katie keep in touch with her family after she leaves for college (especially since her school is rather far away from where her family lives).
- 3615 code Père Noël features a very early example of this from The '80s based on the Minitel, a French videotex system that entered widespread use there before the rise of the modern internet. The protagonist, an adolescent boy named Thomas, dials a Christmas chat room advertising the ability to speak to Santa, and it turns out that a local drifter and criminal is on the other end. Thomas tells "Santa" that his mother is the manager of a department store, which turns out to be enough information for the drifter to find out where he lives.
- In The Babysitter: Killer Queen, Melanie's Sudden Sequel Heel Syndrome is motivated by a desire to make a Deal with the Devil to become a successful influencer.
- In The Batman (2022), the Riddler has a whole cult of followers on an encrypted social media on the dark web, filming himself and using this to plan the terrorist attack (with said followers as copycats) on Gotham in the climax.
- In The Columnist, Femke hits her Rage-Breaking Point and becomes a Serial Killer because of all the harassment and bullying she receives on social media. She can't disengage with it, either; her job as a newspaper columnist requires her to have an online presence. Later, she turns it around on her victims by using their social media profiles to figure out where they live, with enough of them leaving unwitting clues as to their real identities and home addresses that she can find them.
- 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.
- One of the major problems the scientists face in Don't Look Up is that social media has siphoned away people's ability to have a useful response to real crises. Kate ends up the subject of cruel memetic humor for yelling at a pair of airheaded hosts on live TV, while her professor, Dr. Mindy, is noted only for being an "AILF". The news of the planet-killing comet becomes subject to a disinformation campaign, which helps President Orleans and Peter Isherwell steamroll ahead with their incredibly plan to deliberately wait until the comet has almost reached Earth and mine it to pieces (as opposed to an earlier and much more reliable plan to divert it when it's still far away). It fails, and the comet strikes, wiping out the vast majority of all living things.
- The main characters in #Horror are a group of tween girls whose social media use has turned them all into Alpha Bitches. One of them, Cat, carried out the killing spree to become famous. The trailer even ends with an anthropomorphized hashtag shooting the viewer.
- 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.
- Tristan, the leader of the group of school shooters in Run Hide Fight, is an Attention Whore who's carrying out the shooting to become famous, spew his antisocial philosophy, and prove a point about the media. He kidnaps Lewis and forces him to livestream the massacre, and when he finds out that he has become the number one trending topic, he says "about time." In his initial speech, he also threatens to kill all the students if the stream is cut off.
- The Ghostface killers in Scream 4 are Attention Whores who wants social media stardom, with one of them telling Sidney "I don't need friends, I need fans" during the Motive Rant. They filmed the rampage and planned on uploading it to the internet, all while pinning everything on a Fall Guy so that they could enjoy "fame like you never even dreamed of" as the heroic sole survivors who defeated the killer.
- The Social Dilemma: This is the central theme of the documentary.
- The film explores first how tech companies are mainly concerned with profit, and how this profit-driven business model can be weaponized by bad actors. Not only does it lead to spreading conspiracy theories, it also plays a role in destabilizing many democracies.
- It also touches on how social media negatively affects mental health, and how it can be linked to rising teen suicide rates.
- The acting performance features a teen named Ben who struggles to disconnect and slowly becomes drawn into an online bubble of conspiracy theories. His younger sister Isla is also shown struggling with her self-image due to social media.
- Spree: Kurt's desire for internet fame eventually drives him to commit multiple murders. In addition, internet culture, vlogging, and "cancel culture" are all lampooned by the movie.
- Teddy and Claire, the protagonists of the Horror Comedy Superhost, run a vlog where they review Airbnb rentals, and they are portrayed as the worst stereotypes of YouTubers one can imagine. Along with various comic mishaps related to their quest for ratings, from Claire mistaking Teddy's marriage proposal for a Ratings Stunt to a pissed-off Airbnb owner who they gave a scathing review tracking them down to give them a piece of her mind for ruining her business, their clickbaity ways blind them to the fact that Rebecca, the Cloudcuckoolander owner of the Airbnb they're staying at, isn't harmlessly kooky but murderously insane; instead, they see her antics as ratings gold. It comes back to bite them in the end when Claire uploads a desperate plea for help to their channel before Rebecca kills her... only for everyone to think they're pulling a sick joke as a Ratings Stunt. While they will eventually be reported missing, this likely buys Rebecca enough time to change her identity again and get off scot-free.
- 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.
- Ready Player Two includes an Author Tract rant about how social media drives people "insane" and causes everyone to hate each other.
- American Gods (2017) introduces New Media, the New God of digital entertainment and social media. She's well aware of its dangers and proudly draws her strength from the masses of people addicted to it.
New Media: The appetite for distractions is infinite. I can choke them with trivia, drown them in passive pleasures and devastate their spirituality with baby-talk.
- 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.
- CSI: NY had an episode revolving around a social media app that let people watch other randomly selected people through webcams, and then "next" them to go to another random person. The plot is touched off when one of the CSIs witnesses a young woman being murdered on the platform, but it was a fluke—the killer broke in and didn't realize until afterward that somebody on the Internet was watching the whole time. The episode overall comes down more on the Social Media Is a Tool side of the issue, as the other characters experiment with the app throughout the episode with mixed results: Mac criticizes a preteen boy for wasting time on the Internet instead of doing his homework, while Jo shows the New York City skyline to a soldier stationed in Afghanistan who had always wanted to visit.
- 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.
- Enforced with Nightwish. The band members have had a number of negative experiences with social media and Internet culture, particularly regarding the controversies over the firings of former vocalists Tarja Turunen and Anette Olzon, and tend to be pretty critical of it in interviews.
- "Yours Is an Empty Hope" is a scathing rant about how people who spend all their time arguing on the Internet need to get a life.
- The lyrics of "Noise" compare social media to endless noise and talk about the narcissism it engenders. The theme is further enforced by the music video, which consists largely of several archetypical characters posing for selfies and staring at smartphones. The characters look glamorous (if fake and obsessed) at first, only to be later revealed as drab and miserable.
- Delain's song "Generation Me" takes Twitter and Instagram to task as vehicles for empty self-aggrandizement.
- Disturbed gives us In Another Time from their newly released Evolution album.
In another time when we weren't so blindWhen the world was more than what we see onlineWhen we actually lived instead of watching lifeIn another time, in another time...
- The Demon Hunter song Cold Blood is supposed to be this according to Word of God but it can be a bit hard to tell just from the lyrics.
Your ContributionA desperate display of brokennessIt's all the same nowSome paper crown by lesser meansThe flower dies in timeAnd when it dies there's nothing leftWear shameA legacy tonight for hollow gain
- Octet: The core of the show is the psychological impact that the age of social media has had on the members of the "Friends of Saul," and most of them have been traumatized by it in one way or another. But this is played with on the whole with Velma, the youngest member of the group. She's the only person in the cast who has a positive story about her experiences with the internet, and her number is placed right at the end for maximum impact.
- 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.