Social Media is no longer a mere platform for communication but also a playground for human psychology and a marketplace that trades in human futures.
When was the last time one may have checked his messages? Surprisingly, any regular human checks his phone once every 6 minutes, and 80% of the time, it is used for text messaging or checking out the other social media platforms. It is then natural to wonder if social media has now become equivalent to oxygen for human beings. They are so profoundly incorporated into a person’s daily life that people have become incapable of spending even a single day without media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Twitter, and many others.
However, isn’t it funny that a few lines of mysterious code have come, to control, to quite an extent what kind of a person we think we are and our entire present and future lives? Rather, it’s scarier than it’s funny!
How Does Social Media “Really” Work Today?
Social Media runs on a set of algorithms; it is an analytic model designed to predict our thinking patterns, behaviors, personalities, and actions to the maximum certainty. These platforms were created by big tech companies who are constantly competing with each other to seek our attention. And the company with the best model to predict us sells this certainty of our attention to the advertisers and other stakeholders, who use it to reach out to us and influence us in the way they want.
The seemingly free services of social media aren’t free; we are the product being sold here! And it is not just our attention that is the product because in that case, we are still accountable, but like Jaron Lanier said, “It is the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in our behavior and perception that is the real product.”
How do these algorithms hold so much power over us?
Social Media is like a third eye watching everyone and not just that, but an eye that can further control everyone. Even the smallest information about users counts as data, like how many minutes does a person spend on a particular platform, who are the followers and what posts are being ‘saved’, ‘liked’, ‘deleted’ or just ‘scrolled through’. Details like what contacts are starred and what names are blocked, when is the person most active and what are the different responses to the online content, everything is monitored and used to make an accurate predictive model for that person.
These models can predict everything about a person, their past, present, or future, and that gives them the power to control anyone. Because now these media platforms can customize the content in ways they want, and serve it to the users, however they desire to. The algorithms can make the system biased and can be used to trigger a person, make one opinionated about something, or at best change one to something he is not.
From Modest Manipulation to Clueless Chaos!
Social media platforms have managed to reach such a deep level into people’s brains and plant ideas there to get the maximum growth while people are left utterly clueless about it happening. These platforms have shifted from being a tool-based technology to an addiction-manipulation based technology. With the algorithms getting smarter and smarter with every passing day, today they can convince humans of anything, thus landing humans in more significant problems like polarization, cyber crimes, disinformation, mental health problems, and the list goes on and on.
Did Social Media evolve?
These big tech companies might have not set out to manipulate people, instead, it was the need of having great predictions and further monetizing this need to the maximum extent without any moral and ethical checks over the implementation, that sabotaged the goal. Social Media is no longer a platform for communication but a playground for human psychology to be experimented with to get maximum benefits and a marketplace that trades in human futures.
To begin with, these were only platforms for us to stay connected with the people to decrease the communication gap created due to distance, and form a closer community of humans. However, looking at the world today, the plan may have backfired. Humans aren’t any closer than before, to be very honest, people just moved farther away from each other and the nature around them. Everyone seems to be living in this different delusional and fake world online, and now that very world has started to control them in real life. So the meaning of communication has become analogous to manipulation and deceit just crawled to the center of everything we do.
How do we proceed then?
As the world moves further into the age of smart technology, we must remember that the math of these algorithms is not authoritarian, biased, or manipulative. It is the humans designing them that are to be held responsible for setting their goals not appropriately and for forgetting the moral responsibility that they have towards the society. Even, the users are to be held accountable for not calling out to technology that rules out their choices. It will be a collective effort to re-build these social media platforms to make them a part of human-based technology!
Tristan Harris has wonderfully explained this in his famous TED talk given here.
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