My following article (titled as above) was published in The Deccan Herald, Bangalore on 28.9.2020. Link:
Article reproduced below:
The hard-hitting documentary trending on Netflix—“The Social Dilemma”—begins with eerie music and a chilling quote that alludes to social media as a curse. In this, several executives who held top positions in social media companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter warn about the existential crisis caused by these manipulative organizations.
It hits us hard with several facts we are unaware of, or continue to ignore. The covert aim of the ‘free’ platforms is to monetise the social media use. They constantly track, collect, and analyse data on every facet of our lives. The advertisers on the social media misuse this data to predict and influence buyers’ behaviour. We, the unaware users, are the products being bought and sold. It is a market trading in “human futures”.
Social media companies treat people as specimens. They deploy experimental tools such as Persuasion Psychology, Growth Hacking, and A/B testing to manipulate behaviour at the subliminal level for multiplying users and their engagement. The social networks lure, push, pull, and even annoy us into doing what they want. These platforms programme our preferences for people, places, and pleasures. They seduce us to buy a product or service which we never wanted. These networks decide how should we live.
Social media companies exploit social, biological, and evolutionary instincts, and pander to our ‘reward/approval seeking’ tendency. They keep nudging us to ‘like’, check, chat, comment, view, share—the list is endless. We have moved away from user-driven tool-based technology environment to an addiction and manipulation-oriented system. This dopamine releasing drug turns us into addicts and morphs us into zombies and robots.
Social media pandemic has permeated our psyches and penetrated our lives. It has entered our bedrooms and invaded our boardrooms. It tempts us while we sleep, lounges with us in our living rooms, dines with us, and accompanies us to toilet. This pest drives out with us, and sits on our shoulders in school, office, and parties. The fake forces us to forget family and friends. Social media has appropriated our essential resources: time, mind, and free will for making intelligent choices.
Social media exploits human weaknesses, conditions people, and causes depression. Children and young-adults suffer most—they stay glued to screens for hours, seeking self-worth from pseudo social approval. This self-deception disillusions and disorients. An increasing number of pre-teens and teens are harming and killing themselves after getting hooked to social media.
The agony and insanity caused by manipulation of our minds and behaviour by social media come alive in “The Scream” painted by Edvard Munch, which i have posted here.
Unlike Wikipedia, social media tells different versions of truth to different people. It changes the reality based on which we act. These platforms create and disseminate fake news. They spread conspiracy theories which can influence elections, create social unrests, and destabilise democracies. To achieve such results through social networking sites is easy because they are fast, cheap, and effective. Social media has circulated claims, counter claims, and lies about Covid-19 pandemic, Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, and climate change. Fake news spreads faster and generates more money for social media companies.
Social media is dangerous because the advances in this technology are exponential as compared to evolution of the human mind. Powered by artificial intelligence, this has become an existential threat for the humanity because of its ability to bring out the worst in society.
Why is it difficult to shake the monkey off our backs? The documentary answers: it gives us both—Utopia and Dystopia. Social media is an enormous problem, but it has made significant contributions. It is neither possible nor advisable to shut off this engine. Yet serious considerations of ethics, conscience, and humanity remain. The social networks are changing who we are. This raises grave questions for civilisation, and our present and future.
The crux is the manner in which social media companies earn. Making money is not immoral, but manipulation is. Companies are acting as de facto governments. Stringent laws govern harmful businesses such as illegal drugs, human trafficking, and trading in human organs. Then why not laws for these social media companies which manipulate our minds?
The responsibility to correct this state of affairs lies with these companies, the governments, the civil society, and the individuals.
These platforms must self-regulate and operate with ethics. They have to dump their manipulative tactics and technologies. This is their responsibility because they created them.
Governments need to regulate the social media platforms with strict laws, penalties, and punishments. The civil society can debate, generate awareness, and engage with these platforms, governments, and public for creating collective will for reforms.
As individuals we must say ‘NO’, and demand that these technologies do not treat us as lab-rats and manipulate us. We have to switch off notifications, remove unwanted apps, and limit screen time for ourselves and our children. Most designers of social media either do not allow, or give limited supervised social media access to their children. We better exercise our mind, will, and choice.
Social media is a problem that needs a solution. The answer lies not in destroying these platforms, but in reforming them. We have to control these controllers. We can’t allow them to hack our happiness. Smart phones are making us phoney. The social media is changing us into anti-social. We have to stop this.