By Daniel Leal de Moraes Santana.
“We’ve created a world in which online connection has become primary, especially for younger generations. And yet, in that world, any time two people connect, the only way it’s financed is through a sneaky third person who is paying to manipulate those two people. So, we’ve created an entire global generation of people who were raised within a context where the very meaning of communication, the very meaning of culture is manipulation. We’ve put deceit and sneakiness at the absolute center of everything we do.” – Jaron Lenier
We are passing through an era in which our perception of the world is controlled by an algorithm. This is true from the most individual level — the way we look at ourselves and our free will, at those who believe in it — to the most collective one — how we build our opinions about our governments and other countries, how social media and other online network devices have shaped and are still shaping modernity. By establishing profits at the cost of agglomerating data, the virtual world has been transformed into an instrument used to dismantle democratic political systems, mental health, and the current sense of truth. The lack of digital privacy has caused new data technology to undermine democracy through the manipulation of freedom of expression, polarizing our societies and spreading hate. Concomitantly, our society has become completely dependent on these rising virtual devices, perceiving online information as the most reliable knowledge authority. This leads us to the question: what are the prospects for the next generation and for our futures if this technological progress remains with the “religion of profit at all costs”? What are the consequences for a community if it relies its opinion on Google search, Facebook news, or Instagram photos?
“It’s not about technology being the existential threat. It’s technology’s ability to bring out the worst in society, and the worst in society being the existential threat.”Former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris
The polarizing effects of social media on our daily life are undeniable. Although they are more visible to some and less clear to others, everyone is affected by it, and once we realize social media’s importance in shaping people’s opinions, there is no coming back. In terms of the policy, for the past decade, the tech industry has proven its value. The Cambridge Analytica data scandal is the best example to illustrate the extent to which social media empowers extreme political candidates and dismantles entire societies. Through its technique of spreading fear via fake news, the British political consulting firm tore apart more than 200 countries through the use of Facebook. By presenting a political party as a complete antonym to another, Facebook and other social media devices spread political campaigns moved by hate and contempt throughout the globe. This was very perceptible during the last US election: hate against republicans and hate against democrats. Nevertheless, the use of social media as an instrument to polarize societies is not restrained to political elections. It extends to every conception of truth a group of individuals assume, and its perception by whoever the data processor decides. Hate against feminism, hate against sexism. Hate against homosexuals, hate against homophobia. Hate against the Western world, hate against the Oriental world. Hate against Muslims, hate against Christians. And so it goes.
“It’s a marketplace that trades exclusively in human futures.”Professor Emeritus Shoshana Zuboff of Business Administration at Harvard University
Of course, virtual networks have their advantages and good qualities as well. Connecting people all around the world through information sharing has a lot of value. It opens a lot of doors to a more rapid and fluid informational environment among individuals. However, when utilized as a weapon, a reflection appears not only about the dilemma of its use, but also about our liberty of not using it. Conversely, it is known that mindlessly scrolling through TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, etc. contributes immensely to our perceptions of the external world. Therefore, as a pacifier for uncomfortable situations, or as a distraction when boredom creeps in, or as an illusion of collecting and developing popularity, the big tech industries exploit our thoughts and feelings in order to hold our attention for as long as possible, inducing a frenetic need for social approval.
“We were exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. We knew that and we did it anyway.”Ex-Facebook President Sean Parker
“We’re training and conditioning a whole new generation of people that when we are uncomfortable, or lonely, or uncertain or afraid, we have a digital pacifier for ourselves,” – Former Google Design Ethicist Tristan Harris The rising of extreme political candidates, teen suicide rate, conspiracy theories, and virtual addiction are some of the consequences of the innovation process of data technology. Youtube recommends Earth Flat theories massively due to its high number of views. Instagram and Snapchat are enforcing unrealistic beauty standards because viewers are more attracted to them. Google has created a hierarchy of information by presenting different results to different people according to their location. And regardless of all of that, people continue to use these devices because of their importance to being “connected.” To what extent are we really free from perpetuating these catastrophic side effects of social media? To what extent are we free to break apart from this system?