It's beginning to look a lot like a ‘Black Mirror’ episode
Our social reality today feels much like a Black Mirror episode. Heard that before? Of course you did. Who are you, btw? A ‘like’ generator, a number in a targeting/retargeting strategy, a user of the mighty Internet, a scroller; most certainly a member of a community that shares your beliefs and mostly what you want to hear; an influenceable behaviour in the most literal way. Fortunately or not, this is our society and perhaps also our dysfunctional way of being and surviving in a digital world.
Recent events raised many more questions about shared content on social media. We’ve heard conflicting opinions about the disruptive effects of technologies and in particular social media platforms.
Taking ad litteram what breaths out of that Netflix documentary - ‘The social dilemma’, all platforms are acting as a drug and immediate measures should have been taken ‘yesterday’.
Assuming that little over 4 billion people across the planet are using social media, imagine more than half of the total global population going on detox. Not painting a beautiful picture here, right? It might as well become a scenario where we could eventually conclude that the world outside those tiny screens (btw, we still call it ‘reality’) no longer corresponds to our expectations. It seems scary now, as we move forward and come to the conclusion that technology has evolved too fast while we still mistakenly assumed we have full control over the situation.
WYSIATI - What You See Is All There Is
What not to expect while reading the following lines:
no philosophical-wanna-be treatise about where we’re heading. I don’t have and most importantly, I don’t claim to have clairvoyant superpowers. For what it takes, these following lines are written as a quick reaction after watching ‘The Social Dilemma’ and while reading ‘Antifragile’, so blame those two if my ideas seem absurd.
no biased conclusions just because I love working in digital communication and sometimes I naively pretend I understand its potential benefits.
We grow old, children grow digitally
So let’s talk about the first elephant in the room - Kids and social media. We hear a lot today about damaged teenagers, generation Z living in a parallel world where hedonism and personal comfort prevail over reality; children consuming digital content over breakfast, lunch, dinner and even during snack break. Yes, the same children capable of having over 10k followers online and not a single real friend…
We listen to concerned parents, policy makers and even socially responsible CEOs talking about how social media exposure can irreversibly damage teenage life. As far as I know, social media studies are still relative new to us, so conclusive findings are limited. As far as I remember, each young generation fought its own ‘curse’ - being different from the older generation. We shouldn’t rule out the potential of the new generation to build a strong voice, even if this is likely to speak a ‘digital language’. One thing I am certain of: we’re growing old while children are growing ‘digitally’. Looking at the rushed pace technology is evolving at, we might as well embrace the idea that future looks scary digital.
While assuming we will all be a part of this future for a long time, I believe it’s in everyone’s best interest to make sure we learn how to protect ourselves and teach our children how to use this power easily handed over to them. That being said, ruling out social media doesn’t seem like a viable solution. But we probably stand a chance if we do a better job educating people how to correctly use all these digital tools they have access to.
Just asking: How many of you, daily digital content consumers, stumbled during your e-journey upon guides explaining how to use social networks? It’s so easy to create an e-id and manage an account, no one actually cares. Since social platforms will be here for a long time, one scroll away, shouldn’t we take action now and learn some very basic ‘social aikido’ moves? Not pointing fingers, but I guess we all agree that family and school probably get leading roles in this scenario.
2nd elephant in the room: Disinformation
Often we complain about how people with questionable intentions troll the internet with fake news, knocking down the confidence bridge with every click collected; building up a world of war, nurturing the soap opera generated by the conspiracy theory. Look around! One year since we went on lock-down, Covid is still a fabricated threat and wearing the mask correctly is an assault to your freedom.
We live in a world where doubt reigns. And social media (to my disappointment) has a huge contribution! What was once built to help people connect and enhance our contacts, has now the potential to turn our future into a dystopia where fear will have conquered the world.
Yet, social media is just the environment, the means transferring information. Behind algorithms and fake news are people misusing digital instruments and plotting an information war. They’re probably the same people that once dreamt of conquering the world. History repeating, but this time controlling a country is possible without even having to cross its borders with armed forces.
Where am I trying to get here? We lost the control we probably never had. As long as there’s freedom of speech, there will be a an ocean of information. How we make sure we’re not exposing ourselves to altered media? Once again, the word that comes to my mind is ‘E-du-ca-tion’ (somehow Bono’s ‘Elevation’ is ‘ear worming’ me now, if that’s even an accepted verb).
Teaching people to refer to reliable sources and to double-check the facts, in particular the so-called ‘Exclusive’ click baits, could be a valid starting point. Reporting accounts spreading fake news is always an option, a temporary one at least. As social media is typically cheaper than the mainstream media, it’s most likely the first channel to propagate fake news.
Education can lead you so far, but it wouldn’t eventually win a long battle. Not to mention, double-checking our sources of information wandering the tangled world of social platforms is time-consuming. In my utopia, we already have in place a certified system of labelling altered media, so people can understand the risks they’re exposing to when accepting to read content.
Mean ways to fight back disinformation in the meantime
Back to reality, there goes gravity! And here comes the next question: How do we fight back disinformation? There’s an information battle and it looks like one side is playing pettily. By the time we set up a crisis communication and validate all steps to neutralise them, fake news will have already reached a considerable number of Internet users.
Of course, as an institution, your priority is serving people in the most responsible way. Therefore, hiring an army of ‘fairy’-trolls to spread the correct facts shared by reliable sources seems unachievable at this point. This only leaves us to the mercy of ‘targeted’ content and digital marketing tools. Yes, mostly I’m referring to paid content, the same probably used by generators of alter media to reach an influenceable audience and to amplify their messages.
Let’s assume you’re following several online publication on social media. And now imagine tomorrow you receive a sponsored Facebook ad from public authorities informing you there’s a recently launched platform where you can check the reliability of your information sources. Why advertise it on social media? Because that is where your weekly Screen Time notification confirms you’re spending a significant part of your day.
Three main ideas extracted from these paragraphs. One might ask eventually why bother writing all this text…I’m asking myself the same question, but for the sake of wasting my time, I might as well keep it in long format.
When we are young, but also throughout our adult life, we are taught different skills to help us be prepared for whatever the future might throw at us. We know technology will continue rushing us towards the digital transformation. It is our choice if and probably more important ‘how’ we want to help people go through it.
Similar to going to the supermarket, where you read the food labelling and consequently select your products, the publications get certification according to the reliability of the information shared.
If fake news and altered media is shared mostly on social media platforms and through massive attacks of digestible information, a fair reaction would be at least an equally sized effort from the most trusted news and information sources. As much as quality of content is essential, one cannot rule out the importance of the outreach.