Law in the Internet Society
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Connecting Without Sacrificing Contentment Using the Current Social Media Infrastructure

-- By YusufBavi - 01 May 2023

The Appeal

Social media and informal electronic communication applications connect users who otherwise would not encounter one another, and encourage them to communicate more frequently. The experience is more engaging because as users encounter one another, ideas and interests are less limited by space and time. Whereas in the physical world, people exist in geographical places, in the cyber-world, people congregate around ideas, and communities are built that way. And so, people who are geographically distant may form a tight-knit cyber-community of users with their own values and language. A cyber-community's language and values may change or evolve more rapidly than that of a geographic community for a number of reasons. In part, the rapid change is driven by frequently occurring micro-communications, which are able to be given the same weight as more formal communications because the members of the cyber-community already believe that they have more shared values. This belief would be based upon the fact that whereas their geographic community was circumstantial, their membership to the cyber-community is deliberate. And so, where living "geographically" is mundane, constrained, and ripe with disagreement, cyber-living on its face is vivid, novel, liberating, and pleasant. I think that this is one of the more innocent reasons why social media is appealing.

The Problem

As we become immersed recreational users, we can seamlessly become addictive users. The applications' algorithms work incessantly to tailor the feed of existing content to our fancy so that we remain at the trough. For example, it has been disclosed that Instagram's algorithm monitors the content that users interact with, their relationships with other users, all of the content of those users, and the times and amount of time that they use the app. (Source). Developers also alter their applications' functions so that they can continue to compete with newer applications that show a greater addictive capacity or capture a different interest. After Snapchat appeared and allowed users to share temporary video stories, Instagram followed suit and introduced the copy-cat "stories" feature with the same function, later Instagram would copy TikTok? by introducing "reels" which would later be picked up by Youtube as "shorts." Source ; Source ; Source.

With time, the current social media infrastructure's pernicious side-effects begin to rear their ugly heads. The uninformed, as well as the informed but still uncontrolled social media user suffers a loss of contentment as a person. The social media application becomes a domain within the cyber-community where an infinite highlight reel plays. This manicured reality that is displayed to the user chips away at the person's contentment by affecting their self-esteem and their security in themselves and in their relationships. Users build rich and developed cyber-communities around ideas and in spite of geography. These cyber-communities produce content that disrupts their counterparts' contentment. What is worse is that the algorithm picks up on the engagement with the content and increases its availability. And just as cyber-communities spawn and develop quickly around ideas, so too is content able to target even acute insecurities. Actually, side-effects may not be the proper term. Retailers and corporations seize social media to advertise products, and governments engage social media regularly and make use of analytics. Both parties have an interest in people becoming more suggestible, and it is well-researched that having less confidence can make a person more suggestible. Source ; Source.

Possible Solution

As I was brainstorming, I thought about how so-called "influencers" are whales in the ocean of social media-caused discontentment. The influenced are glamoured by the influencer — the user watches the influencer and the person is influenced and comes to use the influencer's content as a metric to measure their own success. Second, other influenced may measure their success amongst each other by who is closer to the influencer's projected life. I thought that "anti-influencers", could be capable of influencing users to be uninfluenced. Yes, "power tends to corrupt." But that is a platitude. Still, the anti-influencer would be an influencer. And attempting to and then becoming an influencer can subject a user to the same discontentment as the user because they will allow themselves to be affected by how they rank. Now, earlier we said that cyber-communities spawn and develop rapidly around ideas. And so, it should come as no surprise that anti-influencing already exists and has a shallow taxonomy. There are anti-influencers who deride their counterparts as salespeople and pied pipers for retailers. Source Then, there are anti-influencers who actually do encourage users not to be influenced. Yet still, as Ruchira Sharma points out, "influencers have always worked in opposition to something else." Source And so, I will not hold my breath until the day that anti-influencing makes a substantive contribution to real freedom of thought.


I recall from taking this course years ago that Professor Moglen suggested that people could replace the current social media infrastructure by learning a tad about web-design so that they could control the application instead of being affected by it. His suggestion was something along the lines of creating a less centralized but linked series of webpages that allowed people to share their images and thoughts similarly, but without having an algorithm. I recall a student in class chiming in that she liked the algorithm, that the algorithm introduced her to other things that she might be interested in, and that sharing without the algorithm would be somewhat pointless. I could appreciate his idea to change the infrastructure of social media. However, if social media is addictive, and it is, then perhaps some of the methods of combatting other addictions should be employed. In the criminal defense clinic last semester, I learned about "meeting people where they are at." At first, I thought this meant that if the client lived in the Bronx, you went to the Bronx. But it means helping people in the capacity that they are able to be helped. I think that changing the infrastructure in the way that was suggested would be a hard sell today. Myspace was a model more similar to the one that was suggested, and it did not fare well. Perhaps it will be revived along with other trends that died out decades ago but have made a comeback. Still, as the young lady said, users enjoy the algorithm. It is clear that it is possible for a person's contentment to be displaced by an algorithm orchestrating images on a 3'x5' display. I find that disturbing. I think that honest reflection and understanding ourselves more, accepting what we find and loving it would disarm any algorithm, I think that those are some of the greatest gifts that we can give ourselves. When people do not have confidence and when we do not love ourselves and have the company of people who love us for who we are, we can be subdued and sold a bill of goods.

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r1 - 01 May 2023 - 19:17:48 - YusufBavi
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