Who controls your Facebook use?

December 18, 2017, 2:54 pm

John Gormley John Gormley

John Gormley is a broadcaster, lawyer, author and former Progressive Conservative MP whose radio talk show is heard weekdays from 8:30 am – 12:30 pm on 650 CKOM Saskatoon and 980 CJME Regina.


“We have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works: no civil discourse, no co-operation; misinformation, mistruth. This is a global problem.

We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection, because we get rewarded in these short-term signals—hearts, likes, thumbs up—and we conflate that with value and we conflate it with truth.

It is fake, brittle popularity that’s short-term and leaves you even more vacant and empty than before you did it.”

–Chamath Palihapitiya’s reflections on Facebook

The recent Stanford business school speech by former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya is revealing.

While believing that Facebook “overwhelmingly does good in the world,” he expresses “tremendous guilt” for how social media is re-wiring our brains, our behaviour and threatening our intellectual independence.

Palihapitiya says that Facebook and other social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat are programming users through the combination of instant connection and sharing and then the instant gratification of feedback.

With two billon monthly users and growing, there is no doubt that Facebook has changed the way that many people get their news, stay in touch and even curate their own social lives and important events.

Decades ago, after television’s arrival, Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan wrote that “the medium is the message,” suggesting that the medium of delivering a message—like television instead of radio—should be examined, rather than the actual content, because the medium is often embedded in the message and affects the way we perceive the message.

For example, he illustrated how watching TV is a cooler, more passive and detached experience than the “hotter” experience of listening to a radio which requires more imagination and users to be more engaged.

Coincidentally, in 1962 McLuhan also predicted the “global village” where the world would shrink as it was linked by communications.

And so it is with social media, which links us but does more than simply deliver information. It has become the message, often stimulating, exciting and bringing users to emotional highs with a rush of dopamine.

And we can’t seem to turn away from our newsfeeds.

Alternatively, moods can swing to despondency and even anger at how we view and actually participate in social media interaction and exchanges.

The first hint that our lives are being manipulated by social media is the emotional tenor. If Facebook is really just a tool, when was the last time you got this worked up using a rake or pair of scissors?

If we feel FOMO—fear of missing out—or rejection, inferiority and loneliness because everyone’s perfect life surpasses ours it’s a sign.

Anytime that something places itself between us and genuine happiness or tries to squeeze out family or authentic experiences or living in the present there’s a problem.

The first step toward a solution is to acknowledge the problem, then resolve and plan to fix it.

In his critique, Chamath Palihapitiya did not have much advice beyond taking a hard break from social media or at least managing its use.

On my radio show, listeners weighed in with some interesting strategies to rein in social media.

To combat time wasting and impulsivity, some people have deleted Facebook smartphone apps and now only use social media at a computer; similarly, others have removed default settings and take the extra time to log in with user name and password; yet others ration a specific time of day for Facebook.

Some users tighten up privacy settings; others limit the number of friends and followers to something closer to reality; and one young woman at the beginning of each year deletes her past year’s posts, and drops or adds friends because “Facebook is not real life”.

Social media is here to stay. But it does need to know who is in charge.