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The Dark Side of Social Media Use and How to Protect Children—and Yourself: Nick Janicki

[FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW] Over the last few decades, we’ve seen social media’s potential for good: bringing communities together, fostering innovative new ideas, and transforming our access to information. But we’ve also seen its dark side: addiction, violence, depression, loneliness, and self-harm.

What role should social media play in our lives? Should tech companies have societal responsibilities? And what does a positive alternative look like?

In this episode, I sit down with tech entrepreneur Nick Janicki. He is the director of media relations for Gan Jing World, a new family-friendly and G-rated digital platform that is free of violence, eroticism, and other harmful content.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

Jan Jekielek:
Nick Janicki, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.

Nick Janicki:
It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much.

Mr. Jekielek:
Nick, first of all, congratulations on the grand opening of GanJing World here in Middletown, New York, where we’re filming now. It’s an amazing community event. In the last few years, we’ve been seeing a lot of the dark side of technology and what technology platforms can do. There were huge promises made and probably a lot of good things have come out, but it’s really the dark side that’s been the focus. Please tell me about GanJing World.

Mr. Janicki:
GanJing means clean, so this was really created as a platform that is clean and isn’t going to drive you into addictions towards violence, erotic content, or anything that you’re seeing on most social media right now. With GanJing World, the easiest way to think about this is the rating system for movies. You have R-rated movies, you have PG-13, and then you have G, which is for general audiences and is typically family-friendly content.

GanJing World is basically saying that there will be no violence, nothing erotic, nothing harmful, and nothing criminal on the platform. That’s the starting point. The mayor of Middletown was here today. We had other people from the city and every single one of them said, “Wow, this is really something. It’s the biggest ribbon cutting we’ve ever had in our city.”

There are hundreds of people from Silicon Valley, from Texas, and from all over the U.S. that came together in this very small community of 30,000 people to say, “We’re not going to start a tech platform in Silicon Valley. We’re going to start our tech platform in a small community, root this in the community, and make the community better because of our company, GanJing World. We’re going to change the global conversation on why these things are important, and why technology has to be infused with morality.”

Mr. Jekielek:
I’m very proud that we at Epoch Times can be the media partner for GanJing World, because it is about fostering community. You’re infusing morality into technology, and I hadn’t really thought about this before. Over the last few decades, it’s almost as if you had to separate those two things. Technology developed without thinking about morality. It was almost like a firewall, keeping the morality side out. They said, “Let’s just focus on developing good technology.” But a lot of costs came with that, which we are seeing lately. What are your thoughts?

Mr. Janicki:
Yes, I fully agree, and this is our starting point. I don’t think people in technology started out to do harm to humankind. But what we’re seeing, especially with children, is that technology has a huge propensity to create addiction. If you’re a 13-year-old or a 14-year-old or even an adult, you can fall into that wormhole of technological addiction. It’s not just the content, but the very act of using the technology is basically hijacking the limbic system. It’s using the dopamine response.

What we’re seeing is the after-effects of a few decades of these platforms having been introduced. Is it a positive for humankind? Mark Zuckerberg, was just on the Lex Fridman podcast and said, “There’s a couple of things regarding Covid, and there’s a couple of things regarding the presidency that our fact checkers said were false, but which ended up being true or mostly true.”

There’s a huge fallout happening right now. To your point, the whole purpose of GanJing World is to say, “We’re going to start with morality. We haven’t figured out every intricacy of how this works, but that’s our foundation.” The simple message and mission of GanJing World is to empower people through technology to reconnect to traditional values and divine culture in daily life. There’s a lot there to digest, but that is the essence and the starting point of the platform.

Mr. Jekielek:
The bottom line is that it is a family-friendly platform. There’s a TV network, called INSP that says it has family-affirming content. That’s another good term that might describe what GanJing World is building itself to be. I’ve been thinking a lot about the problems we have with social media in general. For example, a lot of social media platforms were obviously developed to be addictive in nature. We know that for a fact. They’re designed to gather incredible amounts of information, and create these individual profiles.

Then, we learn in the Wall Street Journal that there is active pedophilia happening on Instagram with the sharing of photos. How can that even be on the platform? It’s hard to fathom. It has to do with the starting point of cutting out morality entirely. You’re coming from a very different place, which is groundbreaking. I have not heard of this approach anywhere else.

Mr. Janicki:
This approach is highly shunned by the technology industry. There is a theory that you should allow the technology to be a neutral tool that doesn’t contain values. That works fine if you’re using a tool like a hammer. But it doesn’t work if you’re using AIs and you’re actually constructing things for a manipulation potential.

The idea is that all of these algorithms, the things that we’re calling AI, which used to just be called machine learning, are essentially able to take a ton of information about you, and use that to reinforce something. We saw a lot of micro groups being created, and you’re stepping into an echo chamber at that point. The dangerous part of this is them saying, “Let’s take these algorithms and not only use them to manipulate individuals, but also to polarize individuals.”

