We need to rethink our relationship with Social Media

Scrolling through my Facebook feed I get drawn into an article from a minor media outlet with an all too familiar clickbait title. These clickbait titles seem to be the norm nowadays; not designed to be factually truthful but instead designed to be shocking or divisive.

There is something about the human brain that craves these clickbait titles and the media outlets know this all too well. They keep using them, despite the fact that they represent the worse type of journalism possible. The game in online journalism now days is to get clicks; just get people onto your website page so you can show them ads, that's it. The article itself doesn’t matter, the content doesn’t need to represent good writing or even be a worthwhile story; just get people onto the page and increase the hit rate.

The maybe not so intended consequences of this are the dozens of comments that appear on the Facebook feed item. The handful of people that seem to always appear throwing around hurtful comments to each other and generally being negative about whatever is in the article. The things that people argue about astound me; the arguments that people come up with that are so matter of fact that you would believe they had a Phd in the subject. The sad truth is that most of these commenters suffer from the Dunning Kruger effect, believing they have all the answers when in fact they have a very narrow, one sided view of the subject.

Facebook and Instagram can be useful tools if used carefully. I personally use them to document my life with pictures which allows others to see that document so they can either be interested in what I am doing or potentially be inspired by something. I know other peoples posts sometimes inspire me. The problem is my Facebook feed isn’t just a list of my friends posts, it’s a list of my friends posts mixed in with clickbait articles and advertisements. Every page I follow can place a post in my feed to potentially direct me to their website. It’s in Facebooks favour to promote these posts over your mates because they pay advertisement dollars, well that's their whole business model right?

One of the key technologies that was a revelation for Social media platforms is the infinite scrolling technique invented by Aza Raskin. Infinite scrolling is designed to keep you on the site, and it works, extremely well. So good in fact that Aza Raskin personally apologised for it . When you combine infinite scrolling with clickbait articles you get the perfect technology to keep people clicking on articles and generating advertising revenue.

Now comes the scary bit. I recently watched the new docu-series on Channel 4 called Undeclared War. It depicts Russian hackers taking over profiles or inventing fake ones to stoke up arguments and conversations online with the intention on causing divisive conversations in the comment sections of social media platforms, essentially causing civil unrest within a country by playing on political divides.

We know this happens in real life and we know it influenced the 2016 US election. As I sat there watching a TV series depict this, I wondered why we all still engage in these social media platforms in the same way. I mean we know that there are millions of fake profiles just floating around causing arguments everywhere. Recently Elon Musk pulled out of purchasing Twitter because the social media platform couldn’t provide enough evidence that they have dealt with the fake profile problem. The reason Twitter can’t provide Musk with the information he needs is because they probably haven’t got a clue how to.

The information is sitting there right in front of us. Engaging on these platforms is no longer productive. There is no constructive conversation to be had on these platforms anymore. Anyway who knows who you are talking to? There is a high percentage that the other “person” is just there to argue for the sake of arguing, whether that's the bored keyboard warrior with nothing else to do or a twitter bot designed to cause division. The rest are just people who now have a platform for their uninformed opinions.

It’s no coincidence that as more of these conversations are happening online and on social media platforms, the more the level of division along political lines and viewpoints has increased. The level of polarisation within countries seems to be hitting an all time high. This is a worldwide thing and there is nothing more global and connected than the internet.

I think it’s time we started treating these platforms with the care they deserve. They ability to spread hate, fear and division has become easier than ever before, the ease of which entities can influence the masses through these platforms has become one of the biggest threats to society as we know it.

Internet forums have been about long before social media, but the difference was that people knew what they were engaging with back then; they knew people could potentially be out to cause trouble hiding behind an anonymous handle. We went into conversations with our eyes open and immediately identified the trolls. The popularisation of Facebook was on the back of the fact that everyone was real, every profile was supposed to be a real person with their real name. We now know that not to be the case, but it’s too late as the mindset has shifted away from suspicion. It’s easier than ever to pull the wool over people eyes. Social media now looks too much like real life which couldn’t be further from the truth.

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Lee Dale

Lee Dale

I am a lead software developer/cloud architect who has been designing and building software solutions professionally for the last twenty years.