Even though his career skyrocketed via YouTube, Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson took aim at other social media platforms at a recent Manhattan event, asserting, “It looks like the more you use Facebook, the more depressed you get.” And he says that Twitter is “powerful and … has utility, but it’s very mean-spirited.”
During a Q&A portion last month for a Young Leaders Circle lecture hosted by the Manhattan Institute for Public Policy, Peterson’s critique extended beyond just Facebook and Twitter, encompassing social media platforms as a whole. Although he praised social networks for increasing social connectivity, he also said “connectivity is not infinite utility.”
The main problem Peterson identified with “platforms like Facebook and Twitter” is that “they’re unbelievably powerful, and we don’t understand them at all.” Peterson also claimed that acting like life is an “advertisement” on Facebook correlates with depression for a wide variety of reasons, and that children should be kept away from social media. The next generation should reckon with the growing power of Facebook, he suggested, by getting smarter and informing themselves.
In the context of Peterson’s overarching philosophy and recommendations in his book, “12 Rules for Life,” this warning comes as no surprise. He encourages his primarily young, male audience to “clean [their] room” and “sort [themselves] out,” emphasizing the kind of productivity that could be lost when the average American spends nearly five hours on Facebook alone every week, according to comScore data.
In his book, Peterson cautions readers against comparing themselves to others and lying, suggestions he might view as antithetical to the culture of vanity and envy and the exaggerated portrayal of personal life that some commentators say are characteristic to social media. And it could make sense that someone so opposed to postmodernism as Peterson could find fault with a platform meant to give equal exposure to all views, regardless of what objective merits they have.
However, Peterson’s distaste for certain types of social media has not prevented him from enjoying its fruits. Peterson rose to fame through YouTube, where viewers can find his own self-uploaded commentaries and videos of him debating a variety of partners. His most viral breakthrough online was his exchange with British Channel 4 News anchor Cathy Newman on modern culture and gender politics. His YouTube channel has more than 1.3 million subscribers; the Newman interview has more than 11 million views on the Channel 4 YouTube page. Whether he likes it or not, Peterson’s massive online presence could be keeping his fans glued to their screens to hear about cleaning their room instead of actually getting out of their seat to clean it.
Perhaps Peterson’s affinity for YouTube over other platforms stems from its ability to unite users and content creators on the political right. In a year when conservative commentators from Diamond and Silk to Ben Shapiro have accused Facebook of liberal bias, YouTube has emerged as an alternative media platform, although it does moderate what it deems radical content through demonetization and other techniques. Peterson, who said at the event (and has publicly stated elsewhere) that he does not consider himself alt-right or even right, is currently more aligned with the Right than the Left, though he said that if he thought the Right was suppressing speech on campus and elsewhere he’d be just as vocal about calling that out, too.
Facebook and its competitors also tend to have a left-leaning bias among their employees, according to a recent study by Lincoln Network, a Bold partner, indicating that conservatives in Silicon Valley feel uncomfortable sharing their views at work. Over two thirds of respondents characterized their workplace as “liberal” or “very liberal.” The money in Silicon Valley talks, too. According to Crowdpac data published by FiveThirtyEight in 2016, 95 percent of campaign donations made by “tech employees or executives” went to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s operation.
Twitter is another leftward giant. Although Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey denied accusations of intentional “shadow-banning” put forth by Donald Trump and his allies, Dorsey admits there have indeed been glitches causing major Republicans’ profiles to become less easily accessible. Dorsey is known for only donating to Democrats and, more controversially, personally promoting an article that denounced bipartisanship and called for Republicans to be “thoroughly defeated.”
Despite his nearly 830,000 Twitter followers and 361,000 Facebook followers, Peterson’s comments about social media and his place in the contemporary political environment seem to suggest that YouTube will remain his preferred platform for the foreseeable future.