“We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented. It’s as simple as that.”
– The Truman Show
While the reality we are presented with might not be as far fetched as Truman’s, with modern technology and artificial intelligence (AI), every day, people are being manipulated and deceived by fake news through social media.
One of Netflix’s most recent productions, The Social Dilemma, warns viewers on the terrifying human impact of social networking as tech experts elaborate on the many mistakes that have been made by worldwide, powerful tech corporations, and how ultimately the only solution is mass pressure from the public. In the past 20 years or so, technology has grown exponentially, yet our brains have evolved with a negative correlation to that AI growth.
The central motive of all social media companies is to make money. Money comes from advertisements. We view said advertisements. Essentially, these corporations are selling our attention to advertisers. Facebook, one of the main companies denounced in the documentary, quickly fired back, weeks after the show aired on Netflix, explaining that because they are an ad-supporting program they are able to offer the app for free for all users, and also enable small businesses and entrepreneurs to compete with larger companies by having easy access to new customers. Undoubtedly, there are beneficial purposes to social media, one example being the app What’s App creating accessible communication across almost every country in the world. However, the concern is the lasting effect that these platforms have on one’s mental health, and political and/or moral views.
Social media systems are biased towards false information and fake news because it holds viewers attention. Too often the truth is simply boring, while lies are enticing and make money. Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with companies motivated with a drive to make money, yet there should be regulations with how to do so. For example, when cell phones first became easily accessible there were many laws set in place to insure the privacy of users’ calls, yet there are almost no laws when it comes to social media and one’s privacy. Social media programs analyze every second we stare at a post, how long we watch a video, who we tag in a comment, what posts we like, what we share, what we scroll past, and so on and so on. In doing so, AI knows exactly what will keep each individual users’ attention the longest, always keep them wanting more, and ultimatley get them addicted.
All this considered, the question the documentary raises is “where’s the existential threat?” Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google and president of the Center for Humane Technology, explains that technology itself is not the threat. He proposes that it is rather the media’s ability to bring out the worst in society, and that potential society being the final threat. Statistics show a positive correlation between suicide rates, and as this continues suicide is becoming more common in children as young as the age of 10, and some even younger. As seen through recent 2020 protests, the media has also caused political polarization due to what news is being fed to each person on his or her screen. Social media has created a culture where we only listen to or accept what will tell us we’re right, and with false or misleading news, that is all people ever see.
A mere addiction to a screen is not the problem, but it is rather the power media has to cause anxiety and depression, to cause political polarization, and to cause frequent deaths. What all started off as simple advertisements and companies wanting to make as much money as possible, has turned into a ruthless way of life that modern society is accoustume to.
The thing is, we can’t change Big Tech after watching one documentary. However, we can start by protecting ourselves. Fact check your information, turn off notifications, choose what you want to see, limit your screen time, and be present in the world around you.
Photo Credit: theosthinktank.co.uk