Social Media: Having it Both Ways

Social media is a strange beast. The decision to finally expel DJ Trump off of Facebook and Twitter was long overdue.

However, social media companies like to have it both ways. On the one hand, they are fond of advertising their platforms as “digital town squares.” As I wrote about last week, places where people can come together (digitally) to converse and discuss. To hear different and opposing view points.

In reality, many (if not all) social media companies use a lot of behind the scenes algorithms to customize your view. Often this customization displays things the company thinks you will like. Or things that will grab your attention. This results in you clicking on more things. The ultimate goal is to have you spend more time on the site.

However, in some cases, this means users only see more of the same. Exposure to varied or opposing viewpoints is limited, or non-existent. This means followers of groups like QAnon, for example, only see what this group posts. It also means many people “game the system” by posting sensational, catchy, and exaggerated content to make it to the top of the feed chain.

Even though social media likes to present itself as an outlet for free speech (a defender even!), communication, and a digital gathering spot, this isn’t how it works for some users. In some instances, users’ feeds only show a narrow viewpoint of the world and their interests. Narrow, as compared to the wealth of information options available just a short click away on any social media platform.

This is not by accident either. These companies invest serious money into ways to hold us captive on their sites. To ensure we become addicted and dependent on a particular site or service. Our attention is a premium.

Over the summer I listened to a great podcast from the NYTimes called “Rabbit Hole.” The podcast chronicles the transformation of a man who ends up as a right-wing enthusiast literally from watching YouTube videos. It becomes an addiction. By the end of the podcast series, he converts to the left. Somehow he discovered YouTube videos featuring a different viewpoint that seduced him to the other side.

In summary, we are still living in a man’s world. A world where white men with too much power and hubris make critical decisions. Decisions that the rest of us have to live with.

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