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The Social Dilemma: The Hidden Impact of Manipulation via Social Media.

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

I care deeply about ethics because I know the harm that can come from people not concerning themselves with and being aware of good moral principles that inform their behaviour. But what if their psychology and behaviour is being manipulated over time? In the work and studies I do they call this a human rights abuse and it usually occurs in the form of an abusive relationship, systemic abuse or self-harm.

My partner is a software engineer and when I met him he did not use popular social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Google because he did not agree with their business model and I am really beginning to understand why. I've had some horrendous past experiences on Facebook- for decades I have seen its negative and positive impacts on both my life and my children's. Together we have educated ourselves about social media and more recently I am using it purely for business and social change issues I care deeply about. But how effective is it for this purpose when Social Media platforms themselves are the problem? It feels like a constant battle for my kids attention and I'm not the only parent saying this; now I am starting to understand why and want to share this information as widely as I can. The two children portrayed in the film a teenage boy and a pre-teen girl both reflect issues we have come across in our home. I recently posted an extensive review of the film The Great Hack in which I criticised Face Book, and they promptly removed my post on both Instagram and Facebook.

Edward Tufte ~“There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software.”

Humans are vulnerable and most of us will agree we spend too much time on social media - but what would you think if that was out of your control and you didn't have a choice? The Social Dilemma film review on Wired writes "Mark Zuckerberg and Susan Wojcicki are billionaires; meanwhile, everyone else has given up happiness, knowledge, intimacy, spontaneity, time with our families, free will." We are living in a matrix and becoming more disconnected from the truth. The irony is in 2020 we are now living in a pandemic, our children have been doing online education and we've been working online for more than 6 months. Our children are being asked by their schools to Google it and I was even asked to do an academic assignment recently using Pinterst.

The film highlights the multiple problems by interviewing key ex-employees of big tech, including designers, architects and executives who helped build the platforms we use today. Social media offers us many positive things, but we must not ignore the negative consequences - if we are not even aware of how it works we ultimately will give up our future generations ability to have control over themselves and their experience, as the film convincingly suggests.

Mental health concerns are raised in the film, showing a strong correlation between the increases in depression, anxiety and suicide and the introduction and increasing use of social media and mobile phones - especially with teenagers and high schoolers. It also talks about the role of social media in the rise of disinformation, extremism in the middle east, white supremacy, authoritarian regimes and political polarisation.

‘You are the product’ is too simplistic, ‘It’s the gradual change in your behaviour and perception that is the product.’

Very few people understand how deep the probe for your data goes. They are reaching right down into your subcortical brain to control you (and your children), then behind the scenes they monetise you and keep you online - and the best way to do this is by gradually bringing out the worst in you. The predictive modelling their AI uses to extract your attention and keep you clicking, focussed and spending more time on the app also harvests your data and sells you to the highest bidder. It's not just corporate entities exploiting this amoral tool either; governments and foreign entities also benefit by being able to target you with political advertising and propaganda. The problem is the algorithm was designed only to keep you online - that is its number one goal - and how the machine is choosing to do that is only just becoming apparent. The social media platforms behind this technology are unregulated, ungoverned and worth trillions of dollars.

Unfortunately, the film doesn't offer a lot of solutions; they suggest outlawing them, stricter regulation, and taxation as possible steps, but it will take collective change to really make a difference. Films like The Social Dilemma are a great way to build awareness and educate people, but ultimately it is up to all of us. I will be providing workshops at The Coach Hub on this for parents, including how we are tackling this problem in our home by controlling wifi, screen time, managing the fallout from withdrawal (much like addiction recovery), installing ad-blockers and thinking about being more active in the push for ethical technology through organisation and community. I urge you to watch the film.

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