The social media obsession has turned dark very quickly. Consumers are mindlessly consuming content for hours a day and totally disengaging from the world around them. They’re creating their own reality in the virtual world. I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called the social dilemma which revealed many things that I believe we all know but selectively ignore.
This documentary from Jeff Orlowski explores how addiction and privacy breaches are features, not bugs, of social media platforms.
Many former high-level associates from Google, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram are interviewed in this documentary. The general consensus was that all these social media platforms were first created for good but as corporate greed and data collection became a frenzy, these platforms became manipulative, destructive and misused. Data collection became extremely competitive and big tech companies saved as much information they could get form their users. This information was then used to specifically target each user and provide them with content to influence, push a purchase or manipulate another behavior.
The Rise of Fake News
As more and more users began using social media and circulating ideologies, articles and beliefs, fake news became a huge issue in cyber space. I’m by no means saying that social media gave birth to fake news—it’s been around for centuries in the form of propaganda. But social media provides an easy, quick platform to spread news (and anything else) like wildfires. Much of this content is user created and may not be factual at all—but The Social Dilemma suggests that social media by way of data collection, algorithms and the like will make sure that particular content is shown to a specific user or users who have exhibited online behavior indicating they may believe in false news. Social platforms will even attempt to connect these users to one another and help form a group of people with similar ideologies and beliefs. In some instances, this can be harmless, but in many others, this can be extremely harmful—we see a rise in white supremacists on social media and they form their groups using social platforms and connecting with others who have the same beliefs.
The Ethical Dilemma
The Social Dilemma speaks to many issues with social media that are not new to our society and the participants being interviewed noted that many of them left due to ethical issues they recognized either with their own companies or with the industry as a whole. They felt an ethical need to step away from the ‘monster’ they helped create and try to change the trajectory of social media.
“…the manipulation of human behavior for profit is coded into these companies with Machiavellian precision: Infinite scrolling and push notifications keep users constantly engaged; personalized recommendations use data not just to predict but also to influence our actions, turning users into easy prey for advertisers and propagandists.”
Big Tech is very aware that their algorithms and codes are manipulating users but there has not been a concrete plan put in place to try and control or repair this issue. Instead, Big Tech companies are benefiting from this—by gathering as much data on consumers as possible, they can sell ad space, track you, show you advertisements you’d be interested in, influence you to purchase, sell, join a group etc. It’s become a competition of which company can collect the most data while disregarding the negative effects consumers are being exposed to. Three has to be a moral and ethical stance when it comes to these issues.
Studies have shown that social media can have negative effects on the youth.
Young people spend a lot of time on social media. They’re also more susceptible to peer pressure, low self-esteem and mental ill-health. A number of studies have found associations between increased social media use and depression, anxiety, sleep problems, eating concerns, and suicide risk.
(Robinson, Bailey & Byrne , 2020)
The authors of the article “Social media can be bad for youth mental health, but there are ways it can help” also noted that there is certain content with regards to cyberbullying, comparison to unrealistic portrayals and suicide and self-harm circulating social media that can make matters work.
And they are just a few of the many things that affects the youth on the internet. This content is easily shared and circulated which adversely has a negative effect on mental health. Some social media platforms have attempted to address these issues, particularly, cyberbullying, but “71% of youth don’t think social media platforms do enough to prevent cyberbullying” (Robinson et al. 2020). Cyberbullying is a monster of its own and directly “linked to depression, anxiety, social isolation and suicide.”
(Robinson et al. 2020)
At what point should Big Tech take a step back and realize the damage their platforms have done? How many more young adult suicides will it take for these giants to consider their moral, ethical duty and responsibility to the public? These issues are not new, they’ve been around for years and with more and more young adults actively engaged in the online world, the more this content will be accessible. This problem will not go away until it is addressed, and a plan is put in place to eliminate it.
Girish, D. (2020, September 09). ‘The Social Dilemma’ Review: Unplug and Run. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/09/movies/the-social-dilemma-review.html
Concerns Regarding Social Media and Health Issues in Adolescents and Young Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved September 24, 2020, from https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2016/02/concerns-regarding-social-media-and-health-issues-in-adolescents-and-young-adults
Jones, M. (2020, August 03). The Complete History of Social Media: A Timeline of the Invention of Online Networking. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from https://historycooperative.org/the-history-of-social-media/
Ahmad, I. (2018, April 27). The History of Social Media [Infographic]. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from https://www.socialmediatoday.com/news/the-history-of-social-media-infographic-1/522285/
Jul 26, 2. (n.d.). The Impact of Social Media: Is it Irreplaceable? Retrieved September 24, 2020, from https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/impact-of-social-media/
Shah, S. (2018, June 20). The History of Social Media. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from https://www.digitaltrends.com/features/the-history-of-social-networking/
Fake News and Cyber Propaganda: The Use and Abuse of Social Media. (n.d.). Retrieved September 26, 2020, from https://www.trendmicro.com/vinfo/pl/security/news/cybercrime-and-digital-threats/fake-news-cyber-propaganda-the-abuse-of-social-media
Orlowski, J. (Director). (2020, September). The Social Dilemma [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11464826/
Robinson, J., Bailey, E., & Byrne, S. (2020, May 12). Social media can be bad for youth mental health, but there are ways it can help. Retrieved October 04, 2020, from https://theconversation.com/social-media-can-be-bad-for-youth-mental-health-but-there-are-ways-it-can-help-87613