This is from Jaron Lanier, computer philosophy writer, on the dangers of social media. More on Jaron Lanier here.
One of them is for your own good and the other is for society’s good. It’s because you’re being suddenly manipulated by algorithms that are watching everything you do constantly and then sending you changes in your media feed and your diet that are calculated to adjust you slightly to the liking of some unseen advertiser.
And so if you get off that you can have a chance to experience a clear view of yourself and your life, but then the reason for society might be even more important. Society has been gradually darkened by this scheme in which everyone is under surveillance all the time and everyone is under this mild version of behavior modification all the time.
It’s made people jittery and cranky. It’s made teens especially depressed, which can be quite severe, but it’s made our politics kind of unreal and strange where we’re not sure if elections are real anymore. We’re not sure how much the Russians affected Brexit. We do know that it was a crankier affair than it might have been otherwise.
INTERVIEWER: You say it’s not for me as an individual, is it bad for me because I’m addicted. Have I become chemically hooked?
You have, the founders of the great silicon valley spying empires like Facebook have publicly declared that they intentionally included addictive schemes in their designs.
Now we have to say this is what I would call almost a stealthy addiction. It’s, it’s a statistical addiction. What it says is we will get the broad population to use the services a lot. We’ll get them hooked through a scheme of rewards and punishment, and the rewards are when you’re retweeted, the punishment is when you’re treated badly by others online. And then within that will very gradually start to, to leverage that, to change them.
So it’s, it’s this, it’s this very kind of stealthy manipulation of the population. So it’s not as dramatic as a heroin addict or a gambling addict, but it is the same principal.
INTERVIEWER: Who’s, who’s doing the manipulating. There isn’t some sort of wizard of Oz behind the scenes.
Well, this is the peculiarity of the situation. The people who run the tech companies like Google and Facebook are not doing the manipulating. They’re doing the addicting, but the manipulating which rides on the back of the addicting is the paying customer of such a company [advertisers].
So many of those customers [advertisers] are not at all bad influences. They might simply be trying to promote their cars or their perfumes or whatever. And indeed I have sympathy for them because they’re concerned that if they don’t put money into the system, nobody will know about them anymore.
INTERVIEWER: How is it different than just television advertising or billboard or anything else?
The difference is the constant feedback loop. So when you watch the television, the television isn’t watching you. When you see the billboard, the billboard isn’t seeing you, and vast numbers of people see the same thing on television and see the same billboard.
When you use these new designs, social media, search, YouTube, when you see these things, you’re being observed constantly and algorithms are taking that information and changing what you see next. And they’re searching and searching and searching and they’re just blind robots. There’s no evil genius here until they find those patterns, those little tricks that get you and make you change your behavior.