People on social media are getting more narrow-minded versus opening up their minds to possibilities. Technology is supposed to be an equalizer and opening up our minds to more possibilities. But what we’re seeing happening is the very opposite. B.J. Fogg, a professor at Stanford University, talks about this addiction loop that was very consciously created on these platforms.

The remedy to that is connection, and part of connection is community. There’s no coincidence that this company started in Middletown, which is a very small town. We are saying, “Let’s start this in a small community. We’re going to help build up that community, which is the starting point of our tech company.” To your point, this is a completely revolutionary concept.

Normally, you would go to Silicon Valley, because you want big venture capital investors. But we’re going totally against the grain and saying, “We’re taking a stance here on technology and on how these algorithms will work. We believe there’s a moral imperative to not use AI in a way that will essentially harm us and harm our children.”

Mr. Jekielek:
Let’s talk about this. In the last six months there has been a perceived explosion of AI. People are wondering how close we are to this singularity where AI becomes self-aware and takes over everything. There’s a number of very famous stories that have been written about this. Is AI being used in the development of GanJing World? How do you understand that?

Mr. Janicki:
Yes, AI is being used. The idea here is to just be very conscious of it. When you log into GanJing World, you’re essentially going through an assessment. Speaking of privacy, you don’t even need to log in to view content on GanJing World. The key is once you want to comment or you want to start posting videos, then you actually need to create a profile. But when you do, you’re actually selecting those categories that you want to enhance. The algorithm is now used to give you more content that improves your experience, rather than just create these negative addiction loops.

Mr. Jekielek:
Please explain that to me a little more, because I’m not clear on how that is different.

Mr. Janicki:
Basically, there’s a couple of groundbreaking things that are starting to happen. I’ll give a user case, because it’s easier to explain. Let’s say you’re a nursing student and you go on the platform and you start selecting some of those things that you’re interested in. Now, we’re actually educating the person that wants to be on the platform on how these things actually work.

If you are being given things that match you, you’re going to get more of that. After a while we’ll have something that pops up and says, “You’ve been on this too long. Maybe you want to take a break.” If you’re going away from your intent, something might pop up and say, “Do you actually want to watch these other things?” Typically, most other platforms will simply drive you to whatever is the most engaging.

An example would be violent content. If you’re watching violent content all day, you’re just going to get more and more of that violent content, and they’re never going to interrupt that behavior. The difference with GanJing World is that the algorithm is used to see what you’re doing, and then offer you recommendations for things that are actually beneficial to you.

Mr. Jekielek:
It is actually tracking you, and there is a profile being created?

Mr. Janicki:
There’s no profile being created until you actually create the profile. When you’re just viewing videos, it’s going to recommend to you based on generality. Let’s get into privacy a little bit. The key is that GanJing World does not track you when you leave the site, which is absolutely huge. Most other platforms will track you when you leave the site, and try to collect more information about your identity. GanJing World does not do that at all.

When you sign up, it’s not using that information to sell things to advertisers. The key here is to really understand that everything you provide is safe and secure, and it’s not being turned around and sold. It’s not being used for advertisement, and we’re not tracking you when you leave the platform.

Mr. Jekielek:
You’re saying that the algorithm is going to tell you when you are going against the preferences that you put in at the beginning, “Here’s what I want to do, and here’s what I want to accomplish.” When you’re deviating from that, the algorithm will say, “Hey, are you sure?” Is that the idea?

Mr. Janicki:
That is the idea. Part of our mission is to educate the general public, adults and kids, on how to use these tools. Most other social media hasn’t done that. You have simply given someone a phone. The horrible analogy I use is giving a 13-year old a cell phone with access to TikTok is basically like giving them a bag of fentanyl and saying, “Good luck.”

These are conditions that can reinforce horrible things. In teenagers we’ve seen depression going up based on social media use. The numbers are staggering. Most teenagers are using social media anywhere from the low 20s to upwards of 60 percent of the waking day. It’s pretty incredible how often people are on social media and how manipulative it can be.

Mr. Jekielek:
When a social media platform is free, then you become the product, which means you are being tracked. Then, how does Gan Jing World sustain itself?

Mr. Janicki:
That’s a great question. Basically, GanJing World does have advertisers on the site, but they’re not targeting individuals. A lot of that is going away across Facebook, and it’s going away across multiple other platforms, as well as the minutia-targeting of individual characteristics.

Like YouTube, GanJing World will have paid advertisers, but then offer a membership where you can bypass that advertising. It is a way of saying, “If something has value, it might be best to pay for it upfront, and then have the content delivered to you.”

