Something interesting is happening in our society, until a few years ago, when we arrived at a new place, the first thing we did was look at the menu, choose a seat and go to do what we were going to do there. Those rituals have been maintained, we only added an extra: we ask for the WiFi password. Have you ever stopped to think how many times daily you check your social networks, like Facebook?
What if you stop it for the next 5 hours? Our brain and our behavior are changing, and with that, inevitably, our society changes.
Psychological studies have investigated the dangers of social networks, finding interesting results on the psychological effects of Facebook. Basically, the gratification of a like in a social network is equivalent to a small injection of dopamine, the neurotransmitter of happiness. This means that something as little tangible as a click given by someone on a mobile phone about a publication of ours has the ability to influence our mood. If we receive many likes, we feel happy and satisfied with our day. If we receive few (or less than expected) we can feel really sad, unimportant and despised.
Social Networks: Propaganda Machines
Social networks are not only playing with our brain in terms of physiology but in the field of decisions and perception of reality. Something very similar to what we see in The Matrix is happening. Social Networks are carriers of false information and propaganda. Their owners know it, governments know it and it is the responsibility of each citizen to warn their closest ones about the dangers of social networks and misinformation.
Such was the case of Chamath Palihapitiya, a former employee of Facebook and responsible for increasing its users until 2011. Palihapitiya expressed feeling terribly regretful of having worked for Facebook in November, because according to his experience and human sensitivity, Facebook is destroying society as we know it.
This refers to the short-term rewards we receive for being users (likes, comments, and requests that can be understood on a psychological level as attention and recognition from others) and mainly because of the influence it has had globally in terms of social movements.
Facebook, Russia, and Alleged Electoral Manipulation
In the past months, one of the biggest scandals in the world of politics was the complaint of a Russian intervention in the North American elections. Sources claim that more than 126 million Americans were exposed to electoral propaganda from a Russian agency, which could have manipulated the Clinton-Trump vote intention. The answer of Facebook was, in legal terms, the confirmation that they did sell advertising space to a Russian advertising agency and confirmed the possible number of viewers, but was unable to confirm 100% of its effects.
Something similar apparently happened with the Brexit. Alleged Russian accounts were found paying advertising on Facebook to encourage the vote in favor of the separation from the European Union. Of course, the press signaled the Russian government was trying to seek an intervention in the electoral process to tilt the world’s power scale in its favor. The accusations were rejected, as with the US elections, but the question of how effective internet propaganda influences the population during an election still exists.
Thanks to social networks, those 6 degrees of separation between individuals can multiply by millions with the capacity of contact between people. That means, what each of us shares in social networks can reach hundreds of people and if just one of our contacts shares that first post, it multiplies the possibility of influencing thousands of others. With the huge amount of propaganda traveling through the internet, it seems reasonable to consider more carefully what we share, who we accept in our circle of friends, and to question much of what we see in our timelines.
Facebook: To Use, or not to Use?
The suggestion of Palihapitiya to combat the psychological effects of Facebook is a bit more extreme: not to use it at all. Neither he nor his family is present in this network. Weeks after Chamath’s speech, Facebook responded and clarified that he has not worked at the company since 2011 and since then, they have changed their goals a lot. The initial idea was to attract thousands of users and build a new Social Media experience.
The statement ends by noting that they are investigating the impact of their products on the welfare of their users and that they are willing to reduce their income to avoid problems such as electoral intervention in different countries in the future.