The Incentive Mechanisms Are Broken!

Part 1: Social Media - Why we are being deranged and how to solve it.

Despite all the benefits of technology that have emerged over the past decade, it has opened the proverbial pandora’s box in terms of its social impact. One such impact is that social media is clearly deranging our perspective on the world. This consequence is due in part to the negative feedback loop created by social media, which in effect, feeds the user with the information that humans react to the quickest, namely negative information. It is, however, noteworthy to mention that this is mainly due to the fact the social media machine learning algorithms are only giving the user what they want to see, or to be more precise, what the user’s brain will react to the most/quickest. In social media circles, this is known as engagement. Still, is this what any sane person would want from a social platform?

Interestingly, this negative content is actually a symptom and not the cause of our woes. The truer bane of social media is the phenomena colloquially referred to as the echo chamber. In fact, this is not one echo chamber that we all share, but we each have our own echo chamber. A good way to picture this problem is that we all are in our own personal tech bubble. This bubble generates posts/tweets that you would ‘like’ to see/hear, rather than what you ‘need’ to see/hear. The result is a diet of information that already fits your worldview, whilst also making you believe you have all the facts. This has the predictable effect of; blinding you to alternate views/values, making you think your views are normal/moral, reinforcing the beliefs you prefer rather than those that are objectively true, and even instantiating a mindset that shrinks from uncomfortable truths.

On another note, it really doesn’t help that via social media one can be constantly connected online, but have no real human connection i.e. no body language, no eye contact, no tone of voice, no laughter, no ability to empathically sense the other person’s emotional state, etc. Likewise, all this is not to mention that the rosy image that people project causes a false perception in others that their lives aren’t messy. This issue has created a social media-induced delusory state that causes depression, especially amongst young people. This situation has also fostered an environment that has allowed nonsensical ideas to flourish, including; rules on how people should interact socially that don’t correspond to reality. The result being is a cohort of socially ill-equipped people and therefore more angst in society as a whole. Thus, it is fairly safe to say that from an anthropological point of view, we are not living in a time with the evolutionary optimum conditions for the human animal.

The sociological implications of this digital environment are that the worst effects are hitting the least technologically savvy people the most. Unluckily, they are being subtlely nudged to behave in certain ways and believe in certain things that are actually counter to their interests or wellbeing. To understand the problem at a deeper level it is useful to consider who are the customers of social media platforms? Nope, it’s not us as the users. And no, it’s not the social media influencers/content creators. In actuality, the customers for social media platforms, the ones that pay the bills for the cloud servers, the ones that provide social media companies with all their profits are in fact marketing arms of commercial companies wanting to buy your data or sell you stuff. And given that these are the customers with all the money (aka the buyers), thus having all the influence over the owners of the social media companies. Therefore, they collectively have the leverage to dictate that any social media platform grabs your attention, using psychological methods most commonly deployed in a casino, in order to keep you focused on their products. The customer is king after all!

Nevertheless, to be fair, this is not a problem with the technology itself, as computers don’t have strong feelings either way :) they simply don’t care how they are being used. Similarly, just as tech is a tool, the workers that use the tools to make the social media platforms aren’t completely to blame, in reality, the blame falls squarely on the business model used. The negativity of social media platforms is largely due to an unfortunate byproduct of ad-revenue business models that require clicks and the pursuant demand for a constant stream of people focusing on the platform.

So, the question is, what can be done to solve this problem? How about the most common go-to solution of regulation, even just to restrict social media for kids at least. Unfortunately, this would probably be ineffective given that kids nowadays are digital natives and can whizz around any attempts to block their access. Plus, other platforms will simply pop up in other less regulated jurisdictions that satisfy the demand from the market. Then could the solution be? Well, the cleanest way to truly make a difference would be to overhaul the incentive mechanisms with a new business model; one that gives people a free service, whilst making money to pay for the company expenses. Not easy to do!

Not to worry, at Zaiku Research Foundation we’ll give it a go :)

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