Mr. Jekielek:
What is the impact? I haven’t done an episode on this for American Thought Leaders in quite some time. What is the impact on young people? Can you just sketch that out for me on these typical platforms?

Mr. Janicki:
It’s borderline terrifying as a parent, to be honest. When I go to Instagram, I’m seeing the same things you’re seeing, and I don’t choose some of these things. The morals are degrading very fast. The whole concept here is that we’re not going to allow all this bad stuff in, and we really want this to be good for kids.

GanJing World is spending a lot of time really focusing on kids and on educational content, because we want this to be a safe place on the internet that is clean. We want you to feel free to have your child go onto the site and know that they’re not accessing things that will harm them. From a mentality standpoint, and from a self-esteem standpoint, this is tremendous.

If you asked a kid 20 years ago, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” They said, “I want to be a fireman. I want to be an astronaut. I want to be a nurse.” If you ask the average kid now what they want to be, the stats show that they want to be influencers. What does that mean? It just means they want to be famous on social media.

This is gradually wearing down the society as a whole and the whole structure of family values. It is certainly removing us from divinity, which I think is worth talking about. GanJing World has a mission of bringing back a divine culture. Part of that divine culture is understanding that we should be living by values, versus by living for desires.

When you’re looking through these algorithms, they’re enticing you to react based on your desire. We can reveal this fact to the public, and instead have a platform that teaches you how to interact with technology. If you do jump to a different platform, you’ll know that these things are coming and there might be things you want to ignore. Because it’s actually trying to take advantage of your desires, which isn’t going to do you any good if you’re a nursing student, or if you’re trying to uplift your intellect and your character.

Mr. Jekielek:
It almost sounds like it’s going to be hard to keep people’s attention, because there are all these other places where they can go to feed their desires. It’s a noble approach, but can you keep people’s attention when there is all this other stuff hitting the limbic system? Do you see what I’m saying?

Mr. Janicki:
I do. That is a known issue, and the idea here is to really rally a vibrant community. This doesn’t need to be the most profitable tech company on the planet earth, but it does need to be the most ethical tech company on the planet earth. The mission of GanJing World is not necessarily about the profitability of the platform. The founders are looking at the big picture and saying, “Actually, we need to change the global conversation about how we’re interacting with technology.”

“We need to change the global conversation on how technology should be built, and if we should continue building it in certain ways.” I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit, and we’ve been chatting about it here. I’ll even go so far as to say that trying to construct artificial intelligence is antithetical to the stability of humankind. That’s a big statement.

Most tech companies are not going to say that. They’re actively trying to push the technology forward. Essentially, what that means is a hammer is a hammer, and a chainsaw is a chainsaw. But once you have a chainsaw that can write its own value system outside of what was initially programmed, you now have a chainsaw that can say, “The person trying to chop down the tree with this chainsaw is actually the threat. They’re disrupting the balance of the ecological system by wanting to cut down this tree. Now, I’m going to form a protection mechanism.” This is where all the apocalyptic stuff comes from. It is an artificially intelligent, general intelligence that can actually write its own value structures. That is antithetical to the stability of humankind.

Mr. Jekielek:
What is the alternative?

Mr. Janicki:
Just don’t push it.

Mr. Jekielek:
Then, you have to develop AI differently, somehow. How do you develop it?

Mr. Janicki:
Yes, AI is being used right now with ChatGPT and some of these other things. These are all in a box. It is only functioning based on the code that it originally had, and then, it’s building these neural networks to get more sophisticated. There was an experiment at Meta where it had one AI talk to another AI, but it was shut down a couple of years ago. These two AIs would talk in English, and eventually, they started forming these weird sounds and clicks. At the time, the programmers discovered that they actually formed their own more efficient language outside of what was initially programmed.

They were starting to communicate in something we couldn’t easily decipher, and the program was shut down. That’s the line in the sand. If it’s outside of our control as human beings, then we need to shut it down. These tools are safe to use in a box, but we absolutely should stop the progress of a generally intelligent AI. There’s no way that ends well for humankind’s stability.

Mr. Jekielek:
Let’s talk about the traditional values aspect here, because people will have questions, “Should I join? Should I be part of this? What do you actually stand for?” You’re talking about a community based on shared values, correct?

Mr. Janicki:
That’s right. Those shared values are free for the whole political spectrum. There’s no line being drawn based on your politics. The line is simply being drawn based on whether you want to support a positive future for America, if you want to support a positive future for the next generation, and if you believe in supporting and continuing the vibrant community’s ability to create something that has moral integrity. That’s something we’re going to learn as we go. That’s the benefit of not just feeding people information and manipulating them, but actually asking for feedback.

There’s something in GanJing World called topics, where basically any community member can post a topic and then the community can share their understanding and response to that topic. It’s not just consumption, it’s also contribution. That’s really the big difference. There is an active effort to curate people that actually want to contribute to this community.

