Big Brother: How Social Media Is Running And Ruining Our Lives

by Thai Nguyen

Are you wearing that shirt because you chose to wear it?

Recent studies have shown that the average American spends 11 hours per day on digital devices. The mass exposure to media has alarmed researchers, highlighting the strong link between media influence and cognitive decision-making skills.

Indeed, the effects of media advertising and subliminal messaging have been discussed for years, but recent algorithm tweaks on Facebook and Twitter have thrown the issue into the spotlight.

The Facebook controversy a few months ago highlighted the subconscious manipulation to which we’re all exposed. Facebook data scientists changed the algorithms 689,003 users' newsfeeds, shifting from solely positive posts, to negative posts and then tracking status updates.

The modifications showed that Facebook was able to change the emotional responses from users, depending on what they chose to allow on the newsfeed.

“When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred,” wrote Adam Kramer, one of the data scientists.

Not surprisingly, Facebook received plenty of criticism and outrage from users unappreciative of their newsfeeds being modified and their emotions messed with. It caused Kramer to post a public apology to users.

However, he stopped short of taking full responsibility, reminding users of what they agree to when they open an account. The experiment, he said, “was consistent with Facebook's Data Use Policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook.”

Along with Twitter, it’s becoming more clear to users that newsfeeds are modified to favor shareholders rather than users. But we shouldn’t be too surprised; after all, Facebook and Twitter are businesses best described as ad-driven networks that are modeled as social media platforms.

With statistics showing that 71 percent of consumers make purchases based on social media advertisements, what appears in our newsfeeds suddenly becomes quite significant. When that’s manipulated, the lines of decision making become blurred.

The issue has caused the American Psychology Association to create a Media Psychology Division to study the links between media, the brain and human behavior. MRI scans are being used to determine the connection between media exposure and the neural pathways of our decision making.

The concerns and manipulation have prompted Paul Budnitz to launch Ello, which aims to be an ad-free social media platform.

Their recent launch has created a buzz, but has also prompted suspicion and speculation that their growing user base will eventually force them to become another ad-driven network.

But, Bunditz pointed out in a statement outlining Ello’s intentions,

On an ad-driven social network, the advertiser is the customer and you’re the product that’s bought and sold. To ensure in the strongest possible way that Ello stays focused on its mission to be a different kind of social network, Ello has converted to a State of Delaware Public Benefit Corporation (PBC).

And according to Ello’s PBC’s charter, they will not enter an agreement to display paid advertising on behalf of a third party.

It’s part of his broader vision and battle against our culture’s manipulation, rather than authenticity and independence. Ello is building that vision through partnering and supporting people and things, like independent artists and clothing labels.

It's an encouraging alternative for those who realize you relinquish control of every bit of content you place on Facebook and Twitter, and that anything you share becomes data collection to leverage by advertising agencies, regurgitated in the form of ad posts.

It’s all a good reminder to become more conscious and aware of what our minds are exposed to. We must be aware that what we see influences us more than we realize and often manifests in behaviors of which we’re not totally conscious.