It’s a classic story that’s been told throughout the ages. Something new appears. It’s quite harmless. Beneficial, in fact. Everyone says how good it is, how it enriches the lives of all. Nobody could possibly fault it. But yet…
Before anyone knows it, this new thing, this wonderful development, whatever it is, has entrenched itself in society, in the community that it has invaded, or in the minds of the people affected by it.
It’s most often to be found in the realms of Science Fiction, where the origin of the new being, or machine, lies in outer space, somewhere out there that no-one knows much about. In a place where human imagination can run riot with the possibilities, and the potential for good – and evil – are almost limitless.
The next stage, as if you haven’t guessed it, is that this wonderful, beneficial thing has become a monster that threatens the very existence of all who originally welcomed it with open arms. The hero then steps in to engage this demon in mortal combat. The compelling story then unfolds, where, against all odds, the hero emerges triumphant and the evil, murderous creature from the black lagoon, or wherever, is vanquished, much to the relief of all.
Is Social Media such a monster? Let’s see how it fits into the classic story as I’ve just outlined it.
Facebook was first to become really big. First, it had millions using its platform, then tens of millions, then…. everyone, but everyone had a Facebook page.
Everybody welcomed this development, as they would. Now people could communicate with their friends in a way not possible with email, or even texts. Photos, and later videos, could be uploaded and shared, and occasionally some would go “viral”, being viewed by millions.
Others followed – Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google +. I’ve probably missed one or two out. Soon the whole world was using at least a couple of these new platforms for communication. It was wonderful. Well over half of the world’s entire population was on Facebook alone.
It wasn’t long, though, before misgivings began to surface about this eerie new phenomenon. A few lonely voices were raised. But nobody listened. They were too busy enjoying themselves at the party. Wasn’t it great that these new entities were so kind and generous, extending to all the ability to like other people they’d never actually met, and to be liked by millions of other faceless individuals?
But these misgivings wouldn’t go away. Facebook was said to be collecting data about what its users were doing online. Sure, the company said. They only used this data in order to help advertisers more accurately target potential customers. You wouldn’t want to be bombarded with ads for something you’d never be remotely interested in, would you?
But it went deeper than that. Facebook was keeping records of all kinds of things relating to their users. Google was recording all searches made on its wonderful search engine and building profiles of everyone on the planet, thanks to its ability to trace the IP address of everyone who used it.
And if you’d bought the really useful little gadget from Amazon – Echo, Alexa, whatever it’s called where you are – you’d find it can answer almost any question you ask it, and in a voice that’s almost human. All you had to do was trigger it by calling out its name. It would respond. So it listened out for its name, but how much else was it listening to? Ordinary conversation? Conversation that contains certain words? Was that being recorded and filed away somewhere? Nobody knew for certain.
The wonderful, beneficial newcomer, that everyone loved, had turned into a monster, yet hardly anyone had noticed. Just a tiny few, as usual. Now we had some of the people who were closely involved in the development of Facebook but had since left the company, shouting a warning. Well, better late than never, unless it was all too, too late.
They were telling us that Social Media was destroying how society works. “Bad actresses can now manipulate large swathes of people to do anything they want”…”The initial goal is to get people hooked”…”You don’t realize it, but you are being programmed”…
And you have been warned.
The information for this post has been largely taken from the YouTube video embedded below. While doubtless you will find the presenters rather unpalatable, it has to be said that what they are saying has a profound ring of unpleasant truth.