Facebook is getting a well deserved dragging in the media and halls of Congress due to the the well known but suddenly shocking discovery that it offers its services free in exchange for collecting users' interests, buying habits and political leanings.
Conservatives are mad that Facebook's pierced, magenta-haired staff are censoring them. Liberals are upset that Russian agents used the platform to help Trump win.
Meanwhile Twitter, Facebook's sleazy cousin, avoids the same level of scrutiny. Twitter, like much of social media exacerbates the tears in our society and can bring out the worst in us.
Before going any further, let me say that I have many friends and people I greatly respect who are active Twitter users.
It’s not surprising, then, that people who experienced a rush of pleasure when they received social validation — a “dopamine hit,” in today’s popular language of neurochemistry — were more likely to survive, leaving a strong evolutionary bias toward people with a desire to receive social approval. (And a fear of social disapproval, which is why speaking in public is one of the greatest phobias.)
Social media companies know this, and take advantage of it.
I tried to quit Twitter and keep my account open to promote my writing. But I couldn't keep off it. It took deleting the account to make my exile stick.
I counted retweets, likes and checked to see the reaction to my latest slam dunk like an addicted monkey looking for that cocaine tablet to drop. I worked hard to be "Twitter famous." For the record, that doesn't pay squat. It turns out this addictive behavior is completely by design. Sean Parker, one of Facebook's founders pulls back the curtain,
"The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, ... was all about: 'How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?'""And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that's going to get you to contribute more content, and that's going to get you ... more likes and comments.""It's a social-validation feedback loop ... exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you're exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology."
Unfortunately, confrontation and primitive tribalism also drops a powerful dopamine hit. The cycle is so typical. A public figure says something stupid or dishonest to provoke a reaction. The rage reaction rises in those insulted that translates into a snarky or angry Tweet. Hundreds of people jump in as thousands of people re-Tweet. Everybody gets rewarded and society dies a little bit.
Worse, news institutions have adopted this model because reactions, especially negative ones, generates revenue. Take a look at CNN for example. White House correspondent Jim Acosta has turned his job into click-baiting trolling.
The daily press briefing debates between Acosta and Sean Spicer, and then Spicer’s replacement, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, doesn't happen in a bubble or relegated to YouTube since all the cable news networks carry the briefings because the ratings are great.
Twitter as a medium has some great benefits; such as being able to interact with important people and very the fast dissemination of information. However, this endless rage-to-revenue cycle is not healthy for people and certainly not for us as a society.