Not so long ago, I found myself starting to become more and more conscious about my social media presence and how it affects my individual privacy online. I had proceeded to delete my social apps, remove accounts, block notifications…you know the story.
A while later, then, I started watching a series called The Social Dilemma. It begins with an exposition of people who used to work for Social Media giants – all of whom seemed to be seriously preoccupied with what the future could hold. They then failed to identify a singular problem with social media as a concept, which seemed to be more a consequence of the myriad of options than the lack thereof.
This isn’t merely a case of insider conspiracies or opinions though. There are well-documented instances of fake news webs designed to alter public perception in one way or other, in fact, entire riots have been initiated by groups communicating through social media. The show then follows a traditional American family, using the family members to depict how social media has affected the psychology, habits and tendencies of people who grew up without being so interconnected, and the younger generation, who have access to limitless amounts of information and social media.
It really does make you realise how, changing how you think and who you believe you are is what these companies’ business model has centred around, and it’s not merely a consequence of their operations, it’s probably even their major goal – collecting and subsequently selling your data to advertising companies. The more time passes, the more they increase their ability to automate, collate and collect information. Perfect examples of companies that have exploited this most effectively are the likes of Google, Capital One etc, all of which have seen vast amounts of profit simply based on their ability to process consumer information to improve their product
These companies that have your permission to collect and sell your data, are the same ones that know when you’re feeling sad, lonely, excited, etc, based on very simple actions like the time you spend looking at certain posts and ads. The algorithms they use generate models of you based on this data, and the company with your best, model, so to speak, is the one that comes out on top. These are the models that advertising companies study vigorously to predict which product you’d be interested in next.
Because at the end of the day, they don’t care if you’re feeling depressed or anxious about your future. They care solely about which product they can sell to you at this very moment to make you forget about your troubles.
Then, comes design, the key to keeping you hooked after all. It comes as no surprise that social media companies collaborated with the same people that design slot machines, and yet I for one, never really thought about it till the second I heard it. When you swipe down or up to refresh a page or the app, you’re doing the same action you would do at a slot machine: pulling down. You create this habit in your subconscious until it becomes a reflex. Apps have reached a point where they’re capable of quite literally manipulating our emotions and thoughts without ever making us aware of the fact that they’re doing so.
And this is where the younger generation comes in. The children that grew up knowing how to operate a phone before they could properly talk and walk, are the same children who are now significantly vulnerable to depression, loneliness, and even suicidal thoughts than previous generations were. And this momentum of depression rates amongst Generation X seems like it will continue lurching itself upwards into the years to come.
Written by: Matthew J. Cassar
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