The social dilemma. Recently, I watch a documentary on Netflix that several friends had recommended to me. It was called “The Social Dilemma”. If you haven’t seen it, I would recommend taking some time to do so. I thought it was well done, and made some interesting points about how our society is being influenced by the social media platforms.
We’ve written a handful of articles before on how social media is affecting us, especially our young people. I wrote recently how I had taken a break from social media because I recognized how mentally draining it was, and just how ugly people were becoming. This documentary didn’t do anything to encourage me back to the platforms.
Our Worries About Social Media Are Wrong
One of the big realizations in the documentary is just how flawed most people’s view of social media actually is. We are worried about the wrong things when it comes to the platforms. We tend to think that the problem with these big companies is that they are selling our information. That’s not what taking place. What they are selling is our attention span.
Several of the people interviewed brought out and developed this point. Everything we do on social media, from hitting the “Like” button, to tagging people in pictures, is meant to keep us using our devices. The longer we are on platforms, the more advertising can be sold.
Companies are able to not only show you advertisements that are targeted to you, but also show you content you are more likely to interact with. This is done by using some sophisticated algorithms whose sole purpose is to keep you engaged and on the platform.
It’s Also Dividing Us
Another point that was brought forward is just how divisive social media is making our society. People have patterns in what they look at on social media. The algorithms pick up on that, and then show you things that will keep you engaged.
For instance, if you lean to the left or right politically, you may stop and read an article that supports your point of view. Because you do this often, the algorithms pick up on it. They then make sure your feed has lots of articles or political points of view that you will interact with.
Why Is This A Problem?
So what is the social dilemma? Have you ever looked at the political landscape and said, “I can’t believe anyone is voting for candidate X, everyone I know is voting for candidate Y!”. Chances are, you’re right. Everyone you know is voting for the same candidate. That’s because all you’re being shown is stories and feeds that support your point of view. And hey, if one opinion you disagree with happens to slip through the cracks, you can always use the handy “Block” feature to get rid of them all together.
The problem is, we no longer have to interact with ideas we don’t like. We confine ourselves in echo chambers, and never interact with others outside of our group. They in fact, become the “others”. And once you “other” a group of people, it becomes easy to de-humanize them.
If misfortune falls on the “others”, they deserve it. Its ok to call them names, because they are the “others”. They do not deserve respect. Violence towards them is justified, because they are the “others”. This is classic divide and conquer propaganda.
What Does This Mean For Us As Christians?
First, I am not advocating that every one of us delete our social media pages. There is still a large amount of good that can come from social media when used responsibly. I think the key is to understand what the dangers are, and to be able to realize when you need to step away.
If social media is making you angry over trivial things, this can be a warning sign. I have a hobby of collecting and shaving with classic safety razors. I am a member of several groups that are related to the hobby. What I have seen is several people get banned from groups or blocked by Facebook for abusive language arguing over aftershave lotion. This is absurd! I understand getting angry over true injustice, but which aftershave you use doesn’t fall into this category!
Secondly, engage with opinions and stances you don’t agree with. I’m not saying you have to agree with them, just read and try to understand the opposite side. This will help you to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your own positions. Most people get defensive when their position is challenged. Often (But not always), this is because they haven’t given their position much thought. They assume they are correct. And they then surround themselves with likeminded people. This creates the above-mentioned echo chamber. Get out of your comfort zone!
As always, remember that the people you interact with are made in the image of God. They deserve dignity and respect, even when they are not showing it to you. The current culture has a different idea. It’s one that says that anyone who doesn’t agree with you is less than human, and needs to be treated as such. Don’t take this bait, and don’t fall into this trap. We need to be different.
The social media companies are a business first and foremost. This in and of itself is not sinister. But we need to be aware of the risks involved in using these platforms, and how it can divide rather than unite us. That is the social media dilemma.
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