We are becoming slaves to our mobile devices – especially our phones! But this is more that just a habit-forming addiction… Without realising it, our behaviour, thoughts, our needs, our desires and even our most basic beliefs are being manipulated by tech companies.
It’s become normal for our lives to be interrupted by the ping of smartphone notifications, but most of us are blissfully unaware of just how much our lives are being controlled by the very gadgets that are — ironically — supposed to serve us!
But some former employees from the world’s biggest tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter (owned by Facebook) and Google are starting to come forward with information that by any stretch of the imagination is deeply disturbing.
In mid October 2020, both Facebook and Twitter were found blocking news reports and comments that were detrimental to the Democratic Party and in particular to Joe Biden and his connections to Ukrainian oil and gas companies, information that could seriously damage his chances of becoming the next US President.
Facebook is practices censorship on a grand scale. Facebook is free – there’s no charge for joining and setting up a page, but you have no say in how it works. The guy that runs it is not only rich, he is omnipotent. Every part of your life is monitored and recorded, even your private needs and worries. And if you say one thing they don’t like, they shut you up.
In 2017, Mark Zuckerberg told Facebook engineers to tweak its algorithm to throttle traffic to certain news websites in order to focus less on politics. This was because of the spread of misinformation on Facebook before the 2016 election.
Facebook executives were worried the change would have more of an effect on right-wing publications, but Zuckerberg rubber-stamped a change in the algorithm to focus on more left-leaning publications, meaning left-leaning sites would be favoured more than right-leaning sites.
In 2020, The New York Post, one of America’s top newspapers, was told by Twitter to delete six links to the Hunter Biden story which and father Joe Biden’s role in the oil and gas deal. Twitter users who posted and shared links to the story also had their accounts blocked along with multiple Trump-linked accounts with links to it.
But Facebook and Google’s influence goes much further than mere censorship. Big Tech insiders have revealed that information about us — what kind of films we like watching, what we’ve been searching for on Google, who our Facebook friends are… even information about our political beliefs and affiliations — and those of our friends. Sophisticated algorithms read our emails, study our comments, our spending, and also that of all our online contacts. This information is sold to the highest bidder.
In the meantime, news stories that Facebook and Google don’t like are blocked while stories they do like are actively promoted. This creates an entirely false perspective of society’s actual morals and views and creates social division, exactly as happened in the run up to the US election in November 2020. More concerning is that this ‘skewing’ of the facts is creating a generation of addicted children who have an entirely false view of the world. Worse, it has harmed youngster’s self-worth to such an extent their ability to connect to others may be permanently damaged beyond repair.
It is part of the human condition that we need to connect with others. Social media makes makes this connection more convenient. But social media is also addictive — so much so that many social media experts limit their own children’s access to it. Some don’t allow their children to use it at all.
According to a UK Ofcom report, people check their smartphones an average every 12 minutes. If you take your smartphone to bed with you, you have a problem! Even experts who understand the psychology behind smartphone addiction find it difficult to be separated from their phones because companies like Snapchat, Twitter, and TikTok have used well-understood psychological techniques to rewire our brains. Every single time you refresh an App, a new item appears at the top. In psychological terms this is known as a positive intermittent reinforcement.
In other words, the refresh button is like a Las Vegas slot machine. Every time you click on Facebook, or Snapchat, or Twitter, or TikTok, you’re unconsciously thinking there might be something interesting or exciting for you, so you play the game again and again. This is not accidental, the system is purposely designed that way.
Google and Facebook are free — they make billions of dollars from advertising. The industry knows that WE are the product because it is WE who are being sold to the advertisers. The more you use social media, the more they know about you… your likes and dislikes, in fact anything that can be targeting by advertisers who want to sell you something… or change the way you vote! They know about every piece of music you’ve ever listened to, every movie you’ve ever watched, everything you’ve ever bought online, where you’ve been, and who you were with at the time!
All that information means the tech companies can predict the kinds of things you’re interested in — and they’ll keep trying to sell you more. In fact, the detailed tracking of everyone, everywhere, is the tech companies’ business model — their profits come from making sure advertisers are as successful as possible. The tech giants are the ultimate middle-man — they sell no actual products, they have no warehouses or delivery trucks, no stores on the high street — they just have your name and all your personal information.
For the tech companies however, selling your personal information is not enough. We are only recently becoming aware that they also want to change who you are… The real goal is the gradual, imperceptible change in your behaviour and perception.
Huge teams of psychologists work at tech companies. They are employed for one purpose and one purpose only — to manipulate your thoughts, and when it comes to children, social media is the instrument of choice. Social media penetrates deep into the brain stem and manipulates the individual’s sense of self-worth and identity.
We have evolved to care about what other people think about us — it’s one of the things that helps us conform and ‘fit-in’. Nowhere is this basic need more exploited than the ‘Like’ button. Facebook’s ‘Like’ button, originally designed to ‘spread positivity and love’ has evolved into an instrument of hate. No one foresaw teenagers would get depressed if they didn’t get enough likes.
Despite a massive increase in depression and anxiety in teenagers as a direct result of social media, using social media for three hours or more a day doubled the risk of teen mental health problems. According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of women and girls between the ages of 10 and 24 who committed suicide has almost doubled since 2012, almost entirely due to social media use.
Just like any other kind of addictive drug, the more stressed people are, the more they now turn to their devices. A whole generation who never knew life before social media have been conditioned to turn to their digital pacifier whenever they feel uncertain or alone.
Depending where on the planet you are, if you Google ‘Climate Change’, the results vary wildly according to your location, because the algorithm feeds you what it thinks people in that area want to hear, regardless of the truth.
Tech companies now choose to use the same algorithms to also influence our political and moral beliefs. An MIT study found fake news spreads six times faster than true news on Twitter. Tech engineers have created a system that favours false information because it’s more exciting than the truth, and so makes more money. The inconvenient truth is that each of Facebook’s 2.7 billion users gets their own customised version of the ‘facts’. Over time, people acquire a false sense that everyone agrees with them because everyone in your newsfeed agrees with you. Once that happens, you know you’re being manipulated.
Facebook may be the greatest propaganda machine since the National Socialists. If you want to control the way a whole population thinks, there has never been an opportunity as effective and as powerful as Facebook. Disinformation is part of the persuasive power of social media.
Political persuasion in particular neatly fits Facebook’s business model. The insiders say algorithms are now becoming so expert that we’re absorbing propaganda instead of truth. Believe it or not, social media means we have less and less control over what we believe. That has to bed a major concern — especially where children are concerned.
The best way to stay sane? Turn off all notifications and log-off social media altogether, except for family and close friends, and even then, impose limits.
Copyright Andrew Newton 2020. All rights reserved.