Social Media and Modern Day Uses
by Collin Wynter
Social media is everywhere. It not only exists on your smart devices, but can be found in everyday conversations. Social media could be considered to have originated via chatrooms and e-zines, but we can now experience it a multitude of forms. There is audio, such as podcasts. Video, which YouTube originally dominated, but has migrated into Facebook and Twitter, among others. More novel is Clubhouse, which allows real time conversations with a moderator. And this is just the beginning.
Everyone seems to be using social media to varying degrees. Some are content creators, who’s mission it is to develop customer worthy pieces. News corporations utilize as many of the platforms as possible. Missing out on one may give your competitor an upper hand. The rising popularity of getting your news from your socials in bite size, curated form, keeps users coming back. Advertising for companies is massive. The revenue is in the billions. It’s easier now than ever to pay for products and services directly through your social media app of choice. Tickets, products, and live events can all be displayed directly to your personalized feed. Along with notifications and the chance to provide feedback. This is an opportunity for businesses to connect with their customers at an intimate level. I wonder how aware the general public is that they may know more about your preferences than you do yourself.
There seems to be no age barrier to using social media. A decade ago or so, when facebook was first emerging, there may have been some hesitancy from the older generation (those who did not grow up with personal computers) as to the need or want of such a program. But that quickly dissipated. Easy user access, being ‘free’, plus the opportunity to explore a virtual world and connect with friends and family is desirable for everyone. These companies have grown to connect the citizens of the world. No longer do you have to wait for letters or pay expensive telephones rates. Instant messaging services eliminate wait times.
Considering that social media is permeating our lives daily, that economic interactions through their services are curtailed to your wishes, and combine that with the easy access to these programs via apps on your smart devices, no wonder social media is addictive. The smart devices, particularly the phones, are almost a universal requirement for modern life. Making calls, sending text messages, a camera, clock, and organizational tools, makes the device indispensable.
Using your phone as an alarm clock, directs you to the same screen that your social media apps are on. So, why not just check your notifications? They are meant to be useful, direct you to comments, events, products (and more!) that you may desire. This is an emerging function and the algorithms that are designed to capture your attention are learning.
Jaron Lanier who wrote You are not a Gadget and Tristan Harris, a former silicon valley professional, have both spoken out about the tech giants efforts to use behavioural psychology to understand how the human mind works. Or more accurately, how to capture a person’s attention and keep them enthralled. Small dopamine hits from the use of social media programs keep people coming back to their services. When engaging in YouTube or Twitter, the algorithms may not show you exactly what you are looking for at first. Instead, they mix up your feed with information less relevant to your previous searches. By keeping the dopamine hits, items that you see as value, random, they apply a cognitive-behavioural technique to control attention. Just think of slot machines and gambling for a comparison.
Security is another major issue concerning social media. Identity theft is something to be concerned about for personal and financial matters. It has increased a lot due to the massive amount of time online. Multiple social media accounts tied together can create a cascade of loose information if you aren’t careful. People tie in bank accounts or credit cards with social media providers. It’s easier to have your information saved than enter your personal details every time. Not too long ago, there was the Cambridge Analytica scandal that tied into the 2016 United States federal election. This was the one of the greatest privacy invasions and interference in politics in the past decade.
When does anyone actually read the privacy details? I’m pretty sure that they guarantee your financial privacy. But your personal data? They’re selling you as a product. This is an old trick, remember telemarketers? They’re still around, just in different form. Your personal information is also public. They platforms encourage you to be as open and transparent as possible. #nofilter. Your likes, dislikes, comments, photos, videos, past embarrassments are available for the whole world to see. Google yourself. Just make sure you’re sitting down.
What about kids? Social media is fine for adults, we assume they have developed some sense of behavioural control. But kids are just developing. They are legally allowed to use social media starting at a fairly young age (around 13 for Facebook). And if they cannot use it legally, parental controls are just locks to pick. Not that those systems are relatively hard to get around. I highly doubt companies spend that much time or energy (money) into protecting kids from the negative effects of social media. Some of these dangers were already listed above: privacy concerns, addiction, security. It is widely documented that kids are stalked by online predators. They use avatars and made up identities to befriend kids and coerce them into harmful situations. Parents used to be able to be aware of what kids were exploring out in the open. Kids had conversations on the phone. Products were bought from the store. Now, the online world provides an ironic sense of complete privacy for the child away from the parents. What are they doing on social media? The internet may have a browser history, but social media services have blocking features and the ability to create avatars or blank personas. It’s implausible that parents can track their kids actions online.
Another issue for kids is that their parents share too much of their information online without their permission. In the past, parents would pull out the photo albums when friends or family came over. They would share stories with their neighbours over the fence. A trophy would be on the fireplace mantle. Artwork on the fridge. But now, a photo of their child may be their profile picture. Daily posts chronicle their child’s development. But it’s only shared with our family or my friends, some parents think. I’ve already mentioned security and privacy concerns that should set off alarm bells about that idea.
Social media has its uses. But as with any service, there are pros and cons to it. And with any tool, you need to know how to use it appropriately. But we have never had a tool before that seems to know ourselves better than we do. That can make almost shocking predictions of what we want to view on our personal feeds. There is a dangerous precedent being set by allowing our attention to be controlled by algorithms. It is especially important to take note of what kind of behavioural effects this may have on children. Some people think that this is just another advancement of society and we will learn to adapt. But what if, the programs we are using are adapting us to them?