Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Social Media Dilemma

 My wife and I watched this very disturbing documentary on Netflix last night.  They interviewed at least a dozen people who had been officers of, developers, or early venture capitalists of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. about how these systems work.  One guy explained that the goal of the algorithms is to change behavior or beliefs.  Not much, maybe 1%, but cumulatively on a two billion person user base that is a lot.  

As you all know, "If the product is free, you are the product."  The pursuit of clicks, and therefore impressions makes money for these firms from advertisers.  And even when you are as rich as Zuckerberg, you need more.  While this may not go over well with libertarians, greed is not always good.

Worse, the algorithms look at what interests you, and then tailors ads and suggestions to similar ideas.  I suspect this is why certain sets of ideas start to appear together: anti-vaxxer; COVID is a hoax; and dozens of other conspiracy theories.  If you are an anti-vaxxer, social media will promote particular ideas to you that other users have found compatible.

One guy said the 2018 elections demonstrated the ability of social media to influence voting.  There were allusions to the Russian attempts to influence the 2016 elections; I would be surprised if tracing back 2020 advertising revenue paid to social media companies has origins (after half a dozen cutouts and shell companies) in China.

Take a look at what happens when you enter a search string in Google.  As you enter characters, it makes suggestions tailored to your history and likely interests.  When a page comes up, the ads are again tailored to your interests.  Two people entering the same search string will get different results.

They interviewed addiction specialists who pointed out how social media influence us, using techniques that work with small groups of people, now expanded to billions and careful manipulation by AI of great complexity.  (According to one of the interviewees, even the people that run these companies have no idea of how they work.)

One social psychologist explained that self-cutting and suicides among young people (including pre-teens) rose dramatically (sometimes 10x) after social media apps appeared on phones.  This was after years of stable rates.  Children start to develop body dysphoria because they do not look as good as others on social media, or as good as the various self-photograph filters make them appear.  (They did not mention gender dysphoria, but it does not take a genius to figure out that connection.)

Dramatic segments illustrate these problems.  One teenager is manipulated by click suggestions into a movement called Extreme Center.  He shows up to demonstrate; it turns into a riot, and his arrest.  You can easily see how this applies to Antifa, BLM, and various racist groups.

Political polarization has increased as social media have taken over.  Crazy ideas such as "flat Earth" and "Holohoax" have benefitted from social media attempts to maximize clicks, even if there is no advertiser paying for those clicks.

Two questions for you:

1. Why do you still have a social media account?

2. If your church relies on Facebook, why are you using the Devil's Software to do so?

Google AdSense just disabled ads on this post for "Dangerous or derogatory content."  Oh well, I better not say anything negative about social media.

I appealed and they backed down.

4 comments:

  1. Dear Clayton,

    As a fellow believer I want to comment on your post for highlighting some things that are good points of consideration and where those same points may not have had enough exploration and factual evidence. As someone in the medical community who has worked with individuals with substance use issues both on the addiction service, on the eating disorders unit, and in various other units in psychiatry, I can assure you that psychiatric diagnoses are complicated and the origins of body dysphoria, gender dysphoria, and self harm are not so clear cut. With improved diagnostic and treatment services now compared to decades ago, we are also seeing more of these patients in the medical community which we need to acknowledge accounts in part for the rise in numbers as well.

    Although there are detriments to social media platforms and ways that some groups and individuals choose to use them, there are also many benefits that should not be discounted. For example, it has helped my church community stay connected during COVID, we are able to share prayer requests and invite other believers to groups that are accessible to them at home. My friends who are missionaries in India have ways to increase their reach and to also keep in touch with their supporters, prayer warriors, and family and friends back home. God has allowed for technology to help enable us to live out the greatest commandment! I think that the verdict on social media is a nuanced one worthy of more thought and consideration. God has allowed many wonderful technological tools to be built in recent decades and perhaps it is up to each of us to choose whether we use it with good moral intentions or to use it for harm and destruction.

    We have seen this repeated throughout biblical history: in Genesis 11 people built the Tower of Babel but it does not mean bricks or building materials are “bad”. Yet that was the “technology” of those times. Indeed I think we can both agree that it was the people whose hearts were wicked. Those same bricks and materials went towards building cities like Jerusalem. Later in Genesis we see God giving the Israelites the wisdom and understanding for workers to construct the tent of meeting for them to come into His presence, yet a chapter later we see those same skills being applied for evil in building the golden calf. The tools and technology were the same but the intention and outcomes were different.

    I think we would agree as written in Proverbs 16:4 that God is sovereign; we are not and technology does not dismiss God’s sovereign rule.

    Happy to reconnect further at anytime.

    God bless,
    Vivian
    tsangvivi@hotmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dear Clayton,

    As a fellow believer I want to comment on your post for highlighting some things that are good points of consideration and where those same points may not have had enough exploration and factual evidence. As someone in the medical community who has worked with individuals with substance use issues both on the addiction service, on the eating disorders unit, and in various other units in psychiatry, I can assure you that psychiatric diagnoses are complicated and the origins of body dysphoria, gender dysphoria, and self harm are not so clear cut. With improved diagnostic and treatment services now compared to decades ago, we are also seeing more of these patients in the medical community which we need to acknowledge accounts in part for the rise in numbers as well.

    Although there are detriments to social media platforms and ways that some groups and individuals choose to use them, there are also many benefits that should not be discounted. For example, it has helped my church community stay connected during COVID, we are able to share prayer requests and invite other believers to groups that are accessible to them at home. My friends who are missionaries in India have ways to increase their reach and to also keep in touch with their supporters, prayer warriors, and family and friends back home. God has allowed for technology to help enable us to live out the greatest commandment! I think that the verdict on social media is a nuanced one worthy of more thought and consideration. God has allowed many wonderful technological tools to be built in recent decades and perhaps it is up to each of us to choose whether we use it with good moral intentions or to use it for harm and destruction.

    We have seen this repeated throughout biblical history: in Genesis 11 people built the Tower of Babel but it does not mean bricks or building materials are “bad”. Yet that was the “technology” of those times. Indeed I think we can both agree that it was the people whose hearts were wicked. Those same bricks and materials went towards building cities like Jerusalem. Later in Genesis we see God giving the Israelites the wisdom and understanding for workers to construct the tent of meeting for them to come into His presence, yet a chapter later we see those same skills being applied for evil in building the golden calf. The tools and technology were the same but the intention and outcomes were different.

    I think we would agree as written in Proverbs 16:4 that God is sovereign; we are not and technology does not dismiss God’s sovereign rule.

    Happy to reconnect further at anytime.

    God bless,
    Vivian
    tsangvivi@hotmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  3. I dumped my TV cable some time ago as there is absolutely NOTHING on.
    My brief affair with twitter and Facebook ended in short order with them dumping me for speaking truth.

    I don't miss any of them and I am happier. There are much better things to do with my time.

    ReplyDelete
  4. You were really ahead of the curve with this post, with the newest social media purge of conservatives underway...

    ReplyDelete