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A St. Louis CEO Wants To Make Social Media Friendlier And Less Toxic

The “100th Monkey Effect” comes from a phenomenon first identified by biologists. Studying monkeys on a Japanese island, the researchers noticed one monkey had figured out how to wash sand off her sweet potatoes. Her technique spread to her peers, and then to their children, until over time, the washing no longer had to be taught. It was simply imitated.

The theory holds that once a critical number of monkeys has been reached — the proverbial “100th monkey” — behavior becomes so widespread, it takes off on its own. Some researchers have pushed back on the original authors’ theory (you could go deep down a rabbit hole exploring all the essays written on the topic). But the idea has entered popular lore.

Mich Hancock named her St. Louis-based social media marketing company after the phenomenon. She also finds it particularly apropos for her new quest: making the online sphere a kinder, more tolerant place. She’s drafted five suggestions for anyone looking to make social media less toxic. And she’s created a Facebook group in hopes of reaching whoever that 100th monkey might be.

Hancock discussed her quest on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air. The co-founder of TEDxStLouis and host of the MichMash podcast, she stressed the control we have over our social media experiences.

“When people say to me, ‘I don’t like being on Facebook, it’s so negative,’ I’m thinking, ‘All right, who do you have showing up on your feed that you don’t want to see?’” she said. “You can unfollow them.”

You can also resist the click on the nasty bait you’re being served. Hancock urged listeners to ask themselves two questions: “Is that really worth your time to click on that? And is it respectful to the person on the other end of that link?”

She acknowledged that cleaning up the online cesspool may feel quixotic. But we each have a role to play.

“I am a forever optimist,” she said. “For a lot of us, I think we don’t even know the things we are doing that are creating part of the problem.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis. She won the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her work in Phoenix exposing corruption at the local housing authority. She also won numerous awards for column writing, including multiple first place wins from the Arizona Press Club, the Association of Women in Journalism (the Clarion Awards) and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. From 2015 to July 2019, Sarah was editor in chief of St. Louis' alt-weekly, the Riverfront Times. She and her husband, John, are raising their two young daughters and ill-behaved border terrier in Lafayette Square.