Why you don’t agree with your parent’s.
Netflix have released a documentary interviewing founders and former team members of social media companies, including:
- the guy who invented the Facebook Like button,
- head of growth at Pinterest, and
- Ex-googler and the founder of the Center for Humane Technology.
They plea for change. I encourage you to please read this, and try to take stock of where you spend your time.
The Social Dilemma | Netflix Official Site
Can't stop looking at your phone? You're not alone. The obsessive appeal of social networking isn't a bug - it's a…
What social media sell advertisers?
Social media provides advertisers with an ability to target who they should advertise to.
Imagine if one of your friends got married, and then told an engagement ring company that you might be thinking about proposing. You’d probably be a little shocked that your friend would do that.
Now imagine that company heard about your friend’s wedding through your friend announcing it on Facebook. Then the company got addresses from the event list and then went around putting flyers in every one of the groom’s “unmarried-but-in-a-relationship” mate’s doors, including you.
That is similar to what Facebook can help advertisers do, but Facebook can do it better.
They can target the same people but allow advertisers to provide multiple small messages, facts, ideas and suggestions, which are aimed to directly influence what sort of item you would buy, if you even were thinking about it purchasing it all.
This example may be innocuous to some people, but this same method can be used multiple times to target a very specific set of people.
Some will advertise products, some will advertise hoping to get more followers. This second intent has allowed news sites, who themselves are making money from advertising, focus less on being typical ads, but instead focus on demanding your attention.
There is monetary benefit to shocking you into clicking — there is not any to provide good information.
Move image up )))))
The ball starts rolling
Tech Giant’s platforms will know when you interacted at some point with this clickbait — it is human nature to be curious— and you will start to receive information more and more often from these pages/sites, and as such, your feed is starts to become more extreme, more similar content will appear and ultimately your feed will not represent what it used to.
Your grounding of truth changes.
And this happens to the left and to the right. We are becoming more polarised.
And it isn’t just Facebook. This targeting is industry standard. For example, Pinterest allows age, gender, interests (explicitly selected and gained from monitoring activity) and search terms to be used as ways of categorising users.
There is an entire industry of social media marketing that is very legitimately using these targeting tools.
But it is incredibly easy to abuse these tools and it’s a grey area when trying to pinpoint when they are being abused — Cambridge Analytica who influenced elections in Trinidad and Tobago and Nigeria argued that it’s work creating a fake movement for young people to protest by not voting through Facebook adverts and making pages, was legitimate lawful use.
How do social media platforms compete for advertisers business?
To be more desirable to advertisers, you need to target a more specific audience. Advertisers want to be able to say “I want 10,000 people who are about to buy a bike to view my bike website”. They may further say “I want 10,000 people to buy from my bike website”.
Each social media company is aiming for targets set by their clients, as it is what their real customers want.
1. You want to be where people are. Changing consumer behavior should shape where you spend your marketing dollars.
2. You want to reach all of the people who matter to you. Facebook has unparalleled targeted reach.
3. You want to be in the most engaging digital real estate, which, as you just saw, is Facebook’s News Feed.
Every tech giant is saying similar things about audience and reach as they all have the same objectives. They individually must show that they are the best location as they have users that will / can make users interact with the advertiser.
How can they make such outlandish statements?
14,669,000,000 active users are active on 15 apps. For context, this is twice the population of earth.
Quick maths tells me that is more than a billboard will advertise to.
But crucially, it means any advertiser, no matter how niche, will be able to find their target market, because these apps know so much about their users, i.e. you.
Tech giants need to keep you on the platform; make you share more; make you engage more; shock you; delight you; give you content that makes you stop whatever else you are doing.
The rise of extreme content
- At first, social links you already had were the default method for getting you hooked — “your friend tagged you”, “your friend commented”, “your friend posted”. This again can be innocuous but it’s distracting.
- Then, businesses and popular figures joined the world of social — “Someone posted”, “Someone is live”, etc. They found money at the end of being followed. Again, this can also be innocuous.
