“…The so-called ‘openness’ and ‘freedom’ of social networks are, in fact, neither open nor free. Instead, they are used by businesses and political operatives to collect data from users, manage and manipulate the flow of information, and influence voters and consumers. (Karin Zotzmann and Ivaylo Vassilev, on their editorial and introduction to Margaret Archer’s article in Journal of Critical Realism, Volume 19, Number 4, https://doi.org/10.1080/14767430.2020.1805278)
The US and Philippine elections demonstrated how social media platforms can spawn echo chambers, trolls, and even fake news to influence user behavior. When Facebook and other social media platforms began to spread in the early 2010s, the world initially felt hopeful. After all, social media can be a platform for networking and exchanging information. This could democratize content access and creation for anyone with the internet. It felt like a new world where everyone could harmonize with each other.
But what happened?
The research editorial I shared above provided some clues about the state of our society and politics right now. What struck me was how social media is actually and practically structured. Social media platforms facilitate knee-jerk reactions – a share or retweet is just a click away. For example, Facebook’s psychological experiments have been discovered and documented, and we need to be aware of the forces that can unconsciously affect our thoughts, emotions, and actions.
This poses a problem because the ideals of democracy or even just the framing of love as authentic decision and action assume a person’s agency for self-determination and authenticity. If we are not attentive or aware of how social media can manipulate our views, we become unconsciously inauthentic; and worse, love and democracy become distant concepts subject to the whims of the powers that be.
In this world of instant gratification, impulses and hedonism, perhaps the principle that citizens, businesses and society should practice is temperance or restraint. Perhaps the tragedy is that companies have mastered the art of massive, targeted influence and effective user experience testing. Yet we may be turning social media into a Frankenstein we can no longer tame or control.
So the impetus for the individual citizen, consumer, or manager is to pay close attention to these structures before succumbing to our misguided impulses.
Do not react instantly to the message because our intuitions can easily be played with.
Do not instantly share posts because our minds can fall into thinking and logical traps.
In fact, read the long versions, not just the excerpts and comments from a popular article.
If we really want social media to be for love and democracy, we should refuse to be spoon-fed and reclaim our agency.
Or, we’ll all just be the trolls we pretend to despise.
The author is an assistant professor in the Department of Management and Organization at the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business at De La Salle University. He is currently vice president of the department. It teaches management principles, research methods, and action research in the undergraduate curriculum while advocating for integral human development, qualitative research, and the appropriate interpretation of statistics in management education. He also champions social entrepreneurship as head of the Center for Business Research and Development’s Social Enterprise Research Network (CBRD-SERN). He can be reached at [email protected]
The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the DLSU, its faculty and trustees.