Making Sense of Social Media

Episode 8 of The Essential Sam Harris

Episode Companion

Each episode includes a workbook with illustrations, background information on each guest, references, suggested books and films, and more.

May 5, 2023

In this episode, we examine a series of Sam’s conversations centered around social media’s impact on the information landscape.

We begin with Sam’s second conversation with Tristan Harris, which was conducted shortly after the release of Tristan’s documentary, The Social Dilemma. The documentary lays out Tristan’s thesis on how social media is causing the deterioration of both individual and societal welfare. Author and technologist Jaron Lanier follows, echoing Tristan’s concerns and shifting the conversation to social media’s unique business model, addressing how perverse incentives reliably produce such detrimental outcomes.

We then hear from Jack Dorsey, the former CEO of Twitter. Sam and Dorsey’s conversation took place when Dorsey was still working at Twitter, and Sam still had an account. However, the questions they pose—relating to issues of content moderation and corporate transparency—are even more relevant today.

Next, psychologist Jonathan Haidt presents the alarming findings from his research on the psychological effects of social media, detailing how teenage girls are bearing the brunt of a mental health crisis. 

Shifting to a more political lens, Sam and Cass Sunstein discuss Sunstein’s book, #Republic, and Sunstein addresses one of Sam’s most pressing fears of the last seven years: how social media is warping our opinions on politics. We then narrow down on this issue, with Zeynep Tufekci explaining the real-life consequences of social media’s influence on protest movements.

Finally, Sam and technology analyst Nina Schick dive into one of the most urgent concerns of the AI boom: deepfakes and how they might be weaponized to further pollute and degrade our information landscape.


About the Series

Filmmaker Jay Shapiro has produced The Essential Sam Harris, a new series of audio documentaries exploring the major topics that Sam has focused on over the course of his career.

Each episode weaves together original analysis, critical perspective, and novel thought experiments with some of the most compelling exchanges from the Making Sense archive. Whether you are new to a particular topic, or think you have your mind made up about it, we think you’ll find this series fascinating.