Here’s a scenario: you decide to fly by plane on your next trip. You have no idea about the mechanics or physics of how a plane takes off, lands, and stays in the air, but you’re willing to take the risk that you’re safe. Why?
I highly doubt most people check plane crash fatalities before they fly, but there’s a trust in the engineering, the math, experience, other passengers, and airline company that makes us fly with little hesitation. That takes trust in experts, science, and people. BTW, plane crash fatalities recorded in 2019: 257.
Eroding of Trust: Search and Social
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that trust has slowly eroded. We trust government institutions, political leaders, media, science, doctors, and each other less. And this trend persists globally.
In the Netflix documentary, Social Dilemma, the film provides an explanation as to why trust in general has eroded. The short answer: we are bombarded with misleading information. And as a result, we live in a world where we live in different realities, depending on the content we consume. We end up not understanding those who are outside of our bubble. We have our own reality, and they have theirs. This divisive world order leads to hate.
The more time we spend scrolling, clicking, liking, sharing, pausing (yes, they know if we spent time staring at something on our screen), the more data tech companies collect and the smarter they get at tailoring ads and content. It’s a business of selling attention, and as a result, the system is designed to be addictive and “bias towards false information”.
Personalization Leads to Tunnel Vision
The algorithm presents us with a feed tailored to what it thinks will make us click and consume longer. This is different, for example, from pages that have a set landing page and information, regardless of visitor. Imagine if an online store changes product price depending on who is viewing it!
It’s easy to fall into a rabbit hole of misleading information. Here’s the nuts and bolts of how it works: if you have consumed information on anti-vaccination or flat earth, the algorithm is more likely to show you more content on conspiracy theories, such as pizza restaurants harboring children for sex trafficking.
Not just social media, but search engines tailor search to the user as well. One way, Google uses geography to determine your search results.
Vulnerable to Conspiracy Theories: The Wellness Community
This week, respected yoga teacher Sean Corn posted a letter collectively penned by the wellness community warning followers of conspiracy groups and false information. It’s not a surprise that the wellness community is a likely target. This is a group that values looking at alternative ways of living and healing. For women on Instagram, sources of conspiracy theories seem to come from:
…lifestyle influencers, mommy pages, fitness pages, diet pages, and alternative healingMarc-André Argentino, Doctoral Candidate and Phenomenon Researcher
The Breakdown of Social Health
Most studies on wellness and social media focus on personal wellbeing, but we are now seeing a social breakdown as well. Our social media consumption puts us in silos and we are presented with different realities, making us unable to communicate and listen to each other. We belong to a certain camp and can’t understand those outside of it.
Empower Yourself: What You Can Do
Towards the end of the film, tech leaders share what we can do to take control of the information presented to us and how to take back our lives from social media:
- Turn off or reduce notifications: these are meant to stop what you’re doing and focus your attention on the platform.
- Uninstall apps that waste your time: Create a time budget and assess how much of your time you’re willing to give a platform.
- Use alternative search engines that prioritize privacy: Qwant or DuckDuckGo.
- Resist clicking on recommendations —this just feeds the algorithm more information.
- Fact-check before sharing.
- Follow people you don’t agree with so you understand what type of information others are consuming.
- If you’re a parent: did you know that Silicon Valley parents strive to raise their kids tech-free? That’s right. The people who pioneered the gadgets and apps we consume are making sure their children stay away from them or at least are aware of the dangers. How does your child’s school incorporate technology? Do you have any guidelines they follow at home in terms of social media use?
Today, celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jennifer Lawrence, are freezing their Facebook accounts in protest of how Facebook has been handling malicious content with the hashtag: #StopHateforProfit.
Curbing false and socially dangerous information online requires collective effort and being pro-active.
The More You Know
Techniques used to gamify apps include like buttons, hearts, photo tagging. These encourage engagement and emotional reaction.