Books That Changed the Way We Treat Social Media
For most people, social media apps like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are just a convenient way to connect with friends and have some fun.
You may think, “Who cares if I post a hilarious video of a cat in a shark costume riding a Roomba?”
But the influence of social media on society, our personal decisions and behaviour is often more significant than we imagine.
Statistics show that social networking platforms generate about 42 percent of traffic to the websites spreading fake news. And false information isn’t the only “weapon” used against people hanging out on social media. By spending an average of 24 hours every week online, we leave an enormous digital footprint that stores data about everything we do in the digital world. Such information allows Google and other tech companies to get to know us better than our own parents. More worryingly, it creates numerous possibilities for crimes from scammers and cybercriminals.
Social media has a flip side, but these five books will help you become a more conscious internet user.
Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe by Roger McNamee
“They have taken advantage of our trust, using sophisticated techniques to prey on the weakest aspects of human psychology, to gather and exploit private data, and to craft business models that do not protect users from harm.”
Roger McNamee is a tech-venture capitalist, long-time Facebook investor and one of the first mentors of Mark Zuckerberg. It was McNamee who advised young Zuck not to sell the company to Yahoo! for $1 billion back in 2006. Back then, no one could imagine he would become an avid Facebook critic in just a decade. But the 2016 U.S. presidential election changed everything.
When the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke out, Facebook was accused of failing to protect users’ personal data from being exploited for political purposes. For McNamee, these events played a pivotal role. In Zucked, he explains how Facebook’s internal processes and culture allowed this colossal data breach to happen. McNamee also expresses his concerns about social media’s influence on society, claiming that the irresponsible treatment of Facebook’s power puts democracy at risk.
If you have a Facebook account, Zucked should be on your reading list. This book will help you understand the hidden motivation behind the decisions of Silicon Valley’s major players and get rid of any illusions about social media once and forever.
Mindf*ck: Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America by Christopher Wylie
“What Cambridge Analytica did was use complex corporate setups across jurisdictions not only to launder money but to launder something that was becoming just as valuable: your data.”
Midf*ck by Christopher Wylie is another book describing the Cambridge Analytica scandal but from a completely different angle. Written by the company’s infamous whistleblower, it reveals how trails left by Facebook users (e.g. likes, scrolls and posts) let the analytical agency create precise psychological profiles of American voters.
The author of the book is a data scientist directly involved in Analytica’s work at the time when the events behind the scandal took place. He was actually among the “evil geniuses” who created the tool allowing the agency to deduct people’s psychological traits from their online behavior. So, we can be sure that Midf*ck isn’t just a piece of paranoid fiction; it tells us the real story indeed.
The book also covers other cases of social media influence on politics, such as Brexit and WikiLeaks. This makes it even more interesting for those internet users who reside outside the U.S.
In general, Midf*ck is a great read to learn how bad actors can use our personal data for psychological manipulation and societal damage. It will make you think twice before leaving another comment or like on Facebook.
Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier
“We’re being hypnotized little by little by technicians we can’t see, for purposes we don’t know. We’re all lab animals now.”
Jaron Lanier is a computer scientist and Silicon Valley visionary who wants to release people from the addiction of social media.
In the mid-1980s, he started the first company to produce and sell Virtual Reality (VR) gadgets. The global tech community even named Lanier a founding father of VR technology. Later on, he was Chief of the Engineering Office at Internet2, an American computer networking organization. Since 2009, Lainer has been working at Microsoft Research.
So, what made a person who devoted his whole life to technologies advocate the idea of quitting social media?
In his book Ten Arguments, Lainer uses the term “mass addiction” to describe the problem of social media influence on society. He claims the algorithms behind Twitter, Facebook and similar platforms are designed to manipulate our brains and behavior. Lanier also believes social media creates a hostile environment for communication and limits users’ free will. Altogether, this online world brings out the worst in people and reduces our capacity to develop spiritually.
This book is a great choice for readers who are interested in the philosophical side of technology and want to know how social media hooks us on an elusive mirage.
Unsurprisingly, Jaron Lanier has no social media accounts.
The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff
“It is no longer enough to automate information flows about us; the goal now is to automate us.”
Shoshana Zuboff is a scholar, author and researcher whose fields of interest include the digital revolution, modern economic order, and the future of humanity. In The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, she focuses on the new threats our society faces due to extreme concentrations of data in the hands of tech giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon.
Zuboff believes that business models based on global behavior predictions and modification (she calls them “surveillance capitalism”) are exploitative and undemocratic. By seducing us with access to almost infinite knowledge, tech corporations turn people into puppets. She also states how human experiences are now treated as raw material used by companies to increase their profits.
Besides theorizing about this new era of capitalism, Zuboff raises many other issues relevant to most modern people. In The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, she discusses fake news, the negative influence of social media on society, and human rights. Essentially, it’s the book that every internet user should read to understand how tech companies try to control our lives to make more money.
The Filter Bubble: What The Internet Is Hiding From You by Eli Pariser
“Google is great at helping us find what we know we want, but not at finding what we don't know we want.”
This bestselling book was published in 2011 but hasn’t lost its relevance nine years later. It is written by Eli Pariser, an entrepreneur and activist who believes the internet and social media distort our vision of reality.
How is this possible, taking into account how the web can help us find out virtually anything?
Google, Facebook, Twitter and the like use advanced algorithms to enable personalized searches. Based on data they’ve previously collected about us, their algorithms try to guess what we would like to see. Pariser claims that this creates a phenomenon of the “filter bubble” and prevents us from receiving information differing from our existing viewpoints and beliefs.
But the state of intellectual isolation isn’t the only consequence of personalization. Pariser also describes the negative effects of social media on society, stating that “filter bubbles” aggravate such problems as tribalism and racism.
Besides showing the influence of social networks on our thoughts, The Filter Bubble outlines some ideas of what we can do about it. So, the book will be especially interesting to those internet users who don’t want to be manipulated, yet aren’t ready to delete all social media accounts.
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Social networking platforms collect and store terabytes of data about their users which practically creates the Internet of Us. All the clicks, scrolls, likes, posts and comments we make may seem like utterly useless information. But for tech corporations, they’re valuable resources used to create our psychological profiles and manipulate our behavior.
How can you protect yourself? It’s a good idea to rethink your relationship with social media and limit your presence there. And now you know about the pitfalls, we hope you’ll be more discreet about your data and the information you post online. Be careful out there.
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