Common Cents & Social Media

For years, I have maintained the biggest threat to the United States isn’t economic in nature. It is societal. That isn’t as insightful as it is obvious. Taking it one step further, I would argue the biggest threat(s) to the United States are warped perceptions of reality which are wreaking havoc on our society

Yesterday, Daniel Henninger had an excellent column in the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Next Pandemic: Mental Illness.” The link to the article is at the bottom of this newsletter. However, consider this passage:

“With the incidence of disorders and suicides rising, there will be postmortems on the damage done during the pandemic to young people. With their schools closed, some isolated from friends and disintegrated inside social-media sites like TikTok or the online cauldrons that seem to have consumed Payton Gendron. All true. But some matters need settling.

While there’s a good chance of another big virus outbreak in our lifetimes, there can never be another Anthony Fauci. Past some point, less than a year, it was clear the lockdowns and closings were wrecking mental health, especially among children. In fact, we do have a National Institute of Mental Health, but that constituency had no seat at the decision table. Political officials ceded complete control of pandemic policy to public-health authorities. Never again. Next time, private and personal health should get a voice.”


Frankly, the article was a light bulb moment for me. It was as though a veil had been lifted and the sleep taken from my eyes. Of course, that is a huge part of the current unease: everyone has lost their minds! I am only half-joking.

Think about it. Don’t the headlines seem bizarre? Civility a thing of the past? Emotions on the sleeves? Overreach everywhere? It is virtually impossible to go to any legitimate news outlet and not wonder “what in the world is going on here?” Then there is the whole social media mess.

If one can be lousy at social media, I am. I don’t follow many people on Instagram, and even fewer follow me. I am not in any special interest groups or what have you. I closed my Twitter account when I came to the conclusion the service was making me angry and unhappy. It really was. My goodness, people can be real jerks when they are anonymous.

When this all started, it seemed so innocent. Didn’t it? Social media was a cool way to keep in touch with friends, family, and old acquaintances. It was a way to find others with similar interests to share ideas. All of it. It was fun until it wasn’t.

To be sure, plenty of people actually enjoy their social media presence, often to the point of addiction. However, I have talked with many who say it has made them feel ‘left out,’ anxious, insecure, and even lonely. They ask why wasn’t I invited to the party? How come I didn’t go on the trip? Why isn’t my life isn’t as exciting as theirs? How can they afford to do that? The list is endless, but the answer, if you can call it that, is almost always “I don’t measure up.”

This is frustrating because people only post or share what they want. They edit the mundane and unflattering. They don’t post pictures of them eating Kraft Macaroni & Cheese straight out of the saucepan. You don’t see too much of the following: “this is me battling with the stomach flu today.”  No one shares photos which accentuate their muffin tops, beer bellies, double chins, blemishes, or questionable outfit decisions. On the flipside, to get a laugh, they often share those same things of others.  Hardee har har and all of that.

Then…then…there are platforms which engender group think, which often leads to extremism. Think about it, were the extremes as extreme prior to social media? If not that, were they as prevalent, open, and accessible? Don’t get me wrong. I am not looking at the past with rose-colored glasses. There have always been extremes, and always will be. However, unless I am very unique, they seem far more, shall we say, head-scratching than previously.

All of this has a point.

When taken together, in aggregate, I would suggest social media fosters exclusivity in its inclusivity. This engenders a type of tribalism which often leads to group think. Group think eliminates outside ideas, and ultimately retards learning, community, and initiative. Further, it discourages deviations from or challenges to the so-called party line. This cows the members of the group, turning them into followers and order takers. Society suffers as a result.

But why the attack on social media today, Norris? You sound like a Luddite and an angry old man. Hmm. Perhaps.

Let’s revisit that line I pasted from Henninger’s article: “… there will be postmortems on the damage done during the pandemic to young people. With their schools closed, some isolated from friends and disintegrated inside social-media sites like TikTok or the online cauldrons that seem to have consumed Payton Gendron.”

Frankly, it isn’t just young people.

When the powers that be mandated we isolate in order to curb the spread of COVID-19, many people isolated themselves into their own little worlds in chat rooms, message boards, and other social media outlets. This skewed their perceptions of reality and has hampered their ability to interact with others in the real world. In other words, many people are having an extremely difficult time reintegrating into society or shall we say “getting back to normal.”

This is why the headlines seem so bizarre, and our society so out of whack.

But what can we do? After all, we can’t just ban all this stuff, can we? That would be some form of censorship or something, right? Probably, and I wouldn’t advocate outlawing anything. Social media and message boards CAN BE beneficial. They can help you reconnect with others. They can help spread new ideas. However, too much of a good thing usually leads to bad results.

As such, I would recommend all of us dial back our social media presence a little bit. Slow your roll, if you will. Essentially, try to break the habit of defaulting into isolation. It will be good for you, for others, and ultimately for society if reduce our addiction(s) to this stuff. This, then, will lead to healthier perceptions of reality, more coherent headlines and, hopefully, happier investors.


Thank you for your continued support. As always, I hope this newsletter finds you and your family well. May your blessings outweigh your sorrows not only on this day but on every day, and thank you for indulging me this week. It was clearly a digression.

John Norris
Chief Economist



Please note, nothing in this newsletter should be considered or otherwise construed as an offer to buy or sell investment services or securities of any type. Any individual action you might take from reading this newsletter is at your own risk. My opinion, as those of our investment committee, is subject to change without notice. Finally, the opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of the rest of the associates and/or shareholders of Oakworth Capital Bank or the official position of the company itself.