News sites have recently been on fire because of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal. The more I read about it, the more scared I become. My concern isn’t really about data and privacy, exactly. It’s more about the influence social media is having on our day-to-day lives.
Back then, the internet used to be a platform where everyone could have a voice. It was about connecting different people and different ideas together – a true ‘global village’. Now I think the spirit of the internet has been lost. The information we’re being exposed to on a daily basis has become dependent on ‘The Stream’ – the algorithms designed by companies like Facebook and Google. Think about it – your Facebook feeds, Instagram feeds, Flipboard reading material, YouTube related videos, all these are constructed by algorithms that prefer novel, ‘popular’, or shock-value content in relation to information that is useful, analytical, and needs to be read. In the competition of trying to race to the top of the ‘Stream’ – I’ve noticed that even good sites like the BBC are relying on clickbait.
We’re constantly being bombarded with an endless array of information that thrives on instant gratification. Yes, it’s entertaining, but what’s dangerous is that it disguises ultimately empty content as something that is important. The way Google works is especially sinister and subtle – and most of us are happily unaware of it. We are being reinforced with our own worldviews and beliefs and we are slowly becoming ignorant beings trapped in our own comfort bubbles of information. How tragic is that?
I want to use the internet to explore and be exposed to new ideas and alternate viewpoints, not what these companies think I want to read. I want access to genuine, transformative ideas, not clickbait content and drama.
It’s been a few days now that I’ve been planning to build some social media sites for this blog. I’m a blogging newbie, and it seemed like the next rational step. So on a whim I signed up for Twitter and then let my account rest, figuring I’d first learn a bit more about how to use the website before I start tweeting.
That wasn’t what Twitter wanted. First, I kept getting silly pop-ups about ‘new notifications’. I still didn’t open the app. Then it actually started texting me. The messages were random tweets, snippets about Trump, and ads telling me to ‘Discover Twitter!’. To be perfectly honest, I found that pretty annoying and intrusive.
And then I stumbled upon Cal Newport’s new blog post about the social internet (versus social media), which was the final nail in the coffin. I am much more in favour of the social internet, and I believe it can exist without social media. Like it did before the social media giants took control of the internet. No sponsored content, no ads disguised as advice. Just pure and honest information and story-telling.
I don’t want to sound like I’m demonising the internet and social media. I’m not. You could argue that websites like Facebook and Instagram are just tools – what you get out of it depends on the way you use it. And that’s true. I think it really is possible to tailor your social media content to help you rather than hurt you. And websites like Reddit are really useful for learning and sharing ideas and information. But we really have to be very, very careful and mindful of what we’re feeding our minds on a daily basis. It can not only dumb us down, it can slowly condition our thoughts, our beliefs, and in turn, our behaviour. Which is the fear that’s at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. My own fear, though, is that this goes beyond a scale that we could’ve ever imagined.
So, with all this in mind, do I really want to spend my time and energy to build and promote a Facebook page, Twitter page, Instagram page, Pinterest account, SnapChat account, Google + page in return for popularity and more views?
The answer, in all honesty, is no.