We practically live on our phones, the average use time on an iPhone is 5-6 hours a day. Given the fact that we are constantly absorbing information from our phones and social media in particular; Should there be checks on what information is spread? If so, who should be the arbiter?
This problem of advertising and marketing online led way to many other destructive movements and trends. People are depressed more depressed than ever, not creating original content at the same pace they were, and losing their sense of individuality. Every topic that involves the interplay of humans ex. gender dynamics, politics, tradition. etc has been poisoned due to the internet. There was once room for healthy discussion of problems, and the theorizing of solutions. In a paradigm where truth and solutions are not priorities or algorithms friendly, the capacity for healthy discussion and the implementation of solutions that would appease people is impossible. The loudest and most marketable idea in the room have become our truths. Any hope of a culture where listening to others with reason, has been lost.
Social media companies, and people who are not invested into this issue will say ‘well businesses have always had the right to choose who they serve and what they promote’, and equate such companies like Google and Facebook to other businesses. This is wrong, and I would love to have a discussion with someone who thinks that such platforms are akin to other businesses. For the most part, most people agree with me… and feel the negative effects of these platforms. Everyone feels the effects son our dopaminergic system, but for some reason (I suppose that it is because we are too addicted to it) addressing these issues on a massive scale is not happening.
Governments should have a tight regulation on social media… but in many cases the government should not be trusted. Instances of the government using social media are numerous, with a wide rage of implications. Most recently, an independent researcher in Cuba looked into government run social media accounts in his country, what he found was startling. Although the scope of his research was just local, he reported 200 accounts, with over 200,000 followers that were run by the Cuban government. This raises an important issue, governments are not always trustworthy, and often manipulate to get the result that they want. There is a large argument to be had, whether the goals and agenda that drives the actions of social media companies, are more destructive to society than those of state governments. I strongly believe that the only fair way to arbitrate the information spread on the internet involves giving the people full democratic rights… the people should decide what they want to see. But in certain countries that is unfeasible… so what should the solution be?
My opinion on this topic, which is shared by many early internet adopters, has never wavered. I believe that given our government doesn’t have any public agency that democratically deals with the flow of information on social media, there should be no arbiter. Given the fact that stock buy backs are not illegal- that private companies goals will never match the goals of their clients; no matter what company or institution is in control of the information flow… it is to the detriment of the user. This detriment that I speak of may not be a visceral short term feeling, but over time, when someone is in charge of what is in front of your eyes- what information you gather… you are being manipulated.
In the early days of the internet and social media channels, the philosophy of companies were very different. Early internet companies were extremely customer driven; their philosophy being close to: ‘if you aren’t free to explore whatever information you please, you are doing a disservice to your customer and your business strategy will fail’. At the beginning, social media was like the Wild West of information and opinions, no speech was silenced unless it was directly terroristic or blatant hate-speech. Companies were just building their brands, so the more users that they were able to accumulate on their site, became their worth… like other service industries their goal was to serve their clients better than their competitors. Companies like Facebook, twitter, YouTube, etc. would host any content that it could garner attention… and not put them in the crosshairs of litigation. Over the years this philosophy and paradigm on he internet has completely shifted. Modern social media companies make money off of inventorying and selling data, as well as collecting fistfuls of cash from advertisers. Therefore pushing an agenda, or having an objective stance on issues, is massively profitable to advertisers.
In the 21st century, the storing and selling of data is a social media companies most profitable asset. In 2008 during its inception, Facebook introduced its first algorithm, EdgeRank. Edgerank was a means to sort what information was exceptionally popular, and then recommend such information to users. This is genius, easily recommending the content that people and society as a whole is looking for, and pushing it to get more attention, and to better serve the user. Since then, they have updated their algorithms numerous times… for the worse. Over time, the prospect of an algorithm that would recommend content to users, based on their personal data became a trillion dollar concept. Nowadays, from the inception of a new account, you are bombarded with information that Facebook is recommending to you based on your data. You see, all large corporations that operate digitally store user data, which can be used by advertisers to improve their content and where it is posted. As of recently, with the improvements to such algorithms; Facebook and other companies now buy and sell data to optimize their cost per result and engagement. The platforms that we look at daily, that once supported freedom in exploring information, have effectively become advertisers. I get that every company has the objectives of optimizing their marketing and user experience and show and Frame information in a manner to support their goals. But when these companies are information platforms themselves, meaning that they sell information to people; it is unbelievably destructive that the information that you are sold is curated to advertise something. When I look at social media nowadays, all I see is advertising. Whether it be an individual marketing him or herself as content, or companies showing you advertisements… there is no originality anymore. Capitalizing on trends, not being something, or appearing a certain way has become the means to encourage engagement. Now, there will always be trustworthy institutions and companies that are well known, that can purely rely on their content to make money. But what about the person who just wants to share an idea or any content; if they aren’t being trendy or fitting into the algorithm, they are losing out to their competitors…their content is not being seen. In this paradigm, the idea, content, or whatever someone posts is useless if it does not fit into the guidelines of the algorithm. Due to this lack of support for truth, service, originality, niche interest, etc… the internet is nothing more than a popularity contest.