What’s wrong with social media?
It’s a kind of prison experiment, where we’re just roping people into the matrix, and harvesting all this money and data from all their activity, to profit from.
–Tristan Harris, The Social Dilemma
We want to psychologically figure out how to manipulate you as fast as possible and then give you back that dopamine hit. We did that brilliantly at Facebook. Instagram has done it. WhatsApp has done it. Snapchat has done it. Twitter has done it.
I intended to write this weeks ago, before Twitter and Facebook banned the current President of the United States following the storming of the US Capitol, due to the risk of further incitement of violence.
Following those moves, if you asked people what’s wrong with social media this week, you might hear a lot about free speech and censorship. Many thousands of words have already been penned about the ramifications of a private company being able to censor the president, and this issue will be debated for a very long time to come.
This week also saw Apple, Google and Amazon come together to effectively kill another social platform called Parler that conservatives were flocking to in response to the booting of the president.
I’ll not comment further on the political impact of the past week’s events, other than to quote the electronic frontier foundation: “unless we dismantle the increasingly centralized chokepoints in our global digital infrastructure, we can anticipate an escalating political battle between political factions and nation states to seize control of their powers.”
My intent for this article isn’t to try and settle any political or free speech issues today, but to grapple with how social media (and the massively wealthy companies who own the platforms) manipulates us and threatens the fabric of society and democracy.
And, obviously less importantly but still top of my mind is figuring out whether I personally am better off using social media at all, given all the issues I have experienced and come to understand.
As someone who has built businesses on the internet for the past 15+ years, I initially saw social media as a tool to reach potential customers, and to have conversations about topics before pursuing them deeper elsewhere.
But over the years, I noticed that social media didn’t feel like a neutral tool. Using social media often brought up feelings and emotions that I didn’t expect from technology, like insecurity, discouragement and angst.