And here’s the problem.
Behind the façade of connectivity and innovation lies a corrupt system of data breaches, content filtering for commercial and/or political gain, and ruthlessly refined user experiences designed to maximize your undivided attention for profit. As known in the Netflix documentary, “If you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.”
Violations and Data Mining
In what many perceive as a closed loop, the convergence of supposedly democratic governments, their corporate sponsors Big Tech, and the liberal media has attempted to forge a self-sustaining power system that encourages a kinetic transfer of wealth within its ranks into the pockets of everyday consumers . As part of this machine, the social/digital media companies like Meta, Alphabet, LinkedIn, and Twitter (before Musk) have proven to be the arbiters of censorship, but worse, the drivers of division through culture-abolishing identity politics and data theft.
The Cambridge Analytica Facebook scandal was arguably the first publicly acknowledged breach in which it became clear that nobody had hacked the social media giant, but rather that it was complicit in providing data for political purposes. As Julie Carrie Wong summarizes, “Almost every company has suffered a major data breach at this point; only Facebook has had to endure such an existential reckoning. That’s because Cambridge Analytica did not infiltrate Facebook’s systems, but Facebook’s systems, which are working as intended: data was amassed, data extracted, and data exploited.”
Today, Facebook and Instagram, under the Meta brand, are not only aware of their unethical behavior when sharing data, but also that their platforms were designed to intentionally harm consumers, especially teenage girls. After the Wall Street Journal sat on the research for two years, a leak the Wall Street Journal saw from an internal presentation said: “We’re making body image problems worse for one in three teenage girls.”
Nothing but an addiction
A subsequent report in March 2020 said, “Thirty-two percent of teenage girls said Instagram made them feel bad about their bodies when they felt bad.”
As well as exacerbating mental health issues, the platforms have also been designed to be as addictive as possible. Using a “three pillars” approach, it is now standard practice for developers to adhere to the habit-forming criteria of a sufficient motivation, an action, and a trigger.
App developer Peter Mezyk says: “If we open an app every day, the developers are satisfied. The more time we spend on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, the more advertising revenue is pouring into the pockets of tech companies — attention is currency.”
As a result, many users are negatively impacted by fear of missing out (FOMO), lack of focus, procrastination, and wandering brains.
“They continue to prioritize growth and profit over building a platform that is centered around the needs of their users,” said Lindsey Barrett, attorney at the Communications and Technology Clinic in Georgetown. As a particularly glaring example of this mindset, Barrett cited Facebook’s insistence on using phone numbers that users provided for security purposes for non-security purposes.
A broader and probably more ominous problem is interference with the democratic process. For example, the widespread use of #StopTheSteal across all social media platforms, in coordination with a concerted disinformation effort by the far right, cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 US presidential election results and contributed to the violent attack on the US on January 6th Capital city.
More recently, Mark Zuckerberg confirmed that Facebook intentionally and algorithmically censored Hunter Biden’s laptop story for a week in support of the incumbent government. As a non-democratically elected body, social media companies possess a weaponized political propaganda tool. Whoever controls and wields his sword has the opportunity to heavily influence elections and undermine the democratic process.
Contain, even if it’s not pejorative
Meta isn’t alone — less controversial but more widely used platforms like LinkedIn, especially since Microsoft’s acquisition in 2016, have not only increased their focus on censoring or banning ideas that go against the narrative (particularly regarding the pandemic), but also evidence of racial profiling, security breaches and ongoing fraud.
In December last year, the business-focused platform censored and suspended three prominent Scottish hospitality professionals after viral posts denouncing the Scottish Government’s COVID-19 guidelines.
Commenting on the suspensions, Stephen Montgomery, chairman of the Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG), said: “When you have three major voices in the hospitality industry saying exactly the same thing, it makes one wonder why certain social media platforms are shutting down our posts and the suspension of our accounts. Nothing I’ve posted is derogatory or defamatory, it’s all topics relevant to the pandemic to give people information.