I watched The Social Dilemma last night and was shocked that I hadn’t seriously considered the full psychological ramifications of social media use. It basically presents concepts around what function algorithms provide and how to protect ourselves from a serious impact on our mental health.
All big social media platforms build AI that creates algorithms…the programming that tracks our behaviour on social media, creating a user profile and suggesting future content. It’s designed to create a better user experience. To show you exactly what you want to see. To put in front of you, that which you have asked for in the past. And to encourage engagement. I’ve known that it’s simply not healthy for our mental well-being to be on social all the time, but I didn’t really understand the algorithm. I didn’t understand that it’s designed to create a complex psychological profile of its users so that it can better suggest content that will motivate engagement.
It’s designed to manipulate us.
Here’s the problem: AI can’t tell if you are seeing truth or lies. If it’s healthy content or not. And AI certainly cannot determine your mental wellness during this activity.
So without any type of policing, the algorithms pump content into our feed. Content that is designed to increase engagement. Increased social media engagement means decreased EVERYTHING else.
Here’s my top 10 suggestions for keeping a little more space and perspective when it comes to social media.
1. Turn off those notifications
The common misbelief is that social media collects data on its users to sell off to other companies and then cast aside, when in reality this data is used to create a complex psychological profile of its’ users. This profile is then used to determine relevant content that is then ‘suggested’ to you.
It sounds like manipulation.
Turning off my social media notifications is literally the first thing I did after watching the docudrama. In The Social Dilemma, they explain how notifications have become a tool to increase activity and keep you unnecessarily engaged.
2. Declutter my social media feeds
The Social Dilemma makes an excellent point about how much excess information is out there. It explains that, while the information available might have increased in the past couple of decades, our brain’s capacity to process the same has not.
Do I need to follow all these influencers and content creators on social media? Do I need to absorb Facebook life updates from people I met once 2 years ago? Nope.
3. Attention is the hottest commodity
“If you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.” ~ The Social Dilemma
The Social Dilemma made me realize that big tech is not all about my personal data collection. More than my data, these companies are vying for my attention – which is limited. At the end of the day, my attention is the product being sold to advertisers. I don’t pay for the hours I spend infinitely scrolling on Instagram because…someone’s paying for me.
4. Stop looking at my phone first thing in the morning
This is going to be difficult, but boundaries (around anything) are healthy. I’m now doubly inspired after I heard ex-Big Tech employees in The Social Dilemma talk about how they allow their children limited social media/screen time.
5. Start CHOOSING my YouTube videos
The Social Dilemma pretty much spells it out that in order to gain control of the kind of content we are exposed to, we need to *choose* it. The easiest way? Don’t click on YouTube’s video suggestions.
The terrifying reality of today is that the algorithms that run these social platforms have evolved into a mind of their own and they monitor our activity very closely. So, in order to avoid getting sucked into that rabbit hole, we need to start manually searching for what we want, instead of letting the algorithms dictate our opinions and thoughts.
6. Try to get a hobby that’s not on my phone
This one’s difficult. Especially in a world where COVID-19 exists and our phone screen is literally all we have for social right now. The Social Dilemma has convinced me that we need physical activity, we need to be outside, we need creative pursuits, we need music (and to dance)…and we need distance from social media.
8. Fact check. I repeat. Fact check.
The algorithm is designed to feed you content that you want. It creates a complex psychological profile on its’ users based on your search and click history. Then you are given content suggestions that encourage engagement, and as you click on new suggestions, the algorithm ‘learns’ more about what you like, modifies your profile and gives you more.
As with any Artificial Intelligence, it lacks discernment. It lacks the ability to decipher if the content that it has chosen is the truth or a lie, right or wrong, healthy or not healthy.
We all know fake news exists but The Social Dilemma scratches the surface of how these algorithms aid the spread of misinformation. The Social Dilemma is simply a reminder (or an eye-opener, depending on how you see it) that it’s important to fact check the things we see on the internet. Just because it’s on the internet, doesn’t mean it’s true.
9. Delete (reduce) social media accounts
This is going to be hard. I’m not sure if I will actually delete accounts or just restrict notifications. Maybe it’s a process of weaning myself away from social…but it has to be less.
10. Monitor your own mental health (not really from The Social Dilemma)
…and parents, pay attention to your children’s emotional status. It’s not a coincidence that we have an epidemic of childhood Anxiety, Depression and Suicide. Social media might make you ‘feel’ better while you use it, but it is not designed in a way that promotes mental wellness. Initially ‘likes’, comments and ‘shares’ trigger a small jolt of dopamine to the author, but this also can start a dangerous trend towards addiction. Then we can talk about the dangers of negative comments and bullying, specifically on children and young teens, or the endless comparison to images of perfection: only partial glimpses of reality shrouded in filters.
In a nutshell, the docudrama was a little frightening…specifically when the guests started to speak about what society would look like in 10 or 20 years. How societal structure could crumble….and all because we ‘like’ something. The suggestion that social media has power, that our attention is the commodity and that AI is controlling it all….quite frankly scares the crap out of me. If for no other reason than for the mental health crisis that it is responsible for (at least in part) creating.
We need distance to create clarity.
Let’s unplug. Just a little.
PS: If you’d like help with establishing more healthy routines or creating boundaries, click here and let’s have a call.
Katrina Murphy is a Professional Intuitive Life Coach in Ontario, Canada who serves clients across Canada, the U.S., the U.K and internationally. Katrina helps professionals and SMB owners to find reconnect in both their relationships and at work. She’s been featured in various publications and is the creator of the Power-Passion-Purpose Framework.