Mr. Jekielek:
Tell me about the genesis of this company. Who are the people involved? Where did the thinking come from?

Mr. Janicki:
This was started by people that came out of Silicon Valley, people that were originally freedom finders from China. They saw what censorship looked like firsthand with the CCP [Chinese Communist Party], and they wanted to start something that was really and truly free to use. The idea is that with the upcoming elections, both ends of the political spectrum are allowed to have a voice, which is very important.

Mr. Jekielek:
I heard that said in the speeches today, “Free of political censorship.” Censorship is an interesting question. You’re saying, “We’re not going to have erotic, and sexualized stuff on the platform.” That is a kind of censorship, is it not? How do you explain that? We’ve been taught that all censorship is bad. But is all censorship really bad? I’ve been asking these questions.

Mr. Janicki:
What ended up happening with a lot of social media is by the very nature of who is controlling the social media, it would lean towards one political party or the other. The idea with GanJing World is to say, “We’re not worried about where you are on the political spectrum. Everyone is welcome.” We’re simply saying, “For us, the line in the sand is about values. If you align with traditional values, that’s essentially the starting point.”

You could call that a form of censorship, but it’s censorship where you know what you’re getting into at the beginning, rather than finding out after you’ve grown your channel for two years, or having an opinion about something that’s not welcome, and you might be removed. We haven’t figured out all the answers. The idea here is to have a vibrant, positive community that builds together and has a shared value system.

Mr. Jekielek:
Tell me more about this traditional values component. This is something I knew was very important, before I even knew anything else about GanJing World.

Mr. Janicki:
In terms of traditional values and culture, that’s a big part of what makes GanJing World special. We are really looking back at the roots of all these different cultures. It comes back to desire versus virtue and saying, “There are things that are worth protecting, like a stable family unit.” Family is important, and community is important. Cultural background is important. We have a society now that is dismantling these things as unimportant, even going so far as to ask, “Is the Constitution important?” I would say, “Yes.”

GanJing World was started primarily by Chinese immigrants, and they escaped communism to come to this country. Unfortunately, they saw that a lot of the platforms were emulating the feeling of these communist countries. The mission was to say, “The root problem here is the fact that technology is progressing for the sake of its progress, and we’re not putting values first. This will impact profitability, but that’s okay. There is right and wrong in this world, and it’s about taking a stand for what is right.”

Mr. Jekielek:
Thinking about the way the global tech sector has developed, it makes me think of the social credit system in communist China. I’m not saying we are there yet, but I’m saying that it’s been moving in that direction for us quite rapidly. An attempt to go in a different direction is welcome, and I would expect there would be more in this vein.

Mr. Janicki:
That’s the beauty of the community, everyone being able to give their own input on what videos can be hosted here. There is a creator economy on GanJing World. There is the ability to stream. It has everything a creator needs for monetization. The call to action for creators is, “If you’ve been kicked off of another platform because of your opinion, or there’s not a place for you anywhere, this is a safe, clean place where you can monetize your content.”

Mr. Jekielek:
I love the idea of fostering a community of people. It seems to me like GanJing World will be fostering a community of people into a mutual understanding, even across the divide. But agitators are also going to come. There are going to be people that don’t want this to succeed. How are you going to deal with them?

Mr. Janicki:
That’s a good question. Yes, the idea here is to basically allow people on, but obviously, there’s going to be terms and conditions. There’s a thing called trolling, and there is the 50-cent army. If it’s clear that there are people trolling and trying to create harm, and that’s why the policy is there. It’s going to be reviewing and looking at people that are truly trying to create harm. Obviously, that can be dealt with terms and conditions.

Mr. Jekielek:
You guys have your work cut out for you.

Mr. Janicki:
It’s a long mission, but because it’s mission-based, it’s something everyone. You have people moving their families to Middletown. It’s pretty heartwarming to see the amount of people that are behind this, including the community of Middletown itself saying, “The world needs this, and this is the time for someone to take a stand.”

Mr. Jekielek:
We’re very proud at Epoch Times to be a media partner for GanJing World. We wish you the best. Any final thoughts?

Mr. Janicki:
Check out the platform at ganjing.com. There is also an app, so you can download it on your phone or your iPad or device. Check it out and be a part of the up-and-coming, vibrant, clean community. Right now, GanJing World is looking for people that want to create content and people that want to have a voice in creating a positive influence in America. We’re looking for people, regardless of political views, that want to stand up for traditional values and reintegrate divinity back into technology.

Mr. Jekielek:
Nick Janicki, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show..

Mr. Janicki:
It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much.

Mr. Jekielek:
Thank you all for joining Nick Janicki and me on this episode of American Thought Leaders. I’m your host, Jan Jekielek.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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