User’s Power Over Social Media—What Harm Can It Bring?

Photo credit: L’eco Della Stampa

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It’s terrifying to see how our perspectives differ far from each other due to personalised feed on the Internet.

Social media has revolutionized the way we communicate, connect, and consume information. Our personalised goals, intention, interests in using the social media — all of the data given is collected and use to serve our benefits. This is the reason we often see similar content we like and share often appears on the explore feed — the personalised content keeps us scrolling in the application.

Our power over social media is brutal — the public’s concern and influenced behaviour can drastically change the course of an event, given the circumstances. Take the McDonald’s and other big establishments, for example — the public’s move on the boycott of these big establishment have massively brought down their market shares; all thanks to the agreed rapport or mutual understanding over the content they are all fed on the social media.

Similar to any given power, this power, if left unmonitored, comes with a potential downside — the creation of filter bubbles and echo chambers.

Filter bubbles are personalized information environments that limit exposure to diverse viewpoints and opinions. Social media algorithms, designed to provide users with relevant content, often reinforce existing beliefs by filtering out information that contradicts or challenges them. This creates a self-reinforcing loop where users are only exposed to information that aligns with their existing worldview, further narrowing their perspective.

Echo chambers, almost similar to filter bubbles, are virtual spaces where individuals are predominantly exposed to information that reinforces their existing beliefs. This often occurs within online communities or groups where users share similar viewpoints, creating an atmosphere of confirmation bias and groupthink. In echo chambers, dissenting opinions are often met with hostility or dismissal, entrenching individuals in their beliefs.

Either way, these are the harmful effects over the power we have as users of the social media. Let’s take a look how we can utilise the power, and how it can create such harm to us. After all, we don’t want to be a slave to social media, do we?

What Power Do We Have Over the Content We Are Fed?

Instagram help centre on regulating sensitive content

Often than not, we often see how the posts on the social media somehow relate to us. If we keep seeing pictures of cats, for example, this only means that it’s an indication that you often interacted with posts that have similar content—pictures of cats, funny short videos of cats, interesting facts about cats, etc.

Similarly, if we tend to see posts that bring about disputes and disagreements from many, and interact with these disputes, we tend to see more of these. As we interact, our behavioural patterns are read and collected. This includes liking and sharing only posts that we approve and agree on the dispute.

The social media will collect every info and data we share to serve us content that suits our preferences, including our side of the argument stated previously. This is why often than not we tend to have jarringly different opinion than the others unknowingly, because eventually—the more we interact with the posts that suit our viewpoints—the more accurate the personalised content we’ll be fed. Eventually, this leads to what we call as ‘filter bubble’—we have our own virtual world on the social media, and whatever others think about our preferences won’t matter (because they are filtered out from our bubble).

We all have our own personalised bubble on the Internet (Photo credit: Simmons University)

Talking on the matter of filtering posts, we as the users have the power to limit the type of content we see on the social media. If you take a look closely, there is an option to reduce the exposure of whatever posts we see on the social media. Instagram, for example, there is a “not interested” option on the upper-right corner of any post that we see to limit that type of content in the future. There is an option for that on YouTube, too. Or on Facebook, TikTok—any social media.

Other power we have as users of social media include blocking and restricting accounts that may post irrelevant/sensitive content that goes against our personal values, privacy, or the terms of service of the platform. We also have the power to report such accounts to the platform so that they can take appropriate action.

One report may not be sufficient to take down an account, though. It needs a group of people of the same mind to report the account for the social media administrator to take action.

But this is the exact issue we have with the power given. These powers should be used responsibly—blocking and restricting accounts should not be used as a way to silence or censor people with whom we disagree. We should also be careful not to report accounts simply because we dislike them or their content.

The Power We Have—What Harm Can It Bring?

Photo credit: Freepik

There are cases of people abusing the power they have. In 2018, Twitter was accused of shadow-banning conservative accounts, meaning that their tweets were made less visible to other users. This led to accusations that Twitter was trying to silence conservative voices on the platform.

This is also the reason behind the “cancel culture” that existed. Massive reporting and blocking of a person over the social media for an alleged wrongdoing without proper administration is purely caused by uncontrolled power given to the users.

The power to restrict or limit the content they see also cause echo chambers, as previously mentioned. There will be groups of people divided because of what they see and believe what they are being fed on the social media. Because of the data about their interests and preferences of the content they see are collected and used to serve them more content that only show them what they want to see (filter bubbles), they tend to believe that whoever thinks otherwise is wrong.

This is concerning if news about the world is filtered to only adhere to their pre-existing beliefs. There will be two or more sides of the same story remained uncovered because of the echo chambers. One party will be strongly against the other because of the contrasting beliefs—be it political, religion, or social.

These problems, created from the very power the people have, would only lead to multiple problems that only worsen the conditions. One would be that the polarisation of the people’s belief increasing—it’s happened before, and it’s happening right now, too, with the current humanitarian crisis in Gaza. People have stark contrast of views regarding the war, and it’s not helping that they refuse to see each other’s side of the conflict.

Photo credit: Freepik

Not to mention that echo chambers would also lead to massive misinformation, too. People would (not-so) surprisingly do anything to ensure the public would side with them, including spreading misinformation. When people are only exposed to information from sources that they trust, they are more likely to believe false information, especially if it confirms their existing beliefs.

Then with misinformation, comes violence. People who are constantly exposed to messages that demonise or dehumanise certain groups of people tend to become more likely to engage, or support, in violence against those groups. As devastating as it may appear, it’s the exact issue we’re dealing with at the moment—humans supporting the complete annihilation of certain ethnic groups, all due to the misinformation they receive on the social media.

Should We Completely Abolish Social Media to Combat This?

No. The power given to us as the users of the social media should be administered, yes, but there’s no use for the administration if the users themselves abuse the given power to only benefit them. As mentioned before, it’s terrifying to see the abused power inflicting harm on the people we expect the least to be affected from.

Photo credit: Freepik

What I can say is, as we grow older and are accustomed to the social media, it’s best that we administer ourselves. Be aware of your echo chambers; there are multiple sides to the story you’re hearing. Make an effort to read or watch news that are not tailored to your preferences on the social media—look out for news broadcast on the TV, perhaps. Be critical to what you read or hear—don’t believe everything you get unhesitatingly. And of course, the hardest part is to try and communicate with the people who have different beliefs that you do. You may find out something new that open your eyes.

Regardless, it’s a diverse world we live in. Try to be careful with the power given to you on the social media.

Author

  • Muhammad Hariz

    A ’00 Malaysian freelance writer for MugenMilano. Occasionally writes for fun; otherwise, going to the gym and playing video games would be the R&R for Hariz. Having a keen interest in the area of gaming and technology, Hariz’s written materials would mostly be tech-related and gaming news, particularly in adventure, horror, and fighting genre. Doesn’t stop him from writing other interesting topics, though, as long as it is worth checking out.

One thought on “User’s Power Over Social Media—What Harm Can It Bring?

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