Netflix released a documentary/drama in January called “The Social Dilemma,” covering the abuse of social media and the dark side behind it. Tristan Harris, former Google design ethicist, headed up the film, drawing in previous employees of different media outlets, such as Google, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest.
“They did a really good job making it,” said sophomore Evan Hammer. “First of all, I thought the information was very accurate. I am glad they did what they did because there are lots of things that we don’t know or just don’t think about in social media.”
Harris speaks on his work experiences at Google throughout the film, highlighting the immorality of Google’s behavior in relation to their users’ information and data on the web. Harris has since cofounded Center for Humane Technology, a foundation which fights for people’s rights on the internet and restricts the liberties major tech companies have on using social media to collect data on consumers.
“One of the problems with social media is that it is based on monetization and getting people... addicted [to social media],” said Hammer. “Now [social media] has gotten to such a size that it really is causing problems.”
Social media companies specifically engineer parts of their apps and websites, such as the “like” button, to draw customers in and create an addiction. Designers experimented with a phenomenon called the Dopamine Response, in which the body gives off a small amount of dopamine every time a photo gets a like.
When the next picture accumulates the same amount of likes, the body releases a smaller amount of dopamine, liquid euphoria, making one desire more likes and, therefore, more dopamine. This is the same phenomenon that addicts one to pornography.
“It is interesting to me that you have...unbelievers who have pretty serious concerns about how social media is used and some of the ways they’re gathering data,” said Mr. Garrett Watkins. “If you have, from a worldly perspective, people who are concerned about the morality of it, that should pique our interest, because no one should be held to a higher standard of morality than Christians. So if unbelievers are concerned about it, we all the more should listen to what is being said.”
Apps such as Facebook and Instagram are particularly intrusive with their algorithms, such as timing how long different posts are viewed, how many times a day the app is visited and times it is visited.
These apps collect massive amounts of data which are stored and analyzed to determine what genre one looks at the most and which advertisements are most likely to connect with the viewer.
Each digital forum uses this data to show posts that will keep viewers coming back. If the user is more likely to look at Republican posts, news articles favoring Republicans will show, and vice versa for users favoring more Democratic posts.
“It is increasing in the polarization of [society],” said Mr. Watkins. “As a whole, when we think about anything in relation to a topic like this, maybe Christians should take Paul seriously when he says in Romans 12:2, ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.’ That applied 2,000 years ago when Paul wrote it, and it certainly still applies today.”