Not all hell is made of fire, some are made of an abyss with no way of pulling yourself out of it. With Social media’s it’s like jumping from one abyss to another. There is a common internet trope, the idea that if you are self-aware enough to understand the dangers of social media you should be able to know when to stop and it should be fairly easy to do so. I am sure it is true for some people, but I can’t imagine it is true for most people.
The Dangers of Social Media:
Social media sites pose more than one form of danger, it’s not always easy to identify the scope, intention or the scale of the dangers. Let’s start with the obvious ones:
- Privacy: This is a big one which should be very obvious to most people who understand what’s at stake (sans the tech-illiterates who are the vast majority of social media users). If the recent Facebook Privacy concerns incident is any proof – despite some people deleting their Facebook account – It still accounts for a very small amount of total Facebook users. This is not the first time there was a lot of noise about Facebook privacy concerns, the last a lot of people deleted their account (small in context) and then everyone forgot about it in few months. Diaspora*, a decentralized, privacy concern facebook alternative, was the result of the privacy concern. But nothing really substantial happened. Facebook user base and revenue increased more than ever.
- Collusion with government: I know at least of 3 occasions, that doesn’t have any public record, that I am aware of, where Facebook has worked with local government to give information about specific Facebook users who were critical of the local government. Despite what Facebook tells you they have a local presence in countries with large Facebook users – and they work directly with the government and follow the local laws, regardless how immoral and unethical they are. It is important to note that Google also does that same thing. Both Google and Facebook were blocked in recent months in my country when they were slow in sharing information, but promptly opened it back up, when I believe they complied with the local government. I don’t know how often this happens, but I know that this happens often enough for it to be a concern.
- Targetted advertising: Social media gives you free access to their platform in exchange for your personal information. Though they never actually say it in writing or in person, this is very much implied. If something is free you are the product. The reason why Google considers Facebook as a real threat to their existence is that Facebook, because of how their platform works, knows more about you than any other social media sites in the world. Not only that – you give this information free to Facebook. The more targeted information Facebook has about you, the more valuable you are to Facebook as a user. I have seen an advertisement on facebook about something in my personal life that I have never shared with Facebook or any platform that I know of, I have seen ads about it on my facebook wall. If this doesn’t scare you I don’t know what should.
- Social media Echo Chamber: We are comfortable with environment and ideas that we are familiar with and with people who agree with the same ideology. Almost all social media that I know of, works on this simple idea, where you usually get to interact with people with similar ideology. This is not limited to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit and other lesser-known sites. You are more likely to stick around if your ideology is vindicated by people with similar ideology. Most people don’t like to be challenged. More recently Facebook, Google, and Twitter are employing dark UX design for the sole purpose of you sticking around within their echo chamber. The difference between Apple walled garden and the Facebook echo chamber is that with a walled garden you don’t really have a choice, with echo chamber you are lulled into staying around for the familiarity. Perhaps the most disconcerting is how 100s of millions of people are starting their internet journey through social media like Facebook. Thanks to one of my cousin, every single member of our family who is older but not to internet savvy got their introduction to the internet in the form of apps on their phone and Facebook is their gateway to the internet. Not only are they glued to Facebook more than I have ever done in my life, but they take everything they read on Facebook at face value. I often try to help them do critical thinking and questions things they read on facebook. So far it has been mostly a losing battle. Now that you can easily read articles on facebook without ever leaving Facebook. It has become harder for me to try to weed them out of Facebook.
What about those of us who understand the pitfalls of social media? I can speak for myself and I can tell you that it has not been easy. No, I have not deleted my facebook account or twitter account. As a matter of fact, this website has it’s own facebook page and twitter account. It is very difficult to keep in touch with your family who doesn’t live in the same country or in the same city. I will log in once or twice a month – to get the gist of whats going on with their lives and they all have my phone number and they are welcome to call me when they want. WordPress makes auto posts to twitter and facebook so I don’t have to log in to make those posts on my social media pages.
If it is hard for someone like me, who is self-aware of the pitfalls of social media, I can’t imagine who hard it might be for people who don’t. And for social media sites, those are the actual eye-ball they really want for their advertisers.