As the evidence mounts every day that the Russians (and god knows who else) have been using social media to foment discord in this country for at least four years, some folks are wondering if being on social platforms like Facebook and Twitter (Russian favorites) is worth it any more -- particularly in light of assertions by some of their founders that these platforms were designed to be fundamentally unhealthy.
MediaPost's Gavin O'Malley did a nice job of summarizing how time spent with Facebook and Twitter has begun to decline -- evidence that some are cutting back on their use of these platforms. Will all the recent revelations accelerate that decline (or abandonment)?
One of the very dark sides of social platforms is the amount of information about you they are able to collect. Time was when it was considered a major violation of privacy to link your online habits with your name or home address. Well, we blew past that bar years ago. By participating in social platforms, you provide massive amounts of information about the most intimate parts of your life.
It's not hard for machine learning (and increasingly, AI) to put two and two together and make some highly accurate conclusions about you because they see millions of others who behave just like you. Looking up symptoms of STDs? Visiting SDT support groups, reading about STD treatment? Well...
Sadly, they package much of this information and sell it to advertisers who often want to reach everyone with, well, an STD. So all the Russians have been doing is buying audience segments that they KNOW they can piss off and can be counted on to pass those angry messages on to others.
At the end of the day, you can't be entirely sure of the validity of almost anything you see on some social platforms.
At what point do Facebook and Twitter become more harmful to society than helpful? If you think they can eliminate fake posts, you are as delusional as that fruitcake in the White House. Seeing something online that appeals to your own worldview is not "further proof" you are right; it is only something to be highly suspect of.
And therein lies much of the problem. We have become a society happy with the quick and easy answer. We act impulsively to grasp content that reinforces our perspectives and send it off to others by sharing it -- a scenario made possible by social media.
Twenty years ago, if you wanted to know my opinions and perspective, you would have to talk to me. No more. Now we all use social media to spread personal news, gather support for personal interests, rant or share content that in some way reflects our POV. We can quickly find LOTS of others who agree with us, giving the false illusion that our POV is more valid than the next guy's, as if two wrongs DO make a right.
All this has polarized the nation in ways I have never seen before. And Russians have jumped into this divide with both feet. What decades of stupid propaganda couldn't accomplish, smart social media spending has -- at an astonishing rate.
While the ability to immediately communicate with vast numbers of folks, gather in tribes and discover interesting new content is worth celebrating, do the downsides of social media loom even larger than the benefits?