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Greg Millar
Published on

Social media's crafty magic trick unveiled

Opinion piece by Polly Gillespie from The Sunday-Star Times

iphone inside screen-87The last time I took notes while watching a documentary was in college in the 1980s. It was for dance, and I had to watch a film about the life of uber-eccentric ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. This dude was a Polish ballet dancer and choreographer cited as the greatest male dancer of the early 20th century.

My thoughts? This guy was an odd ball. Nevertheless I had to watch the doco and take notes. I suppose that's why I can still see the movie as though I'd just watched it. There is power in putting ink to paper.

My back is screwed. I foolishly and fiercely tried to do crunchies on a wooden floor. Result? Now my sleep - or lack thereof - has been hellish for the past two weeks. This morning at 2am I woke and turned on Netflix. A new doco appeared. I like a good documentary. On the condition there are no conspiracy theories attached.

The Social Dilemma - if you watch nothing else ever on Netflix because you're disgusted by something you've heard about it, or you think you've seen it all, please place your justified righteous indignation aside and watch it.

I started watching at 2.30am but not even a quarter way in I skipped back to the beginning and began watching again, so passionate about the subject I grabbed my journal and pen. I now have 12 pages of notes. It's more an in-depth thesis on the manipulation of the human psyche. It's going to be a weary and arduous mission but I'll try to condense.

A couple of years ago my friend David and I were discussing the creepy way Facebook and Google just knew that I needed a weed-eater and I wanted a book about the early works of Pablo Picasso.

"OMG, they can hear us talking!" I squealed.

David went back to watching conspiracy theory videos.

This new documentary blew my mind. It also explained why some people are stuck with political ideas that cannot be challenged; why more and more teen girls are cutting; why tweens are killing themselves; and why some morons think Covid-19 is a government conspiracy. I fiercely roll my eyes at conspiracy theorist junkies. It was astounding how some people can't stand being disagreed with. I'd spent time wondering how on earth extreme groups got traction. I'd asked the universe why my formal Friday dinners failed during level 4 lockdown. That was until watched The Social Dilemma.

I don't want to reveal the twist (there is no twist) but our information age is actually the "disinformation age". Fake news travels six times faster than real news. It sells. It makes far more money for advertisers, and - big reveal - we are not all getting the same news in our special little morning news feed.

You know how you hear of or see the craziest protests on TV news? You see outrageous acts of blatant racism. You hear about crazy folk who've gone with a gun in hand to close down a pizza joint so they can free the enslaved children in the non-existent basement? It was called "Pizzagate". The vigilante gun-toting Americans got a completely different news feed to us. That's an actual thing.

My news feed and yours, on all social media, Google and YouTube are entirely dissimilar. Now I get why it's so easy to get a false sense of "everyone agrees with me" syndrome. It's not real. We are all in our own Truman Show. Our search results are totally dependent on where we live and what we're inclined to believe. A great example given in the documentary is climate change. Depending on what the algorithms have worked out about you, they determine what your results will be.

We are like 2.7 billion social media lab rats. We believe what presents on our newsfeed because "we accept the reality of the world with which we are presented". And you and I, although we may have similar outlooks, are getting completely different newsfeeds. Thus we get that false sense of everyone in turn agreeing with us.

We are all in our own Truman Show. Our search results are totally dependent on where we live and what we're inclined to believe.

This climate change challenge threw down a gauntlet for me. Did I dare look? Would my Google search prove beyond doubt that I was a weirdo?

I typed in "climate change" and got this: "The evidence for climate change is compelling".

The article was from the legitimate Nasa website. "Thank Ch-t!" I said out loud to no-one.

The algorithms that are created, and it would seem go rogue, are written to generate engagement and make money for the clients (the advertisers) and manipulate the product: us. In doing so, we eventually become addicted to our smartphones.

One former corporate tech magician, and now campaigner for ethical change posed the question, "When do you look at your smartphone first? In bed or while you're peeing? Those are the only two options."

I gulped. Before I get out of bed.

I have pages and pages of notes from The Social Dilemma. I paused to write down nuggets of wisdom and profound revelations, but I really need you to watch it. The people featured are verified former major tech developers from Google, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, as well as bonafide Harvard business school professors and world renowned psychologists.

Jeff Seibert, formally of Twitter, tells us that every single thing we do online is watched, tracked, measured and carefully monitored so that the companies can tailor the perfect manipulative magic trick to be played out carefully on us. Specifically and individually. It's called "surveillance capitalism".

Watch the doco. My friend David tried to but he got bored. But he also watches conspiracy theory shows, so let that be my only proviso.

Oh, and you really should know that they (Google, Facebook and co) know when we are lonely, depressed and even stalking our exes. Good times.

Watcher the trailer for The Social Dilemma here »

Article first published on 20 September 2020 by Polly Gillespie for The Sunday Star-Times, page 23.

Topics: artificial intel digital disruption marketing