The two addictions that have engulfed the world are drugs and social media. In various ways social media and social networking companies have manipulated human psychology to rewire the human brain. In the Netflix documentary, “The Social Dilemma”, former Facebook, Google and Apple engineers go into great detail into the ways the tech giants are manipulating their users through a range of services. The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil but data.
You are the product, not the things you are being given for free. It is your personal information that is being sold. Whatever we search on internet is being recorded and the person’s psychology is being studied. This is not a simple algorithm but Artificial Intelligence with the help of super computers that do the analysis. More precisely, machines are controlling humans.
When you search something on the internet, the server gets to know about your mind, your mood, and then it shows you all things related to what you searched for, to trigger your emotions and desires. That’s how the machines control humans.
An addictive substance that all of us have access to, the ubiquitous mobile phone, sucks our attention. Instead of using this as a tool which is typically how we used technology historically – early computers were like this – the mobile phone uses us. It reaches into our mind and changes it, releasing dopamine that forces us to grab it, carry it to our bed, check it compulsively. We are always sneaking a look at it, why? Because it has been designated to grab attention, because it is profiting from it. That is what we call the Attention Economy. It is a very limited resource. Any data that you have is actually used internally to design further algorithmic changes to lead advertisers to you.
Our young generation, Generation ‘Y’, born around 1996-97 and later is more depressed, more anxious, more likely to carry out/attempt suicide. They are the first generation who had social media available during middle school. They are more likely to sit in bed with their mobile phones instead of going out. They don’t go out and play, they don’t socialise physically. The suicide rates among teenagers have not just increased but doubled since the inception of social media. What do you need social media for in middle school? Not only a middle-school kid should be questioned for this but also the parents.
The person that used to be a friend of yours, when you see what they do on Facebook, they inflame you so much that you start to hate them. It is a sort of hyper tribal relational aggression. There is an immediate reward when someone agrees with you, and an immediate fallout when someone disagrees with you. How many of us have stayed up at night over some social media feud? Did you have any feuds in real life that you stayed up at night for? It is so much easier to get into heated discussions on social media than in real life.
Social media is also being used to spread propaganda. A study found that fake news on social media spreads 6 times faster than real news. Ravish Kumar in his book, “The Free Voice”, writes that our ability to digest fake news has improved and developed greatly. Which was why in November 2016, long queues formed up in front of shops in many Indian states for sugar and salt, after a message circulated on Whatsapp that there would soon be a severe shortage of sugar and salt. Salt soared to 200 rupees a kilo. Mumbai Police was forced to tweet that this was a rumour. Nothing worked. News arrived from many places that shopkeepers were selling salt at prices as high as 600 rupees a kilo. There were reports that a woman had died in a stampede outside a shop in Kanpur. Rumours and fake news have always been the preferred weapons of fascists and majoritarian fundamentalists in democracies. By inciting mobs to fulfil their agendas, they use democracy to subvert and destroy democracy itself. The results are seen in the streets. After months of malicious propaganda about cow slaughter, a man was pulled out of his house and lynched by a mob of several hundred people, many of whom had been his neighbours for years. Social media is used to spread doctored videos of cow slaughter. A calf goes missing and people get angry. Then pieces of meat are discovered, sometimes outside a temple, sometimes outside a Muslim home. Politicians spew venom and a thoroughly communalised media broadcasts conspiracy theories. Fake news through social media can be used to trigger a mob not only against helpless minorities but also prominent ideological opponents. By the time the person disputes the news, the mob will have burned down his or her house on the basis of malicious rumours.
Humans have become digital zombies. There is more to life than this social media. Go out and experience what nature and the world has to offer you.
—The writer is an engineering student from Kulgam. [email protected]