Decoding the Dark, Perilous World of Social Media and What We Should Do About It

Seeing The Social Dilemma on Netflix, you can’t help but be driven to think and be overwhelmed with a familiar, but shocking wave of presented information, all the same. The documentary vividly depicts a picture of how social media’s business model affects (or has long been affecting) societal pressures, political campaigns, and more importantly, and indiscriminately, the people’s collective psyche.

It’s brought to light gripping new insight to a familiar topic and touch on one of the most significant advancements of all-time—social media. If the gripping docu-drama didn’t make you revisit your privacy and notification settings on your phone or reassess your multiple devices’ screen time reports, it would suffice to say that nothing will. 

The Philippines being the social media capital of the world, rushed into that culture of Facebook unquestioningly assimilating it—propaganda, bullying, and misinformation are one of which that’s rampant especially in the context of political discourse and pandemic situation. This is actually far bigger and more complicated than what was briefly mentioned.

Social media weaponization is an extremely complex problem, Heinz College professor Ari Lightman says. He added that data for policy decisions and data for business value are getting intertwined. Lightman teaches several courses that focus on understanding and harnessing the power of social media data. But telling people to delete Facebook won’t fix political polarization. It’s difficult to understand why social media platforms do little, if anything, to stop the trolling campaigns. Populist leaders have a cult following and an army of trolls to defend them and threaten democracy, using social media as a handy tool for them to spew their never-ending meme-driven propaganda campaign that’s easier to share and harder to police.

“We know we were too idealistic about the nature of these connections and didn’t focus enough on preventing abuse or thinking through all the ways people could use the tools on the platform to do harm.” a Facebook spokesperson said. The general idea behind the social media trolling campaigns is to give the target the impression that swelling public indignation exists about his or her work and views, but also to drown out the target’s voice with the howling of thousands of digital voices. But why does this still keep happening?

It has become clearer that no matter how progressive we think our arguments and discussions online are, social media is inclined to reinforcing echo chambers. This is what makes us get hooked on a social media platform. For example, when you see someone post an opinion you don’t agree with, you block them. Your political opinion and views are pieces of data, which then get collected and stored on views and preferences—resulting in being sorted into like-minded communities and hears only like-minded views.

This is good at some point, but what happens is that when we ourselves are stuck in our own “social media bubble”, we fail to move the conversation forward and address the problem to people that actually need to hear them. According to legal scholar and behavioral economist Cass Sunstein, the main cause of polarization is that internet technologies have made the world such that people don’t really run into the other side anymore, which makes it more divisive.

Yes, these platforms have a key role in amplifying hate and disinformation—algorithms/profit motives twist and exploit social good movements. Unless propagandists and misinformation peddlers are held accountable in their own right, and not dismissed as byproducts of how bad social media’s algorithm is. What we see online, in media, and in politics will continue to be shaped by them.