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Networking sites, along with users’ addictions to them, continues to grow.

Social media is an ever-growing platform that allows people from around the world to connect and share, but it also comes with unintended consequences.

Generation Z has known social media since middle school. One thing we know for sure is that it creates a false sense of reality, and when it was first introduced, it led to an exponential spike in suicide rates according to Netflix’s recent documentary “The Social Dilemma.”

As time went on, social media became an essential part of existence for billions of users, and this deceit has become the very foundation of our existence.

“The Social Dilemma” features interviews from former tech experts of major media companies, businesspersons and researchers from universities like Harvard and Stanford. They address the dark side of existing platforms such as Email, Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, etc. 

“We are the product,” Justin Rosenstein, former engineer for Facebook and Google, said. “Our attention is the product being sold to these companies.” 

Social media changes the way we think and behave, and that’s exactly what they seek to do.  Tanual Thakur, film critic and journalist for The Wire, worded it in a way I believe we can all relate to.

“I don’t remember when [social media] began,” he said. “I don’t remember why it began either. Was it the restlessness, intellectual curiosity or plain old dopamine hit?”

Likes, retweets, comments, messages and even refreshing the feed as if you’re at casino pulling the lever on a slot machine creates an addictive behavior with instant gratification. It’s ritual at this point. We constantly check our phones hoping there will be something new for us there.

“We’re all inmates in the jail of social media,” Thakur said, “and many don’t even know they’re locked in.”

Despite how rewarding social media feels, people can no longer differentiate between addiction, consumption and manipulation. Welcome to the dark reality. 

The primary dilemma that our digital society faces is the spread of disinformation for profit. Every interaction and frequency of those interactions are recorded from your digital device, creating an algorithm. 

This algorithm knows everything about you. These major media companies now have the power to hook you in with content that best suits your personal views and interests.

Due to these algorithms, there is no way to tell what’s true and what’s false.

According to the documentary, users are six times faster at getting fake news than true news, and Facebook is the most powerful tool of persuasion to ever exist. We are surrounded by like-minded people, so we constantly fall for this false sense of reality. Now, the fake news has become part of the algorithm.

Why is it then that people are so quick to turn to journalists as perpetrators of “fake news?” Far too often are posts, both written and visual, getting thousands of shares. That means it must be true, right? Why aren’t journalists reporting on this? 

This sort of rationale has created a society that no longer trusts each other, and it creates a “I’m right, and you’re wrong” way of thinking because your feed consists of the same belief system as you.

So many people are absorbed into their digital realities, therefore they cannot possibly believe they’re part of the problem when it comes to fake news. Social media is the master manipulator because we all receive different variations of the truth dependent on these algorithms. So, this is why I believe journalists receive the brute force of distrust.

We can see how this manipulation has come into full effect. Democrats and Republicans hate each other more than ever, and conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate and flat-earthers spread like wildfire despite not having a concrete foundation. Yet, people continue to feed into their own destructive behaviors that they’re completely oblivious to.

It’s irrational to suggest we all delete our social media accounts or throw away our phones. It’s too ingrained into our very existence. What we can do as users, however, is challenge ourselves to follow and interact with content that we may not agree with in attempt to throw off the algorithm. 

As journalists, we must strive to inform society in a fair and impartial manner while also upholding journalistic integrity.

Misinformation, or “fake news,” cannot continue to influence our society. We must be more critical of the information presented to us instead of blindly following it.

 

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