The Social Dilemma

Creators Strike Back

Last week I wrote about the documentary The Great Hack that followed the company Cambridge Analytica. This week it was suggested I also watch The Social Dilemma. This documentary interviews a series of tech professionals who were part of the early days of the internet.

The documentary introduces us to a dozen or more tech professionals, professors, and industry leaders who helped build the social platforms we use today. Not one of these people had good things to say about our current social media usage.

There are quantifiable facts that show how social media is slowly tearing down the fabric of our society by polarizing and dividing us. This wasn’t the intention of the platform creators, but the draw of wealth they’ve enjoyed from it makes a it a hard habit for them to break.

The documentary utilizes a combination of interviews, quotes, and a family simulation to show us the real world effects of our screen consumption.

People As Products

One of the quotes used says, “If you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product.” And that’s a sobering thought. I may not be speaking for all of us, but there’s a certain unsettling feeling I get knowing that something is actively trying to manipulate me. It’s easy to brush off, but we need to dig into it further.

Your attention is the product being sold. The more the social platforms can capture your attention, the more they can bombard you with content they’re being paid to show you. By creating AI algorithms that zero in on what you like, the platforms are then able to inundate your feed with targeted content that creates an emotional response in you. That emotional response is key. We’re human. Our emotions are how we bond to ideas and to each other.

The problem this has created is that we have moved further and further into a tunnel vision world view. For us, our opinions have become gospel rather than fluctuations of the world around us. We are so polarized into the neat and tidy worldview that makes us feel safe that we can’t even talk to someone who has a varying view from our own. Any assault on the dopamine receptors in our brains makes us instantly back away.

Nowhere has this been more problematic for Americans than in our last two elections. Facebook is absolutely to blame for being allowed to run unregulated misinformation. The grab for money that Facebook prioritized created a country full of polarized individuals. We marvel at the fact that “the other side” can’t see what we see, but social media has made it so they literally cannot see what we see.

Security Risk

All of this manipulation has a real world security risk. We talk about other countries hacking our elections or our social infrastructure. They aren’t actually brute forcing their way into our devices, they’re paying social media for access into our minds.

We discussed the fact that brute force computer hacks weren’t necessary because so many people still click on phishing emails. Social media feeds are phishing platforms. There’s no need for a foreign entity to brute force their military into the US, they can pay social media to infiltrate your ideas. You are the weapon.

And this might all sound hyperbolic and extremist. It’s easy to roll your eyes and say this is ridiculous. We’ve certainly been programmed to shut off things that make us uncomfortable. But hear me out.

Your Data Should Be Your Own

You deserve ownership of your data. Furthermore, you deserve the right to say who can see your data. Social media mines you, creates a profile, and then sells you to the highest bidder. Personally, it makes me feel a little dirty.

So let’s stop giving them access. We had a great conversation here at PC Matic the other day about those popular quizzes you see on Facebook. The amount of data people give away is astounding. One of my co-workers speculated that people would give you their passwords if the quiz was designed the right way.

Someday, that quiz may be designed. And you may take it. Once you do, however, it won’t just be your data. There’s a very good chance that, if you continue to allow yourself to be sold and manipulated, your bank accounts and identity could be the next item up for grabs.

How Do We Stop It

Right now, as it is, we can’t stop our data from being harvested. Even those people who don’t use social media still are a part of the machine. What we can do is lobby our government to put stricter rules on tech giants who see us as profit rather than people. (And if me writing the word “government” gave you any sort of negative feelings, consider what you’ve been bombarded with to make you feel that way. Because you have been made to feel that way in our current day and age.)

We can also fact check everything coming across our screens. As imperative as it is to know what a phishing email looks like, it’s also that necessary to know what a factual website looks like. The emotional response you feel when you see a headline that aligns with your carefully cultivated worldview could make you click something harmful. We’ve seen tons of viruses and malware strains embedded into websites with clickbait titles. The social media manipulation has real world consequences.

Also, step away from the screen from time to time to have an actual, human conversation. It may even be beneficial to do that with someone you fundamentally don’t agree with normally. Because until we stop allowing ourselves to be manipulated, we’re opening each other up to further technical weaknesses. If we want a solid, technical infrastructure, we have to be able to talk to each other.

Technology Isn’t All Bad

Listen, I know this sounds like doom and gloom, but all tech isn’t all bad. Being able to see the faces of my friends and family while in quarantine has been afforded to me via technology. I found a pizza cookbook in a Facebook group that has made my cooking ability exponentially better. Instagram sharing helped my friend’s new salon become successful.

