The Social Media Threat to Society and Security

from Project Syndicate

It takes significant effort to assert and defend what John Stuart Mill called the freedom of mind. And there is a real chance that, once lost, those who grow up in the digital age – in which the power to command and shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies – will have difficulty regaining it.

The current moment in world history is a painful one. Open societies are in crisis, and various forms of dictatorships and mafia states, exemplified by Vladimir Putin’s Russia, are on the rise. In the United States, President Donald Trump would like to establish his own mafia-style state but cannot, because the Constitution, other institutions, and a vibrant civil society won’t allow it.

Not only is the survival of open society in question; the survival of our entire civilization is at stake. The rise of leaders such as Kim Jong-un in North Korea and Trump in the US have much to do with this. Both seem willing to risk a nuclear war in order to keep themselves in power. But the root cause goes even deeper. Mankind’s ability to harness the forces of nature, both for constructive and destructive purposes, continues to grow, while our ability to govern ourselves properly fluctuates, and is now at a low ebb.

The rise and monopolistic behavior of the giant American Internet platform companies is contributing mightily to the US government’s impotence. These companies have often played an innovative and liberating role. But as Facebook and Google have grown ever more powerful, they have become obstacles to innovation, and have caused a variety of problems of which we are only now beginning to become aware.

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12 Responses to The Social Media Threat to Society and Security

  1. Coby Dunn February 23, 2018 at 3:53 pm #

    Social media is an ever growing platform. In theory, Social media presents a positive mission to connect the world, spread information, and host real discussions. In some cases, it can be productive. It can be used to gauge public opinion or find solutions to problems. But, those are just the positives. Social media has become infested with manipulation. The article states, “Facebook and Google effectively control over half of all digital advertising revenue.” This is a scary thought. With this sort of power, these two platforms can influence the world. They can choose what to advertise, who to promote, what messages to send. They can set terms for their users that have to be accepted. These platforms control how people think and act in an online setting.
    Social media relies on advertising. This prompts the question of privacy. Have you ever looked something up on google or facebook, let’s say clothing, and you come to realize that the advertisements you see revolve around clothing. These platforms have the ability to see what you look at, and can target you with advertisements. With this, it is easy to get lost in social media. If all of our information is being funneled through limited sources, how are we supposed to observe different opinions and view points. If we are not careful, we can become a manipulated society, with little power over the information we have.
    Another scary concept is the power these internet and information providers wield. With their increasing technology, they are soon going to be able to replace certain jobs. Think about how many jobs will be destroyed because of driverless cars. And who is to stop them? The United States is not set up to handle the jobless. Unlike Europe, we do not provide the same level of social benefits to those who need it. The power of the internet is unjust. The internets infancy gives companies unrivaled power. They control information and innovation, and in doing so, they limit our potential. It is only a matter of time before we realize that regulation is needed for the internet to thrive, and work the way it is supposed to. That is why things like the end of net neutrality only hurt our progression towards a safer internet. The more power we give to those who control the internet along with social media, the less influence we have. We are at the mercy of what these monopolies deem is worthy to show us.

  2. Jacob Abel February 23, 2018 at 6:43 pm #

    This article while very Orwellian, paints a very realistic future. The effects of social media on our society are so vast that they are impossible to measure. The rise of algorithms in advertising on websites is a crucial development to look at in the future. Websites can control what products and information we see. They are already doing so on places such as Facebook or YouTube which can show you information based on what someone has already searched. This posses a huge threat to open democracies as the article mentions. By being able to limit what information we look at it completely stops open discussion and only creates conflict. The power is being given more and more to a select few who control all of the internet. The aspect covering regulation in this article is very interesting as well. As Soros says the US only focuses on acquisition in anti-trust law. The European may need to be explored more in the future to see if it has applications in America. Finally we may need to consider the source of this article as Soros is someone who is very active politically and very involved in philanthropic projects all over the world that have had mixed reviews.

  3. Adam Facella February 23, 2018 at 8:46 pm #

    The fact that social media is being compared to casinos and gambling is a comparison which I would have never made in the past. I did not realize how serious some of the addictions that people have with their social media is and how much these social media platforms change our lives. Having platforms such as Google and Facebook taking up over 50% of the advertising of all of the internet this gives them lots of power to put advertisements into our feeds to make us want to buy these products that we would not normally want to purchase. Soros brings up the idea that these companies deceive their users to manipulate them to catch their attention. He also brings up the ideas that social media is making people give up their autonomy. No longer will people be able to make decisions on their own, but social media will have a very large presence in choosing the ways that we live our lives. This is something which was very relevant when the presidential campaigns was taking place. Due to social media, they were able to influence decisions on who to vote for without ever talking to someone but only through their accounts and advertisements which are impossible to block from viewing.
    Once again George Orwell and his novel 1984 was brought up and talking about how even then his society is slowly being created. For the first time the author brings up that this is something that even 1984 would not have been able to predict. The author also brings up many ideas which are focused on the net neutrality debate and the way in which there will be a focus on ensuring that there will be no service provided for certain groups over others.

