Okay, so people like blaming social media for the rapid rise in suicide, loneliness, anxiety, depression, mass shootings, etc. I'm not totally convinced they're wrong, but here's an idea I've been thinking about, and I can't quite dismiss:
What if there is a strange, underlying problem, deteriorating local communities and strong social ties, and social media is the amateurish self-medication for those ills? Is it possible lots of people spend time on a largely useless thing because it partially addresses a much deeper, and much more real, concern?
It's hard to interrogate this idea without having a stand-in for an ill-understood, difficult-to-fix underlying problem. Let's say it's environmental microplastics – they certainly do something, environmental lead definitely did something, and it is precisely impossible for someone to notice or solve. They would just be... off. And they'd have hard-to-diagnose problems cropping up. [I don't think that's the issue, but it's plausibly the right shape.]
So, obviously, we'd all treat the elimination of this style of contamination as a national emergency. That's number one. And we'd build institutions to help make up for the deficits caused by the environmental concern – knowing that there definitely is a problem helps people organize their efforts to solve it. And we'd ease up on people using social media, like the schizophrenics who use nicotine to help manage their condition. The calculus works out for them, so there's not much stigma (at least from me – I can't recall anyone else weighing in on this except Slate Star Codex reminding us that tabacco is still quite bad, even for schizophrenics.
But here's something: without an exogenous threat like contamination, I'm not sure the value of those institutions is any lower – so why not more social clubs? And wouldn't the stigma argument remain? I mean, maybe the loneliness crisis is solely a personal failing, but at the margin, there are people who are lonely when they wouldn't have been. Surely those people don't need the lecture, they just need the fix – right? Is admonishment a tool that can be used to solve this problem? They aren't making a mistake per se. They could pursue their self-interest better, but I'm not sure how well admonishments work for that purpose.
At the end of the day, it doesn't seem to matter what the cause is – physical, environmental, or social. We ought to do the same things.
If this means helping schizophrenic people vape, well, that's just the structure of the thing we're trying to help with.