Everyone was rocked by the Social Dilemma this past summer. I wanted to wait to write about it until some of the hubbub had passed and everyone had time to watch it and digest it. For the unfamiliar, the social dilemma breaks down the business and motivation of social media companies. Their most important contribution was really analyzing how user data is mined for advertising, manipulation, and profit. The main person profiled in the film was Jaron Lanier and he has been railing against these companies for years.
His advice to everyone? Deleted your social media accounts. That might seem drastic but the reality is that social media companies use their users for profit. The price of social media, is ourselves.
it is hard to imagine a world without social media. Especially, after 4 years of President Trump governing the country via tweet, it is hard to imagine a world where the only place to get news was from a newspaper or television at certain times of the day. Some of us are old enough to well remember this world. For those of us who are in our early 30s and older, social media didn’t really arrive until college or our 20s.
In the intervening years, we’ve posted about our lives, uploaded pictures, played games, and had toxic arguments on these platforms. We’ve posted our hot takes to Twitter and pinned our dreams on Pinterest. We’ve danced on TikTok and taken hot selfies on Snapchat and Instagram. We’ve chatted on Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp. We’ve talked on Kik and more. All the while, we’ve been feeding these companies invaluable data about ourselves. Facebook can predict if you’re pregnant better than a pregnancy test and push ads accordingly. All the while, no one has never given much thought to this data. From time to time privacy experts have raised alarms about data. The EU passed the GDPR to make companies be more honest about this data but no one has asked the question, is it right to be collecting all this data about people and selling or using it for ads? Is it something we want in our society?
It is important to remember that social media itself didn’t become the juggernaut of media it is today without one other crucial invention: the smartphone. Without the smartphone, social media would still exist in the realms of desktops and laptops (as it did when I was in college), most people didn’t have smartphones until 2010–2011 in my circle and I was one of the first to get one. I arrived at college in 2007 with a flip-phone like…