We Design With Aptitude

The Polemic

Social Media - The Writing Is On The Wall

Empathy a human trait we all possess in abundance has been ebbing away since "Social Media" came into the scene - arguably. Embracing new technology is what we humans do. We have come a long way from creating fire with the help of some flint and friction ( the latter a physical process we've now become accustomed to in a subject matter called physics). So when you hear people labelling someone technophobe because they genuinely feel social media is causing more harm than good, you should be very careful and cautious of snake oil salesmen. It is impossible to halt the progress of technology- it is what drives us. Social media is just a foreboding of a catastrophic failure waiting in the wind if we do nothing. The outage that happened on 06-10-2021 and the ramifications from that (short spell) is a warning we need legislation now rather than later that governs how these oligopolies should operate. Rebranding is an old trick we should not fall for - Social Media to a Metaverse. Virtual reality is what it is. The hype about digital worlds and augmented reality pops up every few years, but usually dies away. Humans are social beings just leave it at that.

I still avoid using emoticons in formal and informal correspondence. I can not see the relevance. Just as I can not see the relevance of social network platforms. Do not get me wrong I am not stipulating an equivalence here. Let me explain - my cautious use of the social networks has nothing to do with paranoia about privacy and yes to a certain extent, I welcome the unprecedented transparency and connectivity that these services can empower. But what’s increasingly becoming so scary is the wider social and political cost of our ever-greater enmeshment in these proprietary networks - whose only raison d'être is to sell our own written personal content and keep the money(sic).

“When you’re young, you make mistakes and you do some stupid stuff,” formerPresident Obama warned high-school students in Virginia a couple of years ago. “Be careful about what you post on Facebook, because in the YouTube age whatever you do will be pulled up later somewhere in your life.” He’s damn right. Maybe he was thinking of his two young girls - shouldn't we all. One thing people are not fully appreciative of is the permanency of the internet - anything posted online might come to haunt you, yet all of us need space to grow. The media (print and screen) is full of stories of people whose lives have been turned apart because of petty jokes and classroom banter they did with friends at primary and secondary schools on their social media pages. Imagine some of the stuff you now have on your profile as a 19-year-old university student, would you like those things to be still associated with you intact 10, 20, 30 years hence? To err is human used to be so sacrosanct. We forgive and be forgiven has always been a human trait. What are we doing to humanity?

The Rwandan genocide occurred between 7 April and 15 July 1994 during the Rwandan Civil War. This was pre-social media. Can you imagine that happening now where everyone has a broadcasting platform in their hands (smartphones)? In a way, some would argue that it could have helped to expose what was going on a lot quicker to the outside world. Well, the counterargument to that is - these platforms are not neutral. The recent tiff between Twitter, Facebook, and the former USA president, the Nigerian President, and a host of others just goes to show they can be very political and become complicit in events with far-reaching consequences.

It is not just politics - the Instagram influencer Nigerian Hush Puppi who scammed and swindled 100s of millions from all and sundry and now languishing in prison only after the FBI got involved is a lesson to be learned. He preached how he was so blessed that God was sending him all this cash for him to look immaculate and with the best wardrobe money can buy, he duly obliged. Be circumspect of blessed souls in a human carcass. They might show some sign of perspicacity but by and large, they are perfidious. Did Instagram or its parent company Facebook ever question how he was making all this dosh? No, because they were making their cuts and by extension also blessed. You have to wonder who the hell is this deity throwing blessings around willy-nilly. Satan the devil maybe?

Take your political hat off for a moment - Is Joe Biden being treated in the same way they treated the previous incumbent? They acquiesce with everything he says or does even though anyone with two brain cells can see the obvious bias. The current human catastrophe masquerading as an orderly queue in the southern borders is even worst than the shambles to leave the airport in Kabul a couple of weeks ago. What have these guardians of moral rectitude (social, screen and print media) said about it? Leaving Afghanistan with no pre-planning was a disaster in every way you care to look at it. When you have got a situation where the actual foot soldiers are showing their disgust about how the elites (armchair generals et al) have handled the situation and in so doing, get locked up in prison for not following orders, you might just also come to the assertion that "the most dangerous of all falsehoods a slighted distorted truth". Exigency comes to the fore. This complicity is fracturing the fabric that holds the nation together.

Facebook (WhatsApp, Instagram), Twitter, and Google (YouTube) (the latter may be to a lesser extent) exist to make money, by selling advertisers the means to target you with ever greater precision. That explains the endless series of “privacy” headlines, as these unregulated businesses push boundaries to make it easier for paying third parties to access your likes, interests, photos, social connections, and purchasing intentions. That’s why Facebook has made it harder for users to understand exactly what they’re giving away — why, for instance, its privacy policy has grown from 1,004 words in 2005 to 6,830 words today (by comparison, as the New York Times has pointed out, the U.S. Constitution is 4,543). Founder Mark Zuckerberg once joked dismissively about the “dumb fucks” who “trust me”. I admire the business Zuckerberg et al have built, but do I trust any of them? The answer is an unequivocal NO.

What is Good for the Goose is also good for the Gander: Information you supply for one purpose will invariably be used for another. Phone up to buy a pizza, and the order-taker’s computer gives her access to your voting record, employment history, library loans — all “just wired into the system” for your convenience. She’ll suggest a beefy pork pizza as she knows about your 42-inch waist, she’ll add a delivery surcharge because a nearby robbery yesterday puts you in “a red zone” — and she’ll be on her guard because you’ve checked out the library book Dealing With Depression. This is where the Council for Civil Liberties sees consumerism going — and it’s not too hard to believe. Already surveys suggest that 35 percent of firms are rejecting applicants because of information found on social networks. What makes you think you can control what happens to your personal data?

