Your mind and behaviour are probably being manipulated at a subconscious level if you spend a fair amount of time on social media. This is because these platforms use various psychological techniques to get and keep your attention on behalf of their clients and this is having unintended consequences for society as a whole.
The actual clients of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are the advertisers and you have free access because you are the product. Data on everything about you – who you know, what you read, where you go, what you like and share – is used by complex algorithms to create the feeds you see. You are shown what interests and motivates to keep your attention and, hopefully, influences your behaviour in favour of the advertiser, whether it is to buy a product, use a service, visit a destination, or support a cause.
Most of us have found ourselves spending far longer on a social media platform than we intended to, taking our phones to bed, or checking feeds first thing in the morning. Facebook has admitted that they use addictive techniques which work subconsciously and on a biochemical level. Just like pulling the lever of a slot machine you keep scrolling, looking for a post that makes you smile or checking the likes and shares on your posts. While doing this you get hits of the pleasure hormone dopamine – just like when you eat a sweet, take a drag of a cigarette, or a sip of wine.
However, the consequence of these algorithms aimed at increasing our engagement is that we are placed in an automated information bubble. We are shown the news and views which we support and this continually reinforces our personal beliefs and biases and also makes us more susceptible to falling for distorted facts and extreme views. The result is that it becomes increasingly difficult to appreciate and accept other points of view.
Social psychologists are warning that the manipulation of your minds by social media is contributing to the increased divisions within society, threatening democracy, and might be at the root of the increasing feeling that the world is out of control.