I got caught up in food waste this morning and completely forgot what I was going to blog about. It was this; last night I finished watching a deeply disturbing but thoroughly convincing documentary about the negative effects of social media and how its monetisation brings about a profound disharmony in society. We all know about echo chambers but I tended to think it was because birds of a feather flock together, because you’re more likely to have friends who agree with you and they suggest more friends who have the same world view, and so on. But it goes way beyond that; Facebook’s algorithms are like currents which push people together by suggesting products, stories, groups and people which are likely to reinforce your world view. All manner of things result from this, such as the manufacturing of outrage (I think it was the perpetual raising of my blood pressure which finally convinced me to stay off the pernicious blue pages) which has got so bad it’s become like the two minute hate. But unlike 1984 this all seems to be coming from the free and open dissemination of information by individual citizens. It ain’t. It’s coming from advertisers.
The effect on politics is devastating. There’s little or no nuance any more: TV and radio debates are basically boxing matches where people shout ‘boo’ words and ‘hurrah’ words and try to signal that they are on the right side and their opponents are villains. There’s always been some of this, especially in party politics, but it’s now far worse, since as the documentary says, ‘we don’t talk to each other any more.’ I’m as guilty of this as anyone, which is why I’m staying off Facebook.
Perhaps the most insidious thing that the endless blue pages do is to hook you back in. If you spend too much time away, it’ll wow you with notifications and suggestions; it’ll tell you someone has messaged you when they haven’t (see yesterday’s post) and when you look to check, there are all your other notifications, along with suggestions, friend requests, videos and – ‘oh, we care about you and your memories. Take a look at this photo from ten years ago.’ Aaaand – you’re back. I have found it extraordinarily difficult to stay off Facebook. Of course I could delete my account altogether but then I lose one of the platforms for this blog, I lose updates about local events – and most importantly, I lose a free and instantaneous way of communicating with my friends. So I’m hovering around the edges, dipping a toe in now and again and trying to stay clear. But I can testify that social media is very addictive. It appears to give you everything but in fact gives you nothing. So every time I’m tempted I keep repeating this mantra:
If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.
And here’s the documentary.