Is Social Media Turning Us Into Robots?

Maybe George Orwell was right. Maybe, we have come into a situation where constant surveillance is the norm and humans are being turned into mindless beasts; following the same line, the same rat race, and the same single mindset towards life. Maybe, everything is not as happy and pleasant as it seems and what comes out of the screen is not really what it truly is.

On the forefront, social websites like Facebook and Instagram might all be a happy camp where people upload their daily activities, but when one delves deep into it, you will find every single user catering to the masses just for a few likes. Also, while this might look like an individualistic approach towards social media, one could also look at the wider picture. If you are someone’s “friend” on Facebook, it is expected that you would like their picture and posts and comment and share them too. You might have no idea regarding the person and might never have met in real life. But this position, of a Facebook friend, has certain societal responsibilities attached to it per se. It coerces a person to actually become someone’s friend, even if the other person might be a serial killer.

Let’s focus on the other aspect of social media i.e. programming us to a single symbiote, for lack of a better term. Firstly, the popularity of memes is something that needs to be discussed. A thesis paper titled ‘Meme-ing Electoral Participation’ by B. Heiskanen talks about how Donald Trump secured the presidential elections, despite multiple claims of Hilary Clinton being the more capable president, because of targeted memes. Now, whatever the claims may be, it is assured and guaranteed that most voters actually scrolled through Facebook leading to the elections. And Facebook introduced them to two different kinds of memes, which actually achieved the same purpose. One, the Alt-Right memes that made fun of Clinton and Sanders that struck a chord with Trump’s supporters. And second, the memes of the Liberal side that, albeit making fun of Trump, did assure him a place in the human subconscious. To such an extent that it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration if we declare that Trump won the election simply with the power of social media. He might have been a less than deserving President, but he did understand this adage, “Any publicity is good publicity.”

Chamath Palihapitiya, the former VP of User Growth at Facebook, in an interview, spoke about how Facebook and other social media were responsible for creating massive black holes in the framework of society. The small lived compliments on a picture, or thousands of likes on a post would fill someone with a sense of pride, but is that genuine? Is that how society works? While talking about the ill-effects of Facebook as a destroyer of society, be it global or national, Palihapitiya was genuinely apologetic about his role in the same and expressed pride at having left it when he realized what he had gotten himself into.

He and many studies, reports, and journals talk about the amount of misinformation, mistruth, and malpractice that occur in Facebook. And sadly, it is not a national issue. We can’t simply blame American capitalism or Russian ads for spreading lies on the net. It is a personal issue and every human has, at some point, been the perpetrator of such lies. What he and several other sociologists are trying to say is that while Facebook in itself might not be evil, the human interaction created on such a site has resulted in a subtle emotional and social regression of values, sentiments, and feelings.

After that, comes the sense of entitlement. If one has to go through at least 20 different Instagram or Facebook profiles, one would find most of these profiles as having thousands of followers who comment lewd, vulgar, and inappropriate stuff on every single photo uploaded. And while one can simply argue about freedom of speech, how far can one allow such an infraction on someone’s freedom to bear that said speech? Sean Parker, one of the founders of Facebook agrees to this notion that the site was created simply to exploit a part of human psychology that is entirely concerned about how to engage a human in doing one thing without any disturbances or disruption. To put it simply, they wanted something, some form of entertainment that would hook the user for hours at an end. At the end of the event where Parker stated this, he did acknowledge that they (he, Zuckerberg and the rest) knew about what would happen if they sent it out to the world. But they still did.

While people like him and Palihapitiya have rectified their ‘crimes’ by affirming that they don’t use Facebook, where does that leave us? In recent news, it was seen that Facebook played a role in spreading hate against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Even in the context of Brexit, Facebook has been said to be a major divide, providing wrong information or letting users upload incorrect trivia. Now, most countries have their own news, where proper research facilitates the spreading of true information. But, in countries like Myanmar, Somalia, Sierra Leone, what do you do? Facebook is the main source of news there. So, if someone were to produce wrong information, everyone would use that as gospel and this leads to major strife in the region. And nothing is ever solved as the wildfire spreads.

While Facebook does have its benefits, the cons outweigh them. By the records of its own founders, Facebook is basically a validating app which serves us easily perishable compliments. Using that as a weapon to divide and disrupt peace, along with having a single-minded approach to following the existing rat race, is not a good sign for the future. It is high time for these companies to take up responsibility and speak the truth before we face more world crises.