The technology that we have has made our lives better. We’re more connected. It has the ability to actually do good. It’s our responsibility, however, to be better gate keepers. It’s also our responsibility to use it in moderation.

Go outside. I know it’s getting cold, but there’s still a world full of nature even when it’s buried under snow. Or you could close your laptop, put your phone in a drawer, and play a game with your loved ones. Shut off the news and read a book (I swear I say this to my mother at least once a day.) Spread a little positive verbal affirmation to the person delivering your quarantine groceries.

And don’t worry, while you’re out enjoying nature and human conversation, PC Matic will be protecting your devices until you need them again. Our top priority is making sure you’re safe, so stay safe out there.

Photo by Rami Al-zayat on Unsplash

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28 thoughts on “The Social Dilemma”

  1. I have been saying for a while that social media is tearing down the fabric of our society. You’re right that people dive into their own safe havens and don’t care to listen to any opinion or thought they don’t agree with. It is disgusting what Facebook has become. I have a handle, but rarely post anything other than pictures of my grandkids.

    God forbid, I put a comment on the election on Nextdoor and have probably gotten 50 hate messages and other vitriol. It was my only venture out of the safe haven of my personal opinions and from now on I will keep them to myself. What a shame, intelligent discourse is largely dead.

  2. How sad that this informative article was followed by a comments section in which right wing shills (or computer programs) are observed trying to dupe unwitting readers into going onto Parler. Parler, for those who may not know, is an extreme unrestricted social media platform that spreads hatred, lies, and malice while proudly proclaiming that it will not yield to the pressure that made Facebook and Twitter start deleting the worst abuses. So dear readers, did you detect the Parler scam? Hint: anytime you see a comment claiming FB is a liberal hoax followed by the apparently innocent comment “Is Parler better?” You know you’re being played.

  3. Thank you, Mary, for a great article. I have watched “The Social Dilemma” and recommend that everyone watch it. I do have a difference of opinion on one thing you wrote, however. You wrote “Facebook is absolutely to blame for being allowed to run unregulated misinformation.” If by that you mean that Facebook should be doing more to regulate misinformation, I think you are asking the fox to guard the hen house. Many conservative users have been restricted for posting “misinformation”. The problem is, who is making that decision? Facebook claims to be using recognized fact checkers but much of what is being restricted is patently not misinformation although it certainly may be controversial.

  4. I only use Facebook to sell stuff via Marketplace. It seems pretty good for that but I have noticed some commercial postings there recently. I admit I fall down he YouTube rabbit hole occasionally but I am not sure whether YouTube counts as social media. I am sure they are harvesting data. I am in my 70’s and have been involved in Tech since it started. I find news reporting on the Internet to be very frustrating. I try to balance things by looking at various sources – Canadian Broadcasting Corp, British Broadcasting Corp, Al Jazeera, etc.

  5. What could have been a great idea turned into poison. Social media allows this country’s enemies into our living rooms and into our families lives. It tries to normalize ideas & cultural practices that we know deep down in our guts “that’s not right” It tries to bully you into groupthink or destroy you if you don’t tow their line, it tries to choose your words for you and thereby your thoughts.

    There has been only one benefit to forced multiculturalism – none of these other cultures are “exotic”, “mysterious”, “exciting” or “intriguing” anymore, we now know them for what they truly are, and what they are is horrifying.

  6. Excellent, common sense article. The dangers are real, and they point in the direction of National dissolution or some sort of a non-regional Civil War, unless the current rate of Social deterioration is arrested.

  7. This was a great article. Neither my wife nor I have ever been on Facebook, Twitter or any other “Social Media” that exists. We both have been involved with computers at home and at work from the early ’80s and have cell phones (in addition to a land line). I don’t believe you could really call our cellphones smart. Our grown children apparently have become social media followers and have given up on us joining the crowd. We cannot imagine spending the day and night reading other people’s opinions. We are both really happy that when our family gets together the talk never gets too far into a social media conversation. We like to believe we live in the real world and not the fantasy world of social media. We are not young and we have friends our age that have been sucked into the chasm of social media and they usually talk about it when we get together. We sit calmly by and are happy in our “ignorance”.

