Why We Need To Be Vigilant On Social Media

Our data is more powerful than we realize

Illustration by Cynthia Marinakos.

Over the past week, I used Instagram to share the beautiful tulip festival I visited last weekend.

I used Twitter to share my latest article and connect with other copywriters, editors, and small businesses.

I looked up Facebook Messenger to get the address of a client I was meeting.

What do you do on social?

We’ve normalized social media in our lives. Sharing photos, news, and interests helps us feel connected to others around the world, no matter where we live.

It brings color to the mundaneness of daily life.

It gives us an excuse to procrastinate.

What have we been blissfully ignoring?

It’s unsettling to think that an innocent check-in, a like, or a tag could be taken, manipulated, and used to create “weapons-grade” harm against us.

Ir’s disturbing to think that social media may be used so powerfully to coordinate harmful, hateful events just as easily as it can be used to coordinate helpful events such as charity fundraisers and music concerts.

Yet the documentary The Great Hack informs us this is possible.

Journalist Carole Cadwalladr tells of how the Trump administration hired a political consulting company, Cambridge Analytica to influence millions of American voters through Facebook.

One part of the campaign focused on using Facebook ads to reach the “persuadables” — voters from US states that were undecided but looked likely to swing toward Trump.

The situation raised a few important questions:

Is it possible to ever have a free or fair election again?

An 18-month investigation by the UK Parliament answered the question with a firm “no” — as long as Facebook and other big tech companies aren’t made accountable.

Are our human rights being violated?

We know about our rights to free expression. We fight for equality. We are free to choose our religion. And we all have the right to a fair trial by jury.

What’s less clear are the rights to our personal data.

Shoshana Zuboff, professor emerita at Harvard Business School shared with The Guardian that The Great Hack is a small part “of the larger phenomenon that is surveillance capitalism… what living under the conditions of surveillance capitalism means. That every action is being repurposed as raw material for behavioral data.

And that these data are being lifted from our lives in ways that are systematically engineered to be invisible. And therefore we can never resist.”

Can social media really be harmful?

The U.N. accused Facebook of fueling the 2017 crisis in Myanmar through fake news and misinformation that led to hate speech, violence, and more than 650,000 refugees fleeing into Bangladesh.

And the documentary informs us that “weapon-grade” tactics were used to sway elections in Myanmar and other emerging countries — countries that rely on Facebook for information and communication. These countries were revealed as the testing ground for the US political campaign.

What can we do to prevent our data being used for harm?

Creator of the web, Tim Berners-Lee encourages us to stop the “downward plunge” to “a dysfunctional future”.

Let’s be vigilant

Be aware that our data can be used for harm as well as good, instead of living in blissful ignorance.

Let’s choose what we share on social

Download your Facebook data. Look at your privacy settings. Understand what you’re making public and what information may be collected and sold. Change default settings. Don’t be naive enough to think what’s private is yours.

Let’s acknowledge that many of our options have been chosen for us

Just like what we read in the news, see on social, or even what we buy from the supermarkets, we make choices based on what powerful influencers decide to show us or offer us.

Messages are crafted so carefully and casually that we don’t realize we’re being led into thinking a certain way.

The ads we see are designed to blend seamlessly into feeds and feel like shares from a friend rather than an annoying self-interested pitch from a salesman or a politician.

The power of suggestion leads us to make choices we think are ours — yet are someone else’s who’ve bent us to their will.

Creator of the web, Tim Berners-Lee encourages us to stop the “downward plunge” to “a dysfunctional future”.

We can’t control what others do, but we can choose what we think, be aware of how we feel, and decide how we want to act.

Let’s figure out who we are:

Let’s schedule time out from technology, from the influences of everyone around us — and discover who we truly are and what we really want it life — without all the noise.

Let’s stop constantly blowing in the wind of other people’s points of views — and start deciding what’s true for ourselves.

Let’s focus on building ourselves — and other people — up — rather than tearing people down.

Let’s be ok that our views may be completely different from the mainstream — and be curious, confident, and courageous enough to live our own truths.

The power of suggestion leads us to make choices we think are ours — yet are someone else’s who’ve bent us to their will.

Let’s take time out to discover ourselves and what our will is — so we won’t be swayed to someone else’s.

Summary: Why we need to be vigilant on social media

The Great Hack reminds us that we’re under constant surveillance.

Our personal data holds power. And it can be used for harm — without us knowing.

There are many things we, as consumers, can’t control in our digital world. But what we can do is be vigilant and proactive with our personal data on social media.

And most of all, we can find our own truths and stick by them. So we can be thinkers rather than persuadables.

Aussie Copywriter. I love rock climbing high ceilings and hiking amongst ferns >> 10 Proven ways to attract more Medium readers: https://bit.ly/3g2e2xx

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