Where our social media data is going, who is using it and what it is used for has become a popular topic.
But regardless of whether your personal information is being leaked. Who can view your profile. Or what other secrets lie behind social platforms that stop social media giants from using them as intended. There is an equally concerning aspect affecting those who use any form of social media.
Our Society has Become Addicted
This statement alone does not come as a shock. Many of us are very much aware of our addictions to social media. But we remain wilfully blind to the issue. With each click, like, and share we feel connected, included, and even loved. It enables us to reach loved ones, near and far.
But self-induced addiction, whether that’s to drugs, X-box or Marmite, is very different from being conditioned to become addicted. So, when we realised how social platforms use neurotransmitters to elicit addictive behaviour, we began to question our lifestyle choices.
Pain v Pleasure
Just like pain, pleasure can be harnessed and used as a means of control. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that sends pleasure signals via a chemical release of nerve cells in the brain. It his harnessed via a form of ‘dopamine-driven feedback loops’ (Chamath Palihapitiya). These feedback loops provide us with little happiness boosts whenever we share or receive a like/love/share. This, however, is a form of operant conditioning (B.F. Skinner). In this case, operant conditioning is where an association is made with receiving a like on Facebook, and feeling good.
The more we share and receive, the more we feel good. The more we repeat the process, the more addicted we become. In moderation, this use of dopamine is fine. But the results are far from harmless when a person becomes addicted or dependant.
Addictions can change the way our brains work.
‘First by subverting the way it registers pleasure and then by corrupting other normal drives
such as learning and motivation’ (Harvard Mental Health Letter).
An addict will also associate a like with value. So, the more likes/shares they receive, the more valued they feel. Typically, the more valued a social media addict feels, the more they value themselves.
A need for continual validation and comparison with others has become a substantial part of our modern life. According to Facebook’s former vice president, Palihapitiya, it has
“Eroded the core foundations of how people behave by and between others [in exchange for a]
fake brittle popularity that’s short-term and leaves you even more vacant and empty”
Social Media Ripping Apart Society
He goes on to argue that the inventors and possessors of such platforms, “created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works”. But because you have become addicted, and because it is not something that you ingest or inject, you don’t realise how bad it is for you.
Some of us become aware of the implications and side effects of the addiction and cutback. Some stop altogether. Others may continue to spiral. While frequent shots of happiness are greeted in the short term, emptiness will meet them in the long-run.
It is, however, easier to quit something that is an addition to your life, than something you have always known. Facebook’s Messenger for Kids was created to safeguard children from harmful actions that take place online. But it can be argued that such a platform is also a means to further addict children to social media, and keep them addicted well into adulthood.
By creating an addictive society from infancy, these children are “programmed” differently to previous generations. Furthermore, the use of dopamine changes the way children are motivated and learn by. In todays world children are rewarded and encouraged, via likes and shares, for some of the worse human impulses. These include vanity, material and monetary worth and hatred/prejudice towards others. Whats more, children can say what they want, when they want, to who they want from the comfort of their bedroom.
The psychological effects this has is tenfold. If a child is fully aware of how easy it is to spread hate with few repercussions, their mindset of the world will be skewed. If they constantly see political animosity on Twitter, celebrity fat-shaming on Facebook, and only “Instagram-worthy” bodies on their phones, how are they meant to not follow in the same vain. This is their norm.
No wonder there has been a significant rise in teenage suicide connected to social media in recent years.
Data, however, is valuable. Social media corporations are swimming in information that can be used to their advantage.
One story tells of how a post was made stating something along the lines of ‘oh my first pet was called Molly, how I miss her, what was your first pets name?’. This got a lot of people reminiscing about their first pets. Conversations began on this thread, naming pets and the stories they had. Completely blind to the fact they had just handed over a security question for their bank accounts.
It is hoped that this article has highlighted how social media can exploit people, their minds and their privacy. Regardless of what you decide, while dopamine may affect your ability to put down your phone, it does not decide what to post. Only you have control of that.
Post wisely. Think about the effects your words may have on others before hitting send.
Yes, there is a great deal of irony that this message has been shared on social media. But perhaps the greatest advantage of an addictive society, is that messages like this can be posted and seen.