- More nefarious businesses and figures realised that the same method could be used to demand attention and make money. If you can get people’s constant attention, you yourself can gain money from advertisers and from them supporting your cause. This is essentially the business model of Alex Jones’ Info Wars and others.
There is nothing more attention demanding than extreme content, and we mean extreme in every genre — be it extreme pranks, incredible craftsmanship, strange ‘life hacks’ or extreme political or conspiratorial views.
The problem with extreme content
It is also this need for the extreme that encourages extrapolation from the truths.
The moment we see something that seems unbelievable, we are naturally curious. We investigate. And our brain rewards understanding this unbelievable thing by giving us dopamine.
But the websites you have visited are stored against your name. As is the time you spent on that investigation.
The tech giants are optimising for increased time and that ‘unbelievable’ topic is now a strong indicator for capturing your time. The machine now knows it can get more of your time by showing you more content like that.
The change here is that, in wanting to optimise you spending more time on the platform, it has given you a new interest and point of view, through trial and error of topics until they hit.
The machine will know, after learning from hundreds of thousands of others, what incremental steps will increase your time reading these things and how to make it your interest. The machine will convert your information diet to be more extreme to keep you reading.
When you try to confront social media
You must remember that everything shown is designed to keep you in the app, to get you to return, and to learn more about you.
You must also remember that to be extreme can go both ways:
• “Can you believe flat earthers believe this?”
• “Can you believe the majority of the world doesn’t realise this?”
The machine will decide which category you will fit into based on what it knows about you.
When you try to battle the tailored news feed that we each get, you’ll :
• be shocked at people for not knowing the information only you, and people the machine thinks are like you, see online
• try to reason with what you know, only to be confronted by the same reasoning with what the other person knows
• both be frustrated when the other can’t accept what you know
• say each other is brainwashed, abandon and disregard the other.
So what can you do? Firstly, this person is a normal person. If you were to convince anyone of anything you wouldn’t ask them to prepare for a conflict. Enjoy their company. Talk about common ground. Gain their trust. Then ask a few questions and stop.
Don’t push. You are challenging everything they have seen. Take it slow. Remind them why they see different information to what you do — social media wants everyone to engage so it shows extreme content.
So people don’t agree on everything — they never have!
This is true, but before these marketing techniques were around, opinion or interpretation of data were usually of the same sources of information, or at least did not fully conflict each other.
This common shared truth and knowledge is degrading as a direct result of extreme content.
Left-wing vs right-wing: it's complicated | YouGov
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The documentary ask their interviewees what do they see as the future if nothing changes. They believed that, within 20 years, there will be no truth; democracy will not function, as views will oppose each other so extremely, that there is a potential for a civil war, or persecution stemming from this extreme mass social discord.
They think this as it has already has shown its head with the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar (Facebook admits it was used in inciting violence in Myanmar — NYTimes) and with various clashes of opposing side around the world (Portland USA, London, etc)
Interesting quote of the documentary
“Imagine if Wikipedia was like Facebook.” — Jaron Lanier
Imagine, you login and Wikipedia would immediately show you a fact or piece of history it thinks would flag your interest — something extreme. That article would be tailored to you specifically. The article you would see would be specifically written to get your attention and keep you and others like you reading. And it would immediately serve you with another thing shocking.
This is exactly what Facebook does with news content. Sure the dogs videos and family and friends are wholesome, but the rest…
News has always been in a challenging game. It has a moral duty to report facts, investigate and summarise content. But it also needs to make money.
Providing true conclusions which are grey at best or inconclusive are not exciting. Providing mysterious extreme shocking content is exciting and will trigger users to investigate and, as a consequence, will be bought.
And it isn’t only affecting adults
Typically kids spend more time on their devices than adults do from a very young age.
The machines once again want to increase the time your kids spend with them, and they want to learn everything about your kids. Quickly these machines not only have a great idea of what will engage them, but the kids are now dependant on this connection for dopamine hits.
