Despite the constant barrage of warnings against the negative effects of social media, most users couldn’t imagine deleting favorite apps such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Netflix’s documentary, “The Social Dilemma,” urges users to learn what’s going on behind the scenes at big media companies.
One particularly chilling statistic touched upon in “The Social Dilemma” states that since 2009, the U.S. suicide rates have raised 70% for girls aged 15 to 19 and 151% for girls aged 10 to 14. The introduction of social media has hurt society in ways no one could’ve ever intended.
Many are aware of social media's ability to trigger anxiety and depression but still find themselves unable to get away. The fear of being left out keeps many users glued to media platforms. Others are convinced that the positive aspects media provides, like free entertainment and the ability to stay connected with distant friends, outweigh the negatives.
“I have thought about deleting all my social media,” Camille Garrett, a freshman Communications major, said. “What has stopped me is that I just would feel very out of the loop and a little lost. Especially since a lot of our generation relies on social media in our references and how we speak and connect.”
“The Social Dilemma”explains that this gripping effect is caused by big media companies making their platforms as captivating as possible because user engagement becomes their income. The longer a user stays on a platform, the more ads can be placed into their feed. Social media companies have become focused on the competition between them for user attention and have lost sight of caring about their platform’s effects on the user.
Privacy is a huge concern for media regulation advocates. Twitter’s former executive, Jeff Seibert, stressed that on social media sites, “every single action you take is carefully monitored and recorded.” Each interaction a user makes is saved and put toward building a more accurate prediction of their actions. With each bit of new information, an algorithm becomes just a bit better at catching a user’s interest and keeping them hooked.
Additionally, the more data a site collects, the more profitable their platforms are for advertisers who want to show their ads to a specific population with the highest potential of becoming a customer. To become more marketable to advertisers, media companies have collected an unprecedented amount of data about each of its users. This data is used to create a highly personalized feed for every user, complete with ads catered to their interests.
According to Jaron Lanier in “The Social Dilemma,” “the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behavior and perception” can be detected through comparing a user’s past data to their current online actions. The ability to plant thoughts in a user’s head is the “product” that a media company sells to an advertiser. Lanier goes on to explain that social media makes it’s income by gradually “changing what you do, how you think, who you are.”
Another prominent worry is the fact that it’s gotten increasingly difficult for users to discern between real and fake news. According to a study conducted by MIT, fake news is six times faster to spread than true news on Twitter.
Media companies know what kind of articles a user tends to read, which sources they prefer and how they lean politically. The algorithm will feed users everything it figures they want to see in order to keep their attention. The danger here is that every user is receiving news specific to their own biases. This fuels the polarization between political parties as each believes they’re consuming trustable, rounded news, when in reality, it’s been specifically tailored toward their interests.
Social media’s inability to acknowledge opposing views is reflected in America's political climate today. Simply put by media ethicist Tristan Harris, “When you look around you, it feels like the world is going crazy.”
In a time where people are forced to move work and school online, the temptation of social media is especially prevalent. Many students find it impossible to sit through a lecture without picking up their phone or simply opening up a new tab. Such easily accessible distractions make it difficult to focus and learn.
Luckily, life without social media can be just as fulfilling.
“I don’t feel left out at all, actually,” Aparna Gupta, a freshman Biology major, said.
Gupta has never felt pressured to join social media because she is comfortable enough knowing that if there's something funny on the internet, a friend will be sure to share it.
Getting rid of social media might seem like a big change, but one might be surprised by how freeing it can truly be.
Media companies need to take responsibility and put policies in place to protect their users' privacy and health. Users need to be aware of media tactics and the dangers of engaging in social media platforms. Consider turning off notifications or deleting the apps all together. Watch “The Social Dilemma” to learn more and continue the conversation with family and friends. Advocate for change by holding social media companies accountable.
Rachel Gordon is a freshman media arts and design major. Contact Rachel at firstname.lastname@example.org.