Let’s get this straight — social media isn’t evil.
In a few recent blog posts, The splinternet, How social media divides us, Social media algorithms and how they rule our lives, I talk about the power struggle in the online realm.
While analysing macro interplay from a power perspective is an academically and journalistically popular approach, such an approach comes with a serious drawback; it’s easy to also come to the premature conclusion that everyone involved is … evil.
Personally, I don’t wish to present just a one-sided analysis. I don’t like one-sidedness and, and this is important, I don’t like contributing to conspiracies or falsehoods.
The two faces of social media
Contrary to popular belief, it’s far from obvious that Google or Facebook are trying to enslave our minds or mould us into passive, mindless consumers. If anything, such behaviour would open up for competitors and we would choose them over Google and Facebook without looking over our shoulders.
An alternative analysis is simply that new media companies like Google and Facebook are just extremely competent at providing their services.
This is an important distinction to make. On the one hand, Google and Facebook are taking measures to safeguard and increase their power in the social media landscape. On the other hand, they’re both successful technology companies that are doing extremely well in catering to their users — at times too well.
These two opposing perspectives aren’t mutually exclusive. To some extent, they can both represent important truths and highlight specific issues. Personally, I think both of these perspectives are important — as long as you refrain from pushing either analysis to its extreme.
Google and Facebook aren’t evil
It would be far too extreme, dishonest even, to characterise founders like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg as an egotistical individual with malicious intents. Having followed Zuckerberg since the start of of Facebook, everything points towards a software engineer striving to create a social network that will make people’s lives better.
Conversely, it would also be far too extreme to think that these companies aren’t disproportionately affecting anything other than just our media consumption.
Yes, it’s true that I’ve explored and discussed the power of social media algorithms and their filters lately, but my analysis isn’t that new media companies are in any way evil by default.
The important distinction is that these companies get their substantial powers from being too efficient for us to handle. These companies aren’t evil — they’re too good. So, here’s my parting thought for you:
In dealing with the negative byproducts of the digital transformation, should we restrict social media companies from leveraging their competence or should we, as a society, find ways to catch up with them?