This has lead to a huge spike in self harm and suicide in young people. Note social media became accessible via mobile in 2009 and, while this has no strong causation proof, it is likely a strong factor of how the world has changed since 2009.
Change that can help
There is no doubt that these companies have created huge value. Throughout this pandemic, we have still been able to speak to loved ones, socialise and more.
We can now learn anything, anytime, anywhere. We have the ability to do things that were not previously possible. We have the ability to reach out to millions of people in an instant. All for little to no monetary cost. Only a societal cost.
Top Down — Regulation
We tax things we want to discourage.
Regulation in the form of taxing data extraction from users, hence economically forcing companies to only collect the data which will directly help their business model — instead of allowing all data to be collected.
Or maybe, tax added when specifying particular targets of people advertisers want to advertise too.
GDPR may be the first step of law to understand data — but it does not focus on the monetary value of it. Instead, it demands privacy and access, with large fines for failures to do so which doesn’t scratch this itch.
This suggestion on taxing data collection would go further to recognise the value and ownership of individuals data being to themselves.
France has made starts on this, with Administrative Science Research Centre drafting a suggestion on taxation steps including taxing data collection. Sadly though there has been little other affirmative action.
Obviously, any of this will be slow.
Bottom Up — Individual’s choice of time
Tristan Harris coined a Time Well Spent movement — intentionally highlighting the time social media takes away from you is disproportionate to what you gain, but is built with psychological methods to make you addicted.
He has challenged individuals to resolve to reduce and understand the time they give to these platforms.
For me, the documentary highlights the fact that the time that we spend on these apps only benefits advertisers — be it traditional advertisers, or the owners of “news” sites trying to get more viewership to appease the companies that advertise on their site.
As someone who has always felt the extremism on both sides, I have always been wary of social media content. Although, I think that says more about my lack of passion for politics.
I also am extremely wary of my time. I wish I had more time and always aim to use it wisely.
That is why I have never had an Instagram account, I don’t use Twitter, and deleted Imgur while at university. However, I’m still prone to the appeal of YouTube, Reddit and Facebook.
I want to spend more time on things that I enjoy; but I know they are harder to pick up than simply jumping on to Reddit or YouTube for a two hour sesh.
In 2018 I began recording where my time goes — logging each hour’s main focus into a Google Sheet.
This simple act at the end of the day retracing what I had done throughout the day truly helped me prioritise what I wanted to the next day. Each night, it took less time than reading a few Facebook posts but it made me feel refreshed, aware and motivated to do better.
It has made me feel happier and more accomplished.
I would and do recommend you try it.
- Tech giants are too easy to exploit right now — through them selling the ability to target content specifically at people
- Content can be specifically warped, changed or invented and then targeted to people — and anyone can do this
- Tech giants need you to spend time on their platforms, so they can learn about you, and predict what you will do so they are more reliable advertising platforms
- Through understanding human psychology, we know nothing will get you clicking like unusual, mysterious or extreme content, as that is what our brains are programmed to be interested in
- The tech giants machines will then spot that engagement and do it again — as they are built to increase engagement
- The machines fill your news feed at just the right rate, as they have been trained to do so by analysing the activities of hundreds of thousands of other users
- You have no idea what others see on their news feed, and hence can’t understand their viewpoint as you don’t know their facts, and vice versa
- No longer can we expect our politics to function in the same way, as our facts and knowledge will not align, and hence our opinions will not either
- No longer should we spend our time on things we don’t retroactively find valuable; instead we should be able to spend time on more valuable things, which may albeit be harder to pick up than scrolling through a new feed
- No longer should we accept no regulation over what tech giants do with our data
Tristan Harris Presentation to all of Google about it stealing attention:
I think an interesting idea here is the Hippocratic Oath that doctors sign as a large form of trust…
Netflix Link Again
Perhaps somewhat hypocritically, it’s Netflix that presents this video. Having said that, it needed to be published via one of these monopolising platforms in order to be accessible to a wider audience.