  8. Saw both documentaries mentioned a few months ago. Very disturbing. Of special note: one of the programmers talked about clicking away in the closet, even as he recognized he was doing exactly what he helped design the algorithms that kept him clicking!!! Tried FB three times over the years – ditched it twice after about 2 days each. Most recently used the ‘marketplace’ to sell something, and deleted my account again (permanently!) a hour later. Never even tried Twitter, Instagram, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc. Never will. Good reminder to watch out for phishing and the galaxy of other tricks to get your info & money. Dorsey & Zuckerberg are nothing better than ‘war profiteers’ who make money on other folks’ misery. To hell with the whole lot!

  9. I got off Facebook 10 years ago when I thought I was being stalked by my ex-husband. I did not miss it. I recently started going back on once in awhile and am shocked at what it has turned in to. I find it makes me anxious while I’m scrolling around. My gut tells me to GET OUT OF HERE! It seems no one has an original thought anymore and just re-posts other people’s garbage. After reading this article, I am going to follow my gut feelings and get off once and for all. Its not a healthy place.

  10. Great info here. It’s addictive to be on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – ALL DAY every day. I make my kids put their phones in a basket when they visit. Has made our visits so much more fun because they become engaged with us and each other! I am past 70 and not much of a techie, but I believe PC Matic has made my PC far more secure than any service I’ve used in the past 15 years.

  11. Dixie Flock-Woodham

    This is an excellent article. I almost bypassed reading it and I’m very glad I didn’t. I agree with Gkam who said that this should be required reading. I would like to send a copy to several of my friends and relatives.

  12. Great article. Thank you.
    Some time ago I tried to cancel my Facebook account and found it so difficult I quit trying. I suggest PCMatic consider developing a tool to help it’s users exit certain social media sites. I’d be your first customer.

  13. Thank you for this article, I was a news junkie, now I watch History Channel, and some of the newer things and of course my wife and I actually talk to each other. These news channels drive me up a wall with their drivel, even Fox has gotten the liberal side, supposedly to provide balance. I am on FB and twitter, but not as a junkie, I can talk with family and friends that I don’t see often, and send the occasional cartoon. My computer is better suited to the research I do in genealogy, so I stay away from stuff that does not edify. I use a VPN, and of course your wonderful PCMatic Super Shield.

  14. Kind of ironic that the creator of this article (Tech Talk – Mary James) allows it to be shared on social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin, but not just emailed. So I will be creative and send the url link to my friends as I also do not use Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin.
    Arthur in Miami

  15. I don’t like Facebook and only use it as far as I have to have a login to go to church online or visit other things occasionally that have a Facebook group. They talk of in the news of Section 230 that protects social media…that needs to be removed. Going back to Facebook and social media, if the wrong people get in power and this becomes more like Communist China, all they have to do is see your connections on social media and Facebook and know who to round up. Dangerous!

  16. Why else would the “Tech Giants” be on trial at this moment? The ones that hold the carefully crafted cards, e.g., the recently elected left, are behind it all. Ask yourself why they censor those in official government positions they don’t agree with for their benign comments, while they give a pass to far more vile content. The answer “should” be obvious..

  17. I have a Facebook account but only receive stuff. I do not send or share. I agree that many people have so hardened themselves towards feeling a certain way about certain subjects that it is impossible for them to be persuaded there is another and possibly better view. I regularly engage online with friends and acquaintances who are polar opposite of my stance on some issues. I learn from these interactions and am able to modify “my” view when presented with evidence that some part, or all, of my current thoughts may need a review.

  18. My children consider me a dinosaur because I choose in my retirement, not to participate
    social media. I don’t even have a working I phone. My job tied me to a phone and I made a
    decision not to be tied to it in my twilight years. I would rather spend my time reading all
    those books I did not have time to peruse during my career.
    We all know that new innovations solve some problems but are responsible for creating
    new ones. Also that, these innovations can be used for good as well as for evil depending on
    mindset of the individual using those innovations. Little has changed in regard to people’s
    behavior. We simply need to be on guard to retain our basic freedoms, especially that of
    I agree with everything this woman wrote and kudos to her for doing so in such a succint

  19. I dont use social media. I dont have a facebook account or twitter or any of that stuff. If Im part of the machine it might be the E-stop button because NOBODY advertises to me. I agree that social media polarizes people as I see it in my friends and relatives more and more and they dont even realize they have been manipulated. Thats the saddest part since they will never even try to escape from their comfy cacoon theyve been put into.

  20. Outstanding article (The Social Dilemma by Mary James). Honest, objective and eye-opening. I am a tech-zero, but I can see through attempts to shape my thinking online. And I resent it greatly. Thanks for an informative offer.

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