The core process that allows social media to make money and that also does the damage to society is behavior modification. Behavior modification entails methodical techniques that change behavioral patterns in animals and people. It can be used to treat addictions, but it can also be used to create them.
You are getting the equivalent of both treats and electric shocks when you use social media.
Negative emotions such as fear and anger well up more easily and dwell in us longer than positive ones. It takes longer to build trust than to lose trust. Fight-or-flight responses occur in seconds, while it can take hours to relax. This is true in real life, but it is even more true in the flattened light of algorithms.
This helped me to understand why 'negative' posts perform so well on social media. They trigger us to engage and reply to comments that anger us, sustaining our attention on the platform even longer. The algorithms do not care about why we stay on the platform, just that we do.
The term “engagement” is part of the familiar, sanitized language that hides how stupid a machine we have built. We must start using terms like “addiction” and “behavior modification.” Here’s another example of sanitized language: We still call the customers of social media companies “advertisers”—and, to be fair, many of them are. They want you to buy a particular brand of soap or something. But they might also be nasty, hidden creeps who want to undermine democracy. So I prefer to call this class of person a manipulator.
What started as advertising morphed into what would better be called “empires of behavior modification for rent.”
Unfortunately, manipulators can’t get any result they want with equal ease. You can’t pay social media companies to help end wars and make everyone kind. Social media is biased, not to the Left or the Right, but downward. The relative ease of using negative emotions for the purposes of addiction and manipulation makes it relatively easier to achieve undignified results. An unfortunate combination of biology and math favors degradation of the human world. Information warfare units sway elections, hate groups recruit, and nihilists get amazing bang for the buck when they try to bring society down.
It’s hard to quit a particular social network and go to a different one, because everyone you know is already on the first one. It’s effectively impossible for everyone in a society to back up all their data, move simultaneously, and restore their memories at the same time. Effects of this kind are called network effects or lock-ins. They’re hard to avoid on digital networks.
One of the main reasons I hear for why people wouldn't give up social media. We're locked in. What if we quit or supported an alternative, one that avoided behaviour modification?
One of the main reasons to delete your social media accounts is that there isn’t a real choice to move to different social media accounts. Quitting entirely is the only option for change. If you don’t quit, you are not creating the space in which Silicon Valley can act to improve itself.
This is one of my favourite arguments from him. It's logical that Silicon Valley will continue to innovate and pivot from their current business model if need be. What if we paid for social media? Only then could we become the true customers instead of the products.
To free yourself, to be more authentic, to be less addicted, to be less manipulated, to be less paranoid … for all these marvelous reasons, delete your accounts.
Your specific behavior change has been turned into a product.
Some have compared social media to the tobacco industry, but I will not. The better analogy is paint that contains lead. When it became undeniable that lead was harmful, no one declared that houses should never be painted again. Instead, after pressure and legislation, lead-free paints became the new standard. Smart people simply waited to buy paint until there was a safe version on sale. Similarly, smart people should delete their accounts until nontoxic varieties are available.
Another one of my favourite arguments from the book. He actively identifies the problem to be the business model - there is no personal animosity with these tech giants.
Why does the nastiness happen? This will be explored in the next argument. In brief: Ordinary people are brought together in a setting in which the main—or often the only—reward that’s available is attention. They can’t reasonably expect to earn money, for instance. Ordinary users can gain only fake power and wealth, not real power or wealth. So mind games become dominant.
The mass behavior modification machine is rented out to make money.
The more specifically we can draw a line around a problem, the more solvable that problem becomes.
I’m not saying that you personally are definitely turning into an asshole, but many people are, yet they seem to only see that many other people are.
The deeply addicted person’s rhythm becomes nervous, a compulsive pecking at his situation; he’s always deprived, rushing for affirmation. Addicts become anxious, strangely focused on portentous events that aren’t visible to others. They are selfish, so wrapped up in their cycle that they don’t have much time to notice what others are feeling or thinking about. There’s an arrogance, a fetish for exaggeration, that by all appearances is a cover for profound insecurity. A personal mythology overtakes addicts. They see themselves grandiosely and, as they descend further into addiction, ever less realistically.
I worry if I've become this person. If so, how would I even know? Worse, how could I possibly identify social media as the cause in order to rightly eliminate it?
Each of us has an inner troll. In the early days, before everyone was doing it, the air was clearer and it was easier to notice how bizarre it is when your inner troll starts talking. It’s like an ugly alien living inside you that you long ago forgot about. Don’t let your inner troll take control! If it happens when you’re in a particular situation, avoid that situation! It doesn’t matter if it’s an online platform, a relationship, or a job. Your character is like your health, more valuable than anything you can buy. Don’t throw it away.