  4. Nicholas Marinelli February 23, 2018 at 11:29 pm #

    Years ago, the idea of a world with social media could be hard to think of, but now, it is impossible to think of society without social media and the Internet. It consumes lives, is compared to gambling, and manipulates people. Some say social media is consuming the consumer in a sense and money hungry companies are essentially taking the “freedom of mind” from people and making important choices for them.
    The usage of data analytics and AI to force advertisements, products, and services amongst people is a touchy subject that some feel is unethical. George Soros, writer of this article, feels like it is morally unjust and unethical to enact such decisions on customers. I feel like this- the use of algorithms- in advertising is great and such a technological advancement for companies. However, I do not feel they have the right to infringe on human rights and expose their decision making, forcing them to buy a product they do not essentially need. Forcing someone into a decision is different than just posting an advertisement; companies are force feeding content while people are trying to read the news, follow friends, or watch a show. Coming from a business perspective however, it is understandable to do what companies actually do- how else will they make money?
    In my opinion, advertising on social media will only become even more lucrative and enticing for companies. With the emergence of virtual reality, companies have endless opportunities to engage audiences with their full retention. I also feel as if autonomous vehicles can include some sort of advertising display, since the car is essentially driver-less.
    Overall, social media is a tool to succeed in life and needs to be used correctly. It has endless potential, room for improvement, and always allows people to learn.

  5. Antonio Macolino February 26, 2018 at 5:57 pm #

    When using Google or Facebook, people just think they are using a handy website that allows them infinite possibilities and ways to be creative. What people do not realize is that these websites are no longer just websites anymore. Now, they are monopolistic superpowers that truly have the ability to take over the world.
    Just five years ago, Google and Facebook were just normal parts of everyday life. They were websites that millions use daily and provided entertainment, information, and social networking. But, what was slowly occurring behind the scenes that nobody noticed was their growth into immense superpowers. This growth is largely attributed to advertisements. As stated in the article, these advertising companies are these social media platforms’ main customers, not the average consumer such as you or I. This large growth has turned these social media sites into giant monopolies. According to the article, Facebook and Google earn most of the world’s advertising revenue. This poses a huge problem. Since the internet is a place where people can go the express their thoughts, these companies may soon be able to control our thoughts if regulations are not put in place.
    It was already seen in the 2016 election, that these companies in some ways tried to sway people’s opinions, or enemies such as Russia, take to these websites to try and rig elections. This will completely ruin the integrity and sanctity of future elections to come. Another huge problem is the idea of leaders working with these companies to censor the people. This may soon be done in China where the leader of China and the heads of these companies have a good relationship. This may lead to corrupt leaders blocking content, and pushing propaganda of their own.
    What these internet monopolies have the potential to do is severely impede on certain first amendment rights. People may be censored online and may only be able to view content that the government allows them to. This problem must be stopped. Laws must be put in place that restrict these internet giants and limit them from taking over everything and everyone. If not, these companies will become mad with power and infringe on many of our rights.

  6. Antonia James March 1, 2018 at 7:18 am #

    Every interaction any of us have with the digital/networked world produces data about each of us constituting our digital footprint that is then available to any entity with resources at its disposal. A big area of worry here is, of course, social media where the experience is that of having a conversation among peers and friends but all of that information has the constant potential or being more broadly available outside of the conversational spaces. The problem, however, is not limited to social media – every search you run, every transaction you complete or even your emails/file uploads and downloads, might all be available for those who are interested – big corporations, governments etc. According to the article, with the monopolization of the internet platform, Facebook and Google have grown ever more powerful, they have become obstacles to innovation, and have caused a variety of problems of which we are only now beginning to become aware. During the 2016 presidential election, Russia used social media platform to create ads that were intended to influence our decisions. The question remains unanswered, how did the Russians succeed by using Facebook ads to target Americans during the election? These ads allowed people to air false opinions that might have influenced the decisions of many. According to John Stuart Mill, individuals are more likely to abandon erroneous beliefs if they are engaged in an open exchange of ideas. Second, by forcing other individuals to re-examine and re-affirm their beliefs in the process of debate, these beliefs are kept from declining into mere dogma.
    As stated in the article by George Soros, the Internet monopolies have neither the will nor the inclination to protect society against the consequences of their actions. These companies goal is to make a profit by exploiting their environment. In their attempt to gain more power and money, these tech giants are now attempting to gain access to fast growing countries such as China and Russia. This decision would only give broader access to our data information, security and our freedom to make choices. According to the article, Facebook and Google earn most of the world’s advertising revenue. It’s our data that makes Facebook worth $100 billion and Google $300 billion. It’s our data that info-mining companies like Acxiom and Datalogix package, repackage, sift, and sell. And it’s our data that, tech giants also pass along to the government, and pharmaceutical companies. In addition to selling our data, they deceive users by manipulating their attention towards their own commercial purpose. Based on our data, they have the ability to design content that would appeal to us. The United States, needs to enact laws that would protect ordinary citizens from the powers of these monopolies.

