Being able to talk to one another across time zones and space is a wonderful facility. Social Media, one of the big ways we do that, is potentially a liberating and unifying force for all people and all cultures. Except if you are using current versions of Social Media, that is. Now SM is a nightmare of trolls and divisiveness that’s exhausting and soul destroying and unbelievably dangerous. What should bring us closer is wrecking our communication. Its awful. Its has to change.
Aside from the demise of the careers of so many famous people, and not just the famous, but extremely talented people who might have contributed widely and deeply to our lives and culture, Social Media has been a disaster for truth and fact-checking. Once truth is thrown out you have opinion. Then opinion becomes fact and anarchy ensues as mob rule replaces the facts and the truth that sets us free. Now its more important to be popular and cool than boringly correct. Well known, rather talented people have torpedoed their careers through making some dumb emotionally driven, ill conceived rant or comment on SM, which is sad because the internet, as they say, is forever, and if you apologize and say you screwed up, well, that just makes you look weak and the trolls smell blood and go in for the kill. Rather unfair. But its good for business. Let me try to unpack that.
Firstly, this all sounds like the opening chapters of some dystopian narrative, but its not. So many books have been written on this, books by folks who really are the sharpest of thinkers. I’m thinking of Soshanna Zuboff. I’m thinking of Cathy O Neill. There are others, but those two really impressed me. In the immortal words of the novelist Joe Heller just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you. The thing is, and I have repeated this too often, if you are on social media, you are the product. They are always profiling you. They want controversy. They troll and want you to get into these horrible conflicts that ruin your calm and upset you for days or weeks or months or even affect your mental health. Social media is no place for the sensitive intellectual. Divisiveness is click-bait. Clicks/comments on social media generate data and data brings knowledge and knowledge is the fuel that drives ads and profiling which fills their coffers with countless billions of cash. Most of all, being on Social Media, you are allowing potentially millions of complete strangers into your life, people you may not ever want to meet or ever want to interact with. Its divisive. Its got a lot of very authoritarian governments into power. think of those who deploy the excuse of free speech to say terrible things. Think of the racists, the sexists, the homophobes on SM and those who are being allowed back on SM. Allowing ideological bigots and demagogues the platform of social media is foolish and naive. They will never change and historically never have. We need a fix for this. We need to return to real communication rather than shouting through our keyboard.
The other troubling factor is SM destroys ones personal privacy. Like sleep and having a home, an income and meaningful relations, privacy is an important thing that preserves mental and physical and spiritual well being. So whats the problem I have asked myself more than a hundred times? There are more than a few of those problems. Here’s what I think.
If you are on social media, well, people get to know you. One might think that’s a good thing, but really its a mixed blessing. People you don’t know or will never meet will get to know all about you – your loved ones, your mom and dad, your dog or cat, your job, your qualifications, your achievements, where you go and what you do and how you like to do whatever it is you do. That’s a lot of intimacy for the internet, and it’s a problem. AI operating in mega corporations will also get to know you, and when I use that word ‘know’ I mean they will have files on you, things stored about you we couldn’t conceive of. Governments are now cottoning on to the SM techniques and are deploying them to great effect. So sophisticated are their programing skills now they can tell when you are falling out of love with your partner – sometimes before you know that. Scary how much we reveal of ourselves if they can gauge our relationship status. But it goes further. They can tell what kind of books you read, how you vote (very important for those politicos), how you get along with your family (good for researchers and general internet analysts and marketers), what your personal preferences are in food, drink, clothing (again think sales), your IQ (use quizzes and nerdy discussions), your education (not the same thing as IQ, but think recruiting), your income bracket (so many uses), and finally your lifespan (insurance, medical stuff). Its incredible, a vista of personal exposure to the most efficient and ruthless exploitation, and we, the people, have given away our personal narratives to these sociopathic systems. Cliches notwithstanding, knowledge is power and the Internet is a super power in and of itself and its largely unregulated. Imagine what a populist authoritarian mega power could do with all those vast oceans of data washing through those supercomputers owned by those equally vast multi billion mega corps that own maintain and host these immense Social Media Platforms.
Perhaps the worst aspect of Social Media is that those on social media know its an awful space to be in. Its filled with divisiveness and it drives divisiveness. Its made to give you FOMO. Walk around your town/village/city/megalopolis and see just how many are staring into their smartphones or tablets. Its a new addiction. We need therapy for it.
So whats the solution? Legislation for a start. We need to take back our power. We need an online bill of rights, a legal code for those operating Social Media and a strict code of conduct for being on social media. Furthermore our data is not the property of Social Media Platforms. They should not have the right to sell ads on our backs. It deeply immoral. Its exploitative and should be illegal. Governments/ EU should push back hard so we do not fall off the cliff into some kind of free market anarchy. Also the coding on these platforms should be made immeasurably more benign so that click bait and controversy should not be the crack cocaine (or choose your own drug metaphor) driving advertising and profiling. Once upon a time and very good time it was forums used be monitored so that things didn’t get out of control. I miss that. Social Media monitoring is a joke. There are rules to a good discussion/argument. Love, peace and empathy might not be cool and seem naive, but its how we live and its how we should live together. Lets listen again to one another. I miss that.