And besides, why should we let businesses privatize our social discourse? Some day you should take time to read those 6000 and over words of Facebook privacy rules. it’s Facebook that owns the right to do as it pleases with your data and to sell access to it to whoever is willing to pay. Yes, it’s free to join — but with over 3.5 billion of us now using it to connect, it’s worth asking ourselves how far this “social utility” (its own term) is really acting in the best interests of society.

Recent research has grouped the negative effects of Social Media into six themes:

  1. Cost of social exchange: includes both psychological harms, such as depression, anxiety or jealousy, and other costs such as wasted time, energy, and money

  2. Annoying content: includes a wide range of content that annoys, upsets, or irritates, such as disturbing or violent content or sexual or obscene content

  3. Privacy concerns: includes any threats to personal privacy related to storing, repurposing, or sharing personal information with third parties

  4. Security threats: refers to harms from fraud or deception such as phishing or social engineering

  5. Cyberbullying: includes any abuse or harassment by groups or individuals such as abusive messages, lying, stalking, or spreading rumours

  6. Low performance: refers to a negative impact on job or academic performance.

Technology, as recent as a couple of years ago was supposed to bring us all closer - remember the global village? The emergence of an old doctrine - "critical race theory" the epitome of this dramatic change in attitude towards anyone with a different point of view has put paid to that paradigm. Here is how the woke brigade often responds - "There is no war against free speech. You are perfectly free to say what you want, so long as it aligns with our prevailing view". We the oligopolies accountable to no one and if you dare you will be canceled by us. We have done so to the former incumbent of the White House. A black woman questions the authenticity of a white female with breaded hair as cultural appropriation while she has got a Brazilian blond wig on. And rest assured it was not carnival week either. The irony never lost on her. Wokery is definitely diminishing our thinking process to the extent that we are becoming perfidious. How did we get here?

A former Facebook employee Frances Haugen turned whistleblower is now (as of today 15-10-2021) giving testimony to Congress about how the company operates. The British parliament is also very keen to talk to her. Mark Zuckerberg and Nick Clegg have complained that she has only presented a partial view of the company, whereas they want to stop any insights into how the company manages harmful content to get into the public domain unless they have personally approved them. Harmful content is the bread and butter of social media in case you did not already know. Where we have outsourced part of our brain to electronic devices.

We all hope that this is a cyclical thing, and we’ll work our way through it, and everyone will realize that we operate on a very broad spectrum, and we mustn’t diminish our abilities to think from different perspectives. Institutions are not spineless - it's the governance & leadership elites who are too busy virtue signaling to each other to realize how useless they seem to be. Here is another anecdote - a football ground screen advertisement board had this caption splashed all over it - "the act of taking the knee is a matter for the individual and should be respected". It ended with "Anyone who doesn't agree is not welcome". Spineless Institutions will always exacerbate the problem. We have now come to a situation where those who are quite able to express an opinion are those who are not scared of losing their job. Think about it for a minute. On second thought, take as much time as you want. What a pity we now have a situation where good people are full of hesitancy and outright fear of doing the right thing while bigots are brimming over with confidence. Empowering the lowest form of human life will not get us anywhere but dystopia. They are balkanizing society systematically with manipulative algorithms that split us into separate nuclear bunkers, nurturing a conspiracy universe among the ‘basket of deplorables’ on the one side, while nurturing the pathological grievances of identity politics on the other. This is the status quo of all social media as we know it today.

As we are now very aware, the internet isn't the large-scale distributed network that DARPA (the Défense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the original architects of the internet, tried to create, which could withstand a nuclear strike on any part of it. The aforementioned recent outage is a case in point. The protocols it uses today are the same ones that were drafted when we connected to mainframe computers from dumb terminals. A single glitch in its core infrastructure brings the whole thing crashing down. This is the juncture where there should be a political will to interfere with the infrastructure to make it more resilient. In so doing, the government can take the upper hand and bring in some legislation on how social media operates. Breaking the current state and power of the Oligopolies - Facebook (Instagram and WhatsApp), Twitter and Google (YouTube). The sooner the better for mankind. Here is a sober thought - if that recent outage lasted for a day, a week, a month, maybe a year what would the repercussions be? Maybe normality will ensue, and we will all breathe fresh air again, talk to our real families and friends, and maybe just maybe use the phone to talk to someone we can't physically reach. There is seemingly almost nothing good to say about Facebook if a conclusion were to be drawn from the recent testimony given by former employer Frances Haugen in Washington DC and London respectively. Profit for the company though seems to defy all reasonable logic as evidenced in the company's stock price recently.

There is though, an existential threat just lurking around the corner as revealed by the Facebook files. These show the extent to which the company is losing traction with young people. Its user base is aging and the kids that Facebook needs to engage if it wants to remain relevant think the platform is “boring, misleading and negative”. What’s more, internal documents don’t seem particularly optimistic that the company can turn this around easily. Facebook may be performing well financially for the moment, but its continued success is far from a given. The writing may just be on the wall albeit faintly - it is still fresh. And just in case it slipped your attention, the rebranding to Metaverse is a clue. It is just another step away from interaction with real people. Just like its current configuration, this one has far more potential to endanger society. When we make the virtual world seem better than the real thing, the implications are huge. The only way to protect ourselves against the damage caused by Facebook et al is to start relying on other information sources for joy and edification.

One thing we have all learned invariably and to some extent, sometimes to our amusement and sometimes to our horror is the desire for humans to have their biases and prejudices confirmed. These platforms not only amplify it but to a degree, no other medium has done or can do. It is inherent in their design as so many whistle-blowers have testified their AI algorithm notwithstanding.

And here is the sine qua non - all social media influencers to get a real job for once - I digress.

Concentration – The absence of irrelevant thought. How we need that now so desperately.

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