Social Media has become a powerful force that can influence human desires in ways we can’t even imagine. For science, this is not something to question. Instead, it has become a matter as to why such a phenomenon occurs.
Many experts believe that Social Media can influence our behavior directly. Others question this idea. They think that if you throw the right propaganda, specifically targeted to vulnerable people, eventually some will react in the ways you want them to.
Whichever of these two views is right, one thing is clear: humanity is stuck at a social dilemma. These tools have helped us connect entire populations across the world in new and beneficial ways. However, not all is green and beautiful on the land of Social Media connectivity. There are also reasons for concern.
This is the discussion that the documentary ‘The Social Dilemma’ wants us to have at a social and political level. The argument, it goes, is that we can no longer turn our eyes over a phenomenon that shapes our lives in ways that benefit large companies if it comes at an enormous societal and individual cost. Human agency should not be for sale.
The Center for Humane Technology
It might surprise you that something called ‘The Center for Humane Technology’ exists. After all, what does humane technology mean? Well, this makes all the sense in the world when you understand what Social Media giants do. It happens to be that this technology is not neutral, or at least not when it comes to human agency.
The Center for Humane Technology advocates for a world where tech companies do not compete for human attention, especially if this harms us. Instead, it wants tech companies to be better aligned with human needs.
Founded by former employees, tech experts, and inventors of some of the most impactful Social Media features, the Center’s members know first hand what the industry is all about. The documentary interviews people who are still connected to the industry in one way or another, and their opinions might shock you, to say the least.
In general, there seems to be a consensus amongst the interviewed that things are pretty messed up in companies like Facebook and Youtube, just to mention a few. As Netflix CEO has stated, companies compete for human attention. There is only so much attention that we all have, and companies want a piece of it. The best they can do is to try and keep us hooked. They want us to keep on going and going, just like an addict would.
This situation poses huge problems. For a start, it involves the use of mechanisms specially designed to hack our human brains. These mechanisms put us in a position where we always want more. No level of stimulation is good enough. We need to watch one more video. We want to keep scrolling down our feeds. We want more likes. We want people to comment on our posts. All for the sake of making money.
Many people believe that companies like Facebook are selling our data to third parties. This isn’t quite how it works. Instead, what companies do is use the data they have on us, which is a lot, to target us with specific information. Whether it is ads, or more content to keep us hooked, that is the point. This is how their business models work, at the expense of our agency, all because they have discovered inherent flaws in how our brains are wired.
Most people think that technology is neutral, but his premise is being re-evaluated. We are starting to see that technology is like any other tool. A knife is not harmful just because it can cut flesh. The damage it can inflict depends on how we use it, whether it was designed for that purpose or not. The same applies to any digital tool based on algorithms.
Algorithms have inherent biases that can skew results towards one side or another. Even Artificial Intelligence tools can make decisions that can end up harming us. This is not surprising. After all, computers cannot distinguish between what is right from what is not. They can just do as they are told, even if they have computational powers beyond what any human brain can imagine.
Not for Sale
Does it all have to end on a sad note? Luckily, the answer is no. There is still time to change the path we are on. I believe that watching The Social Dilemma is a must for our generation. It is our duty to be informed on how Social Media behemoths operate, and it is our right to ask from them that they disclose their practices so that we can understand how they make use of our data. Most importantly, it is our right to ask them to stop messing with our minds.
The world has already seen the impact of what Social Media gone haywire can do. If you don’t know what I am talking about, what are you waiting for? Go watch The Social Dilemma.