How Today’s Social Media Lost Trust and Found Violence … Time to Opt Out?
We believe that ethical technology is technology that works for you… “It’s technology that helps you sleep, not keeps you up. It tells you when you’ve had enough. It gives you space to create or draw or write or learn, not refresh just one more time.” Tim Cook
How did Social Media turn from a mild-mannered communicator to an uncontrollable Superman of data exploitation with forays into social activism, even political elections, with overwhelming influence about what we read, buy, think or how we communicate with or without privacy?
What unique single factor did the founders miss?
It all starts with an algorithm in computer science … a finite sequence of well-defined, data instructions, typically to solve a class of problems or to perform a computation. (Wikipedia)
In other words, algorithms are invisible pieces of code like a recipe that tell a computer how to accomplish a specific task to produce a certain result. Every time you click on your Facebook feed you are following an algorithm.
Those were the Happy Days at the beginning
At first the theory of technology was to use algorithms that encouraged good engagements with the company’s simple goal of collecting as much data as possible. “Do Good” was Google’s slogan.
I remember those early halcyon days time when social media was exciting with the ring of democratic promise. Social media first started with Friendster (2003) and MySpace (2005). We were invited to create our personal website or visit a chat room to participate in the public square freely and openly to discover and create new tribes.
Facebook (2007) promised to connect students on various campuses like never before. Twitter started a never-ending conversation with 140 characters or less. Google+ and Vine gave voices to millions of users. YouTube provided endless hours of daily uploaded video with expressions and creativity. Facebook soon started a monopoly with Instagram and WhatsApp.
For business owners there were no ads or autoresponder bots. Organic searches worked and people who liked your business page could be messaged directly.
Then, in 2018 the Cambridge Analytical Scandal showed that the personal data of millions of Facebook users was sold for political ads without their knowledge. Things would never be the same. Content suppression and manipulation would become the norm without the best interests of the users. Giant Social Media companies started to care more about collecting total active users and serving their investors. They were more interested in tracking people and manipulating them to choose sides. Company’s gatekeepers decided on morality and censorship to ban individuals and groups who didn’t meet criteria or “demonetize” their video channels.
Now we require personal data that stretches across dozens of websites and apps in order to succeed. But who ensures our private security?
This is a seamless medium for tracking and collecting data in order to target more ads for more sales. How alarming to think that private personal data can be easily captured and sold to other companies for their personal advantages? For example, a Chinese corporation, owns Tik-Tok, that has acquired millions of young people as customers so they can exhibit their few minutes of fame at the cost of what personal information and manipulation.
“The end result of all of this is that you are no longer the customer, you are the product,” Tim Cook
Now this doesn’t mean social media is dead. And whatever comes next, those days will never return. At the core, the founders forgot to massage the two unique sides of their theory about free speech on social media; namely real and unreal. False facts and disinformation can be spread as easily as true facts or actions. This information overload makes it difficult for ordinary people to figure out what’s happening or not.
It’s how algorithms operate. Now, it seems that algorithms with high rates of engagement are used for rampant disinformation and conspiracy theories seemingly without consequences. Thousands of users can join and recommend extremist groups prioritizing searches for more extreme key words and organizations. Any attempts to correct falsehoods could cause further propagation. It’s no wonder that citizens become fatigued, cynical and distrustful of objective truth.
For example, any political leader with an agenda can tell as many lies as he or she may want without fear of fact checkers because their followers are ingrained over time for confirmation of their messages. Mainstream media can debunk them with evidence but certain other media outlets can endorse them or spread manufactured self-serving evidence on social media to hardcore supporters with repeated programming. At the end, the public questions the integrity of media itself leading to a kind of fatalism, policy paralysis and simple conversion to unproven affirmative conspiracies.
But how can these giant media monopolies be more legally responsible to suppress their channels of disinformation, anger and division?
“Social media have gone from being the natural infrastructure for sharing collective grievances and coordinating civic engagement, to being a computational tool for social control, manipulated by canny political consultants, and available to politicians in democracies and dictatorships alike.”
It seems we have to admit a somewhat uncomfortable truth: Social media, in the way that it’s used now, is an authoritarian medium.
Herein lies the tragedy of lost trust and found violence that Social Media allows the spread of “junk news” collaborating with some “news” outlets that deliberately publish misleading, deceptive or incorrect information. Recently, the current media ecosystem demonstrated how democratic principles and institutions can be violently attacked with no accountability where the fear and disruption continue.
Is it Time to Opt Out?
Nothing from social media is ever important enough to interrupt your day. Push and text notifications should be saved for only the most urgent things, like calls from your boss, spouse, or mom, and overdraft notifications on your bank account. Social media just isn’t that important. Megan Holstein
Do you think that more and more people may opt out of social media to escape from tracking, personal data manipulation or inadvertent connections to conspiracy threads through this vast network of links?
Here are 3 steps to consider:
- Unfollow accounts that you don’t interact with in real life. Unfollow “friends” on Facebook. I did this and was amazed at how many people I had no idea how we were connected for what reason.
- Change the notification settings for your social media. (See article for steps 2 and 3 to do this.)
- Turn off push notifications and turn off any email notifications that doesn’t personally have anything to do with you. Stop receiving notifications from social media unless it is your email or direct communication for yourself.
Today, our challenge is ask government intervention to fix this abomination of truth. It may be long term; but, until then I plan to minimize my connections.
A social dilemma cannot be allowed to become a social catastrophe.
What are your opinions about the transformation of Social Media from your experiences?
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