TMW #166 | Fast food, cigarettes and gambling: A paradigm for social media regulation

Mar 17, 2024

Welcome to The Martech Weekly, where every week I review some of the most interesting ideas, research, and latest news. I look to where the industry is going and what you should be paying attention to.

👋 Get TMW every Sunday

TMW is the fastest and easiest way to stay ahead of the Martech industry. Sign up to get TMW newsletters, along with a once-a-month complimentary Sunday Deep Dive. Learn more here.

Fast food, cigarettes and gambling: A paradigm for social media regulation

If we are to regulate social media, what lessons can we take from the past?

In 2018, Brian Solis walked out on stage at SXSW and said that the problems he saw in society were a feature of social media platforms, not a bug. His point was that getting people’s attention at all costs is the aim of social media. And because of this, it’s leading to all kinds of personal and social issues:

Source: Brian Solis | Why You're Addicted To Social Media | SXSW 2018

Brian was one of the early few who clearly painted a picture of how social media would affect us. Fast forward six years later, and you could just say that everything on his list here has come true. 

Brian’s talk was before the emergence of TikTok, which took over the world in the span of four years to become a surprise leader in the arena of massive social platforms, causing Meta to copy its features and giving rise to an entirely new kind of influencer. It’s also the first platform to formally move away from the value proposition of connecting people to offering an endless feed of algorithmically-tuned entertainment. 

But TikTok has also become a major risk to the West. This week, the United States government has reopened discussions about TikTok’s future in the country. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has passed a bipartisan bill called the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act”, which will allow the President to designate foreign-owned social media apps as an adversarial threat and ban them from US app stores and general web availability. 

This bill is designed to counter the threat TikTok poses to the United States, because the app is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, which has been accused of multiple breaches of consumer data privacy and spying from the Chinese Communist Party. 

The app has also been the most ruthless attempt at addicting people (especially teenagers) to their phones. I mentioned back in 2022 in the War on TikTok that the platform is changing our content consumption patterns at a rapid pace: 

“Content immersion is not the only driving force for user growth, it’s also the way the app disrupts a variety of other mediums. TikTok integrates with music providers, which disrupts the Spotify model for music discoverability. Before TikTok musicians hoped to be discovered on a Spotify playlist or on YouTube, now many create content to ride the wave of organic reach and virality.
TikTok is also changing the talent industry. Many creators are producing organic content on the platform with the hope of fame. One of the original creators, Charli D’Amelio was an early viral success story, who earned more than Tom Cruise, Keanu Reeves, and most S&P 500 CEOs in 2021. TikTok is not just a place where celebrities go to connect with fans, the algorithm functions as its own celebrity kingmaker.”

TikTok and this bill represent a major culture shift in social media, revealing its risks in a more visible and visceral way, with repercussions across most technologically developed societies. We are now seeing social as something different from what has been presented to us: a futuristic way to connect with people all over the world. 

TikTok’s mission is a stark contrast to Meta’s, with Mark Zuckerberg holding tight – at least publically – to his ideal of “giving people the power to build community and bring the world closer together”, which is a very outdated way to think about the role of social in our lives and in society. It’s no longer about bringing us together. The reality is something much uglier. 

Meta’s Instagram has been linked to teen suicide and depression. Men and women are having less sex than ever. Dating apps (a form of social media) have become a zero-sum game where, most of the time, there are far more men competing for a much smaller population of women. People are turning into zombies as they are constantly distracted by their smartphones with always-accessible, 24/7 social media. 

Increasingly, the media are portraying social media as something that’s not very good for us. And if more regulation is coming for the sector, how should we think about social and how to regulate it? 

I propose three metaphors: 

  • Social media as fast food: The commodification of something good for us (food) into something bad (fast food) to maximise corporate profits.  
  • Social media as cigarettes: An addictive substance that is harming our health 
  • Social media as gambling: A time and money suck that draws people into a spiral of negative behaviours 

What can we learn from these analogies and how they have been regulated? Can we apply the lessons learned over the decades to social media? 

Let’s find out. 

🔓 Are you ready to join the PRO's?

Get the entire Wednesday Martech Briefing and all of our newsletters every week with TMW PRO. It's the easiest and fastest way to make sure you're fully informed on how the marketing technology industry is evolving. 

Here’s what some of our existing TMW PRO members have to say;
“TWM is a finger on the pulse of what's happening, with the clarity of insight to see the important patterns underneath the noise” – Scott Brinker (VP, Hubspot).

“I recommend TMW to all leaders who are customer-focused and transforming companies via digital technologies” – Kazuki Ohta (CEO, Treasure Data).
“I've subscribed to many Marketing newsletters, but TMW is at the top of my list with the most valuable content for marketing professionals" – Lilly Lou (Marketing Director, Icertis).
TMW PRO is an invaluable resource that’ll help you to truly transform and future-proof your career in Martech. 

Are you ready to join the PRO's?

If the answer is yes, CLICK HERE.

Stay Curious,

Make sense of marketing technology.

Sign up now to get TMW delivered to your inbox every Sunday evening plus an invite to the slack community.

Want to share something interesting or be featured in The Martech Weekly? Drop me a line at

Great! You've successfully subscribed.
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.