We stand on the verge of a dangerous precipice, an alluring and perilous temptation. The world is currently experiencing a technological revolution, and once unimaginable utopian dreams are now within our reach. The critical question is: Will we use this power to improve or destroy ourselves?

When we think of utopianism, we tend to think of a purely political project aimed at reshaping a whole society according to the whims of architects pursuing abstractions. Think of the Soviet Union. Or Libertarian ideas of individual freedom. The processing power of a smartphone is now approximately 1000 times greater than that of a 1980s supercomputer. Thanks to the technological prowess we now hold in our hands or pockets, this utopian project can now be pursued individually, without any political involvement.

We have the power to recreate our unique selves according to our own personally conceived perfect image, and social media is the primary technology where this personal utopianism plays itself out. Every day, millions of people take to social media platforms to express themselves, share their stories, and curate their online personas.

Firstly, when we engage with social media, we step into the realm of the virtual to become persons without bodies.

Now, obviously, our bodies don’t literally cease to exist when we are on X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, or Facebook, but they do not go with us into such places. We are trading real, lived and embodied personal communion with others for disembodied, pixelated interactions that lack the depth and richness of real-life experiences.

In such a space, our power for utopian self-creation is unleashed, and we can effectively become anything we desire to be.

We can talk virtuously about the affairs of the world regardless of how little we actually live such virtues. We meticulously shape and control the story of our lives for others to see. We can become experts in science, political policy, international relations, or even the private lives of others, regardless of our qualifications or actual knowledge of such matters.

As the saying goes, “On social media, we show the best and hide the rest.” Our life is not lived in genuine community with others; it becomes a mere tableau, a simulacrum, a type of theatre to be staged for an audience.

In doing this, there is a sort of self-objectification taking place. I am reducing my own life to a mere thing that will be used as an embodied means to a virtual end. This is one of the clear parallels between social media and pornography.

Pornography is also a disembodied engagement with others, where the problem is not that too much is seen but, rather, not enough. There is no communion between embodied persons truly seeing and knowing each other. Instead, one person has been reduced to a bodily object to be used by another in an act of self-gratification.

Just like social media, much of what is presented in pornography is deceptively crafted to
elicit a reaction, and usually for financial gain.

In 2010, research from the Nielsen Company found that 25% of working adults were looking at porn during work hours, and in 2015, data from the US indicated that 75% of all Internet users are viewing pornography online. Is it any wonder, then, that the 2021 Pandora Papers leak revealed that the PornHub website—just one of the major online porn purveyors – was making $97 billion per year in revenue.

In this way, market forces intrude in areas where they do not belong, leading to destructive outcomes for genuine human flourishing. Human persons and the profound sacredness of their sexual intimacy are reduced to commodities to be bought and sold.

It’s been obvious for a while now that social media is a powerful vehicle for unfettered and widespread sharing of pornography. Recently, however, warnings have begun sounding about a more pernicious gateway between social media and the porn industry.

Louise Perry, author of “The Case Against The Sexual Revolution,” and Mary Harrington, author of “Feminism Against Progress,” both regularly speak of the “Instagram-to-OnlyFans Pipeline.” What are they talking about? Here’s a quick summary.

Instagram is a social media platform where users can share photos, videos, and stories with their followers. It was created in 2010 and quickly became popular for its focus on visual content. Users can edit and enhance their photos using various filters and editing tools before sharing them with followers. They can also add captions and hashtags to their posts to make them more discoverable to other users. Instagram allows users to interact with each other by liking, commenting, and sharing each other’s posts. It currently boasts 500 million daily users globally, making it the third most popular social media app behind Facebook and YouTube.

OnlyFans is an online (mostly porn) platform that allows creators to share various media content directly with their audience, including images, videos, and live streams. Users can subscribe to creators’ accounts to access exclusive content, typically for a monthly fee set by the creator. Launched in 2016, OnlyFans gained popularity, especially those in the so-called adult entertainment industry, as a way to share uncensored content. OnlyFans currently has over 220 million registered users.

Let’s put it another way. Instagram is the place where, from a young age, the behaviours of disembodied objectification for clicks and likes are learnt and normalised.

OnlyFans then becomes the place of graduation where such behaviours can become commodified for cash.