When what people can be made to perceive is the product sold by some of the richest corporations, then obviously truth must suffer. The loss of truth is the product.
Speaking through social media isn’t really speaking at all. Context is applied to what you say after you say it, for someone else’s purposes and profit. This changes what can be expressed. When context is surrendered to the platform, communication and culture become petty, shallow, and predictable. You have to become crazy extreme if you want to say something that will survive even briefly in an unpredictable context. Only asshole communication can achieve that.
Can you imagine if Wikipedia showed different versions of entries to each person on the basis of a secret data profile of that person? Pro-Trump visitors would see an article completely different from the one shown to anti-Trump people, but there would be no accounting of all that was different or why. This might sound dystopian or bizarre, but it’s similar to what you see in your BUMMER feed. Content is chosen and ads are customized to you, and you don’t know how much has been changed for you, or why.
A common and correct criticism of BUMMER is that it creates “filter bubbles.” Your own views are soothingly reinforced, except when you are presented with the most irritating versions of opposing views, as calculated by algorithms. Soothe or savage: whatever best keeps your attention.
This analogy is one of my favourites. I've seen the social media timelines of people I disagree with. It's just hundreds of people exactly like them. "Soothe or Savage".
BUMMER algorithms intrinsically gravitate toward corralling people into bubbles, because to engage a group is more effective and economical than to up engagement one person at a time.
The ability to theorize about what someone else experiences as part of understanding that person is called having a theory of mind. To have a theory of mind is to build a story in your head about what’s going on in someone else’s head. Theory of mind is at the core of any sense of respect or empathy, and it’s a pre-requisite to any hope of intelligent cooperation, civility, or helpful politics. It’s why stories exist.
Research shows a world that is not more connected, but instead suffers from a heightened sense of isolation.
The pattern has become so clear that even research published by social media companies shows how they make you sad. Facebook researchers have practically bragged that they could make people unhappy without the people realizing why.
The true customers, those who pay to manipulate. The ones who are manipulated, meaning you, are the product, not the customer.
Yes, of course it’s great that people can be connected, but why must they accept manipulation by a third party as the price of that connection?
This constant dosing of social anxiety only gets people more glued in. Deep mechanisms in the social parts of our brains monitor our social standing, making us terrified to be left behind, like a runt sacrificed to predators on the savannah.
They are hooked because of provoked natural vigilance.
The problem isn’t that there are only a few stars; that’s always true, by definition. The problem is that BUMMER economics allow for almost no remunerative roles for near-stars. In a genuine, deep economy, there are many roles.
Lanier makes an excellent argument that there shouldn't be outliers in the 'influencer' economy. There are better models where everyone is compensated fairly for their efforts.
BUMMER undermines the political process and hurts millions of people, but so many of those very same people are so addicted that all they can do is praise BUMMER because they can use it to complain about the catastrophes it just brought about. It’s like Stockholm syndrome or being tied to an abusive relationship by invisible ropes.
What social media did at that time, and what it always does, is create illusions: that you can improve society by wishes alone; that the sanest people will be favored in cutting contests; and that somehow material well-being will just take care of itself. What actually happens, always, is that the illusions fall apart when it is too late, and the world is inherited by the crudest, most selfish, and least informed people. Anyone who isn’t an asshole gets hurt the most.
In the age of BUMMER you can’t tell what was organic and what was engineered.
Facebook and other BUMMER companies are becoming the ransomware of human attention. They have such a hold on so much of so many people’s attention for so much of each day that they are gatekeepers to brains.
It’s as if Facebook is saying, “Pay us or you don’t exist.” They’re becoming the existential mafia.
One of the reasons that BUMMER works the way it does is that the engineers working at BUMMER companies often believe that their top priority among top priorities isn’t serving present-day humans, but building the artificial intelligences that will inherit the earth.
The best way you can help is not to attack those who would manipulate you from afar, but simply to free yourself. That will redirect them—us—and make us find a better way to do what we do.
The algorithms invoke fight-or-flight emotions and play on infantile needs for attention. The algorithms are programming everyone in a statistical distribution; the atrocity committers are those who are programmed the most keenly.
It was the right risk to take. Challenging you to delete emphasizes that you do have personal responsibility in our era. You do have the potential to be more aware of your role via platforms even when those platforms are opaque, controlled by others, and are designed to “engage and persuade” you in tricky ways.
And yet deleters have accomplished something wonderful. They have created a space for a conversation outside the addiction system.
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