17 March 2022

Brain conditioning by social media


Brain conditioning by social media


Topic by James

Essay by Lawrence


Following from last week’s meeting on media brainwashing this Sunday we are discussing social media. But what is social media?


In a sense, the term social media covers a number of services many of which are unrelated, and certainly address completely different context, including general interest, professional, hobbyist, and so on. Some of the leading social media platforms, such as Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram gather diverse interests and people looking for different information. Note there are many more platforms so I use these as an example at best.


I use these platforms because in principle they offer different types of information: Facebook is first and foremost a text based platform. Somebody writes an opinion or even shares an article and people comment on the content. Good content, including controversial comments, leads to active dialogue. TiKTok started off with short videos taken on one’s mobile phone and shared by including a music background. Instagram is a platform where photographers uploaded their images and share with the world wide community. YouTube was and still is the big platform for videos on any subject including professional content.


A quick word about these platforms is that they are all there to attract advertising money and in theory each individual is supposed to be targeted with relevant adverts. But if someone is so predictable that an algorithm can show them an advert and they will always click on, then surely that person is putting themselves open to manipulation. And this is not an issue with social media since these platforms are in it for the money.


What a platform shows us is determined by proprietary algorithms that are supposed to identify what we are interested in. Unfortunately, such algorithms depend heavily on inductive reasoning giving the impression that these companies never heard of the problem of induction. In effect they give higher priority to content we interact with that content we don’t interact but this is based on the assumption that “no action implies no interest”. It is not surprising that people, especially professional people, complain about the changes and vagaries of the various algorithm.


A third drawback of these platforms is that they tend to copy each other’s services but usually end giving an inferior product. For example TikTok was supposed to give a better product (experience) than YouTube, except that TikTok is very close to being the wild west of social media. YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook have now incorporated “short” videos to compete with TikTok but at best they ended up with annoying experiences.


There are, of course, more annoying features about most social media, but their redeeming feature is that they do have information and in many cases they do have very useful information. Except that many of these platforms are very stingy with letting subscribers accessing that information.  A good analogy is that these platforms are like gold digging, we basically have an idea where the information (gold) is but we still have to pan for it by hand.


This background implies a number of implications and issues. The first is that social media and any application we use on the internet especially search engines requires skills at information processing. This is an important change from traditional media: we more or less accepted the information given to us by traditional media as being true, but it wasn’t always the truth. Consider the information oppression in Russia where many old people believe the propaganda of the government on the war in Ukraine.


This basically means that not only do we have to look for the raw information ourselves, fact check it, and then edit it for relevance and coherence, before we enhance our stock of knowledge. These are skills which took the editors and journalists of traditional media decades of training and experience to perfect; we are supposed to have these skills within 24 hours of joining a social media platform. However, it is always our choice to joining and participate on these platforms. The consequence of not joining is that we are not as well informed and engaged in events of the day: we become subject to the information gap, those who have access to the internet and those who don’t.


It is true that social media tend to be a controlled environment for information we might be interested in, including political manipulation, but we are not just observers (lurkers) in many cases we are participants for example by choosing who to follow or not.


One of the consequences of social media is that we can become obsessed with a particular platform: TikTok has such an effect because we can become exhilarated quickly and consistently with a rapid stream of short videos. On a more positive point it is very easy today to confirm certain information and get useful advice by check on groups and other members of a particular platform or just a simple search.


Another consequence of social media is that today we are being conditioned not to extend our knowledge and information base since we can easily access this information on social media or the internet in general. This means that we are at a disadvantage when we don’t have access to a mobile phone or PC. Basically we become dependent on the internet and our mobile phone or PC.


The difference between traditional media and social media is that with social media (internet) we always have alternative for information we are looking for. And we can practically confirm information in real time: FactCheck.org is a very reliable site although there are many more sites to check information. If anything social media conditions our brain because it is very easy and efficient to access information we want or need.


Best Lawrence


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