  7. Olivia Mason March 1, 2018 at 6:31 pm #

    Perhaps one of the most misunderstood concepts of social media companies like Facebook and Instagram, and others like Google are who the true clientele are. It’s not the users as we often think (or at least would like to think, and thus trick ourselves into believing), but the advertisers. As we have so often discussed in class, if the product or is service is free to use, then we aren’t actually the customers, we are the product. As mentioned in the article, internet platforms are becoming similar to casinos in that they have developed methods in hooking users and creating a form of dependence and addiction. After all, if they want to continue to grow and increase profits, they need to create a larger and more dependent user base for their true customers, the advertisers to target. The larger and more dedicated the user base, the more companies will pay.
    What is particularly worrisome about this arrangement is the power that these advertisers hold over the population. These internet companies generally do not regulate the advertisements that are being placed over their users, and with this comes the potential for mass persuasion. Targeted ads can have disastrous results, much like the Russian influence in the last presidential election in which pro-trump ads were taken and then targeted to help motivate likely right-wing supporters to go vote.
    In the United States, where the Chicago school of thought towards antitrust laws reigns supreme, the “wellness of the consumer” has come to be almost synonymous with “no price increases”. It is this misguided belief that has allowed internet companies like Google and Facebook to become monopolies in their own right. However, as has already been discussed, the consumers of these companies’ free services aren’t the actual users, but those who by the user information and the advertisers. The sole focus of these companies isn’t user wellness, as they aren’t their true customer. This mindset (as opposed to the European one in which they aggressively protect competition, privacy and security) could be a serious detriment as the internet industry doesn’t care for the American citizens. They aren’t going to be concerned with the job loss that introducing Artificial Intelligence will have, and the American government isn’t doing much to regulate the industry.
    Ultimately, in order to protect citizens from the internet giants, the government needs to shift their outlook of the equalization of consumer wellness and price stability and reduction to true consumer wellness. These giants have more information on citizens than any other organization, and the American government has done essentially nothing to regulate them partially due to the fact that most of their services are free. Without additional regulations on these companies, they will be free to do whatever they’d like, and whatever their true customers-the advertisers- want, thus leaving citizens at the will of those trying to seduce money from them.

  8. Michael Katz March 2, 2018 at 7:45 pm #

    In the article “The Social Media Threat to Society and Security” by George Soros really illustrates the dangers of the Internet and Social Media. We already know that young people are being radicalized on social media and go out and do terrible things to others. They post their intentions on social media and sometimes someone will notice and do something about it. The boy who shot all those school children let his intentions be known on social media and no one did a thing. Social media is a great influence on all of us. Facebook, for example, is fun and informative and lets us know what is going on in the lives of friends and family. But it is also a business and makes a lot of money by some of its other activities. There are always pop-up ads and many people pay attention to them. The article cautions us to be careful with our use of social media. Definitely, the government will eventually become involved. There probably should be some censorship and there has already been some. There are dangerous people monitoring what we’re saying and where we are. There are people who try to change our minds and our political beliefs. People have actually been brainwashed through certain forms of social media. Many would like our President Trump to knock off the tweeting. The Internet is definitely out of hand and needs to be reined in.

  9. Samuel Kozlov March 8, 2018 at 8:54 pm #

    While an extremely frightening prospect, “The Social Media Threat to Society and Security” paints an accurate picture of what social media is becoming. The author, George Soros, attempts to link the current uselessness of the U.S. government to the giant internet platforms that thrive in this country. He states that the internet platform companies are controlling the actions of the government, and interfering with its ability to function effectively. I somewhat agree with this statement, since the majority of the time that the internet has existed, the government has been anything but effective. The U.S. government, for the longest time, has only existed to favor itself and the people that run it. This alarming trend may not necessarily have much to do with internet companies, but in using the internet, the government has unlimited capabilities to do much harm to U.S. citizens.

    Perhaps most problematically is the influence that social media giants like Facebook and Google have on peoples’ actions, thoughts and behaviors. For people, such as teenagers, who are most susceptible to various belief systems that they read all over the internet, this presents the biggest issue. The statement that I am most in agreement with from the article is, “…social media companies exploit the social environment. This is particularly nefarious, because these companies influence how people think and behave without them even being aware of it. This interferes with the functioning of democracy and the integrity of elections.” When many people have very strong opinions about a certain subject, they tend to try to find others that share this same belief. If their beliefs are formed by what they read on social media, they will often be convinced of these untruths and try to convince others of the same misinformation. If these people go out and vote with their emotions, rather than utilizing their logic, that can have a substantial effect on the process of democracy.

    If Facebook and Google continue to grow and influence vulnerable peoples’ behaviors, there is going to be a serious contention regarding what should and shouldn’t be allowed to be posted on the internet. Then, the argument arises that trying to hinder free thought via the internet will cause undemocratic patterns. This may be somewhat true, but people should consider that allowing social media to grow to the point that it has has caused even bigger issues in the long run. We live in a world where the free flow of information is at our finger tips, and not all of this information is accurate or has basis in reality. So, we need to find a middle ground that can give us the ability to use the internet in its intended use and not go too far, as we