One finding in my Ph.D. research was that people accept the exploitation of their social media data “in order to maintain their online sociality experience”. To a social media giant like Facebook or Google “user data means revenues. To users, “data makes it possible to engage with friends and family”.
Except we have lost the balance between profit and “social experience”. Social Media has become more unsocial than social, feeding us false news, polarizing our cultures and societies. Attention-grabbing Facebook and Google algorithms have changed our world beyond recognition. We have become smartphone addicts and our children are growing up in a world where the value of a person is measured in ‘likes’.
But social media can be an amazing tool. When it took off we had high expectations. Back in 2012 the Internet Society surveyed over 10,000 people in 20 countries:
- 90% thought that social media is essential for knowledge and education
- 66% thought the internet played a significant role in solving global problems, e.g. child-mortality, improving mental health, eliminating extreme poverty and hunger, prevention of trafficking of women and children.
- 83% consider access to the internet a Human Right.
Social media has not developed into this utopian tool we all hoped for. It is being abused by corrupt governments, companies, and individuals to manipulate all of us.
The crazy, whacky dream of a new global digital family is being destroyed by profit and an unregulated market. I will not delete my social media accounts, I will freeze them instead. I will share my data only when doing so helps us return to the original premise: to make this world a better place for all of us.
If you need to get in touch with me, don’t message me on FB or Twitter or Instagram. You can call me on +31 6421 56741 and speak to me in person, reach out to me on WhatsApp (yes, I will use that for now), or send an email to email@example.com. I will become more active again on social media when we tell our politicians to pass laws that favour humans over profit on the Internet. Well, not just there, also in the real world.
Fritz Kohle, September 2020
Footnote: This report by the EU Parliament highlights the danger to democracy stating that “disinformation and propaganda are symptoms of deeper structural problems in our societies and media environments.” (p.12)