A Reflection on the Influence of Social Media

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This time I won’t write about technology or food. I still develop and I still eat, but there’s something else that itches me more.

I was born in the early 90’s, which means I still remember a small part of my childhood when there was no commonly used internet. Then, in a very short period, there was a huge revolution in that area. I don’t think we can grasp how big the revolution was as we are still in it and it is still happening. 

I’m talking about the Information Revolution. Every little piece of knowledge and information is now at the reach of our hands, literally. 

Then, and as part of, came the Social Media applications. Facebook, X (Twitter), Instagram, Tik Tok and others. I still remember when Facebook just came out, I could talk to friends in other countries, share what I’m doing and see what my friends were doing. It was naive and purely good.

Somewhere it got derailed. I’m not saying it got evil, the platform is the same platform. But that’s what it is, a platform. Facebook (as well as the others) quickly realized that the real money comes from advertising. They didn’t invent it, Google was one of the first companies to use Advertising as its main business.

You can argue that’s a win-win situation. I, the user, can use the platform for free and the platform gets paid. Everyone wins!

Well, no. The platform surely wins, as the old Vegas saying “The house always wins”. The advertisers pay and get their return of investment. But have you stopped to think, why do the advertisers want to pay?

Many articles and even lawsuits have been written on how much these platforms know about their users. How they spy on them and make a profile on them. Why do they need to? So that the Ads are more accurate. Why do they care? So that the advertisers will pay more.

Let’s break this down.

As an advertiser I want my product to be bought -> I want users to see my product -> I want my Ad to reach as many and accurate people. It’s that simple. The chance of an Ad being clicked grows as more users see it. Moreover, if the targeting is accurate, the chance grows even more.

Alright, but I guess you already knew this. What’s so bad about seeing an advertisement once in a while? Even more, how much do I really care if the advertisements are accurate to me? I’m already seeing them so maybe it’s better if they could help me.

Don’t you get the feeling that you are trapped? You open your phone, click on the app’s icon and puff, an hour has gone without you noticing.

As I said, the more people see the Ads, the better for the advertisers and the platform. In order for people to see the Ads, they need to be in the App. The more you are in the App, the more Ads you see. It’s really that simple.

Eventually, the platform wants you to stay in it. Needs you to stay in it. You are responsible for the platforms’ earnings. Not by a monthly fee, but by a minute-per-minute fee of scrolling in the App.

Now it’s easy to understand why an app would want to invest so much in the sole purpose to hook you in it. There are engineers whose sole purpose is to get you more hooked, more invested, more attracted. Another 15 minutes, one more minute, just the next post, etc, etc…

I recommend reading about this in Johann Hari’s Stolen Focus, Nir Eyal’s Hooked and Indistractable, and many more books and articles written on this.

Why do I have the urge to write this? I’m Jewish and Israeli. On October 7th 2023 we experienced the largest and cruelest attack since War World II. Its sole purpose was to kill as many Israelis as possible, and it didn’t matter how. 

I don’t intend on talking about right and wrong, justice or punishment. It’s far more complicated for this simple post. I wanted to talk about the influence of Social Media on society, and I see it on a large scale since the attack.

I see tweets on X that are just fake: they later apologize or write some comment that it’s fake, but the post has already been spread and millions of people have already been “informed”.

I see tweets and posts and images calling for killing all Jews but when asked how many Jews there are, they don’t even know. 

I see people calling for freeing Palestine, without knowing where it is and from whom it needs freedom. People are brainwashed, there’s no other word for it. Surely, I’m too. The difference is that I don’t go out and call for killing all Muslims or Christians (or anybody in fact).

We as a society are too weak. We do not know how to handle this much information in such a short time window. We take written tweets and posts as facts until proven otherwise when we should do the opposite. We get opinions from our idols as facts and it doesn’t matter what’s their knowledge, it only matters how many followers they have.

I would argue that nowadays the truth is irrelevant. The platform will help you reach as many users as possible because it serves its interest. You will get instant satisfaction from the likes and comments you receive, and you’ll even get paid from that platform! What does it matter if you spoke truth or lies?

In an era where I can ask an AI to create an image that’s almost indistinguishable from a real picture, what is the truth? How can we prove what’s true and what’s not? Does it even matter?

Who is a credible source? When the News and journalists are struggling to get ratings because Social Media is more direct and reachable, how can we expect them to fact check everything they inform? No doubt they’ll get it wrong from time to time.

We see people rallying all around the world about a cause I don’t think the majority of them understand how complicated it is and if they are really on the side they would want to be.

There has to be a time when we wake up. We must see what we’ve done and realize something has to change. I have no choice but to be optimistic, there is no other way.

Think of this the next time you open an App. Think, maybe the situation is much more complicated than “they are right” or “they are wrong”. You like and share matters. You are helping spread something you might not really want to.

Thanks for reading.

Comments: 2

  1. Brian says:

    Very interesting post.
    For sure we are in a critical point in how we as society (and even more as developers) can help to decrease the huge spread of fake-news and raise the awareness of how inaccurate information spread can have huge impact that we aren’t aware of.

  2. Mati says:

    So true! Thanks Javi.

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