“… The alleged ‘openness’ and ‘freedom’ of social networks are, as a matter of fact, neither open nor free. Instead, they are used by corporate and political agents 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 of Margaret Archer’s article in the Journal of Critical Realism, Volume 19, Issue 4, https://doi.org/10.1080/14767430.2020.1805278)
The US and Philippine elections have demonstrated how social media platforms can breed echo chambers, trolls and even fake news to influence user behavior. When Facebook and other social media platforms began spreading in the early 2010s, the world initially felt hopeful. After all, social media can be a platform of interconnections and information exchange. It could democratize access and content creation for anyone who has internet. It seemed like a new world where everyone could harmonize with each other.
But… what happened?
The research editorial I shared above provided some hints on the state of our society and politics in today’s time. What stood out to me is how social media is really and practically structured. Social media platforms make it easy to make impulsive reactions–a like share, or retweet is just a click away. For example, Facebook’s psychological experiments have been discovered and documented, and we have to be mindful of the forces that may subconsciously affect our thoughts, emotions and actions.
This presents a problem because the ideals of democracy or even just the framing of love as an authentic decision and action presume a person’s agency for self-determination and authenticity. If we are not mindful nor aware of how social media may manipulate our views, we become unconsciously inauthentic; and worse, love and democracy just become distant concepts subject to the whims of the powers that be.
In this world of instant gratification, impulses, and hedonism, perhaps the principle citizens, businesses, and society need to practice is temperance or restraint. The tragedy may be that businesses may have mastered the art of mass and targeted influence and effective user experience testing. Still, we may be turning social media into a Frankenstein we can no longer tame nor control.
Thus, the impetus for the individual citizen, consumer or manager is to be very mindful of these structures before succumbing to our faulty impulses.
Do not instantly react to the post because our intuitions can easily be toyed with.
Do not instantly share posts because our minds can fall into thinking and logic traps.
Actually, read the long-form versions, not just the snippets and comments of a popular post.
If we really want social media to be for love and democracy, we should reject being spoon-fed and reclaim our agency.
Or else, we will all just be the trolls we claim to despise.
The author is an Assistant Professor from the Department of Management and Organization, Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business, De La Salle University. He currently serves as the Vice-Chair of the department. He teaches management principles, research methods, and action research in the undergraduate program while advocating for integral human development, qualitative research and proper interpretation of statistics in management education. He also advocates social entrepreneurship as head of the Social Enterprise Research Network of the Center for Business Research and Development (CBRD-SERN). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.