Recently I got the chance to watch the Social Dilemma on Netflix. I learned a lot about the social web and the impact social media and technology is having not only on my own personal life, but on the lives of millions and millions of people around the world. What first caught my attention while watching the documentary was that “everything you do online is being carefully monitored and tracked”. For example, how long you look at a message for. Companies such a Google, Facebook, and Instagram use this practice of “surveillance” to ensure that advertisers are as successful as possible.
These tech businesses ultimately want the users to stay engaged on the screen for as long as possible. However, what is actually happening is that people or the users are actually changing their behavior. Online social media platforms are successfully changing people’s behavior through manipulation; without the users even knowing they are being manipulated. Through well developed AI programs and algorithms what users are actually seeing on their feeds has been manipulated. For example, as an expectant mother I was looking up certain items on google that I feel I will be needing in the near future to set up a baby room. Now, anytime I am on Facebook, most of the advertisements I see are related to pregnancy such as pregnancy clothing, baby items such as bottles and infant clothing. At first I thought this was an interesting coincidence, but now I know this is not a coincidence at all.
The documentary also talked about how these sites and technology can be very addictive, due to the dopamine it can release in the brain. For example, it is a release when you get a “bing” on your phone for a new message or a new like. However, this is having detrimental effects on the self esteem of young girls. The documentary presented some daunting statistics, that as a teacher and as a future parent can simply not be ignored. Many young people will post a picture and then wait just to see how many “likes” they get. For many young girls, social media has created a “perceived sense of perfection”, that in reality is often unattainable. Since 2010, the suicide rate in girls between the ages of 15-19 has increased by 70% and the rate of pre-teen girls aged 10-14 has increased by over 150%. According to this documentary, this pattern follows the development and use of social media. For example, the current generation X is the first generation to have used social media since middle school. This made me think of a video I watched awhile back by Simon Sinek. He presented a video on how Millennials use their phones and the impact this has on the work place, as many are now working starting to work in the corporate world. He points out how the dopamine addiction we get from our phones, instant gratification, and the ability to form deep meaningful relationships are just a few of the issues that are causing a number of struggles for Millennials in the work force.
According to the documentary “kids nowadays are more anxious, depressed and less likely to take risks” and they are linking these to the findings to the fact that kids go home from school and go on social media. I have also noticed, that in the past three years alone, I have dealt with more and more cell phone issues at school and I teach 9 year olds!
In addition, I found the fact that these sites are actually controlling the information we see to be, well, quite scary. It makes sense that we are seeing more polarization in the world related to politics. The algorithms of these sites are designed so that we see what it is we want to see. But only, what solely agrees with our political view. However, this does not allow for open and honest conversation between viewpoints, because what one person sees is not necessarily the same as someone else. This is having huge impacts on society as a whole. There seems to be more people fighting and even violently fighting, rather than being able to sit down and discuss different viewpoints. I also feel that this leading to the actual political parties themselves being more polarized then ever. Fake news is also not helping this situation either. The documentary mentioned that “fake news on Twitters spreads 6 times faster than real news”.
I think that as parents, teachers and society as a whole we are aware of these issues that are arising as a result of social media use. I agree with the documentary that technology is not going anywhere, in fact it is only going to become more entwined in our everyday lives as we move into the future. I think it is more important than ever for teachers to focus on lessons about self-esteem, digital citizenship and the importance of having students listen to and relate to both sides of an argument. I think parents need to be aware of how much time their children are spending on social media and I know it is a monumental challenge, but to be aware of what their children are actually doing while they are on technology. I know how easy it is to say well take the phones away or don’t give them a phone in the first place, but I think the real challenge is teaching our youth about how social media actually works and to keep them involved in activities that challenge them to talk face to face. The following is a great article by Common Sense Media on the most up to date research and guidance for parents on social media use and their kids. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/social-media