Sunday 18 October 2020

The Social Dilemma - Is Social Media Killing the World?

Netflix has been my weekend to-go for documentaries and shows. Came upon this documentary a few weeks ago which talked about the social media that we use on a daily basis. From Facebook to Instagram and TikTok nowadays.

The Social Dilemma is a:

  • 2020 American docudrama film directed by Jeff Orlowski
  • Explores the rise of social media and the damage it has caused to society, focusing on its exploitation of its users for financial gain through surveillance capitalism and data mining, how its design is meant to nurture an addiction, its use in politics, its effect on mental health (including the mental health of adolescents and rising teen suicide rates), and its role in spreading conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate and aiding groups such as flat-earthers.

Do you find yourself using your phone and the next moment, when you look at the time, a few hours has passed. Well, it happens to me and I have to admit that I do use my phone and social media frequently.

So when did all this start?

Social media was created with an initial thought to improve the world and to allow better communication but along the journey, monetization came along and it changed the path of the creation of new items and algorithms as now the main purpose is to get more engagement and more screen time from it's users so that the advertisers will pay more for them to put their ads up.

Monetization changed it all

Like for example, one of the interviewee was involved in the Facebook 'like' button creation, he mentioned that the initial thought for the button was to bring positivity and allow people to express their feelings of like and acceptance but it soon manifest into a desire by the users on that the more likes they get, the better it is. And that their posts have to be catered in a way to attract more likes.

This really just changed the whole direction of why the like button was created.

Spread of information

All the people who were interviewed worked in the huge tech firms like Facebook, Google, YouTube and Pinterest, all of them acknowledged that social media has now dominated the world and it is so scary how it has all come to this stage. So in the show (spoilers ahead!), many of them mentioned that to appeal to the audience, there is this thing called related content which YouTube users are really familiar with, they recommend you items that you previously showed an interest in. This might seem harmless but in a large scale, it can destroy the world that we know now.

For example, the recent rise of right wing leader, the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and more violence around the world have been sort of attributed to social media. This is because the moment you read something like climate change is a hoax, your related content would be filled with similar items and in turn forms a bubble as to you, all the information is that climate change is a hoax and as you talk to people from the other camp who believe that climate change is real, you will think why are they not knowing the things that you are seeing or reading but unknown to you, their feed displays a whole different scenario as the things recommended to them is different.

Another example raised in the documentary was about NBA player Kyrie Irving who said that the Earth is square, prove a point on how stories in social-media can spread rapidly as he said that social media was what made him thought the Earth is square as at the time, he was like huge into conspiracies.

"The problem is that the algorithm doesn’t know what is true, and what is not true. It has no truth detector. Fake news is a huge business these days. So if you start liking fake news stories, or even pausing on them or look at them a bit longer, it (the AI system) knows that. You start getting more and more of them.

As we are presented with more one-sided information, we deeply believe that the things we are seeing or reading are true but not everything on the internet is true. And so, more extremist views are presented on social media which is so hard to be regulated as the AI recognises it as content that will make you stay. One interesting thing is that most of the people who were interviewed were tech guys and most of them said that they will not give their children a phone or social media accounts.

Screen time

How long do you usually use your social media after work lying on the sofa or your bed? For me, there are definitely times when I spend hours on it.

Besides the spread of fake and extremist views on social media, the tech firms have been working on making users stick to their screen for as long as they can. Because, the longer the screen time, the more ads they can put out.

The swiping up motion is what they want you to keep doing like on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok so they need the information of what you watch, when you watch and why. Who attract most of your attention, this means that they have massive amount of data from you and your friends which you might not even be aware.

"If You Are Not Paying, You Are The Product"

What's crazy is that there is no law on the data collected because governments currently does not have laws/regulation on the data being collected. One of the interviewee recommended taxing the tech firms on the amount of data collected so that they will only collect what is required and not collect every single thing involved with the user. This will reduce the scope of data collection and if they want more, they have to pay for it.

Ability to differentiate

It is so important now than ever to know how to differentiate fake news from real. Check your sources and anything that seems too crazy, take it with a pinch of salt. I like how at the end of the documentary they gave some tips on how to handle the AI recommended content because they know that no one can give up social media though they mentioned that is the best way.

Some tips:

  • Remove unnecessary apps
  • Turn off notifications*
  • Never accept a video recommended to you on Youtube
  • Before you share, fact-check the source
  • Follow people with different viewpoints to make sure you are not creating an information bubble for yourself

It is sad after watching the documentary to see the people who created them to feel that there needs to be a fundamental shift to it or in the short/long run, the world is going to go in the wrong direction and possibly even self-destruction.

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