‘A mistaken misinterpretation of social media’

By Megan Kovach

In a time now known as the ‘Disinformation Age’, fake news, cyber-attacks, data hacking and deception have taken center stage in the world of social media and online platforms.

Big Tech firms have been accused of fostering an environment similar to The Terminator movie, where humans are basically controlled by machines that yield the power to manipulate our data and change our attitudes and actions towards key events in history, such as elections, political campaigns and major social movements.

Netflix recently released The Social Dilemma, a film that examines how Silicon Valley has turned sour and uses unregulated algorithms to harvests users’ data in order to manipulate or change consumer sentiment and behavior.  Similar to the streaming services’ The Great Hack released a year earlier, these anti-Big Tech documentaries have pointed the finger at tackling some of the biggest social and ethical issues going on behind the scenes in the world today.

As a result, this has caused many people to believe that everything happening in society, from daily decisions to presidential elections, could very well be part of a controlled, calculated plan.

What the film fails to address is that the systematic argument that propaganda has spread as a result of technology products or media platforms has been used countless times over the years. First it was the radio in the early 1900s, then television, next was the internet, then iPhones, and now social media has become the red target.

It’s easy to fault the Big Tech company’s innovation as the problem, but what will be next if we continue playing the blame game?

Radio, television and media have been pushing misinformation for years and years and have in no way faced the same accountability or scrutiny that social media does today.  Radicalisation isn’t caused by Facebook or Twitter. Business, politics, celebrities and media still play a massive role in influencing what is consumed on the internet. 

Social media is not the enemy, human depravity is. We must not be naive to think that we are justified in blaming the product instead of the person. Humans come with an innate nature that craves for greed, power, money and control at any cost.

Herein lies the problem. Technology can very well be used as a vehicle that drives these negative forces, but we must remember that there has to be someone in the driver’s seat who controls the narrative.

Blaming online platforms and telling people to simply delete their social media and limit screen time won’t fix the internet or frankly a system that’s already been broken for many years.   On the contrary, social media has redefined the way society operates and has brought far more people together rather than drive them apart.

Our world today has never been more connected thanks to these platforms, which have revolutionised business models and enterprises by bringing them into a new digital era where innovation is king. Imagine how worse the world would be right now without the availability of technology and social media throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?

Businesses would have no communication tools, countries could not offer accessible information to the public, politicians and leaders could not freely exchange or express ideas, and people in lockdown would have no way of communicating with their family or loved ones.

The economic impact would be far greater than what it currently is if it weren’t for technology and social media keeping things alive when the world was seemingly shut down.

I for one wouldn’t have been able to keep my job during the lockdown if it wasn’t for social platforms giving me the ability to communicate with clients and colleagues overseas.

Another flaw in the film is that the spokespeople making these accusations are no longer part of any of the Big Tech firms. Instead, they’re all former employees from the likes of Facebook, Google, Pinterest, etc. and have been out of the game for several years.

As such, how can they accurately report on the latest policies or strategies in place if they no longer work for these companies?

They may have been involved in the early developmental stages years ago which gave them initial information, but systems and business models continue to evolve, especially within the digital world, and there has been heavy legislation passed recently to ensure that proper protocols and regulations exist in this space.

The most disappointing part of the film is that it denounces the concept of being able to use social media as a creative tool, where the exchange of information and connectivity truly can serve the greater good.

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Snapchat have all brought businesses, communities and people together through the use of their online platforms.

They have reconnected relationships, offered people a sense of belonging, inspired individual creativity as well as created thousands of jobs and given businesses the platforms to maximize revenue and efficiency.

If we are going to continue holding technology at fault for the fallacies of the world, then we ourselves may very well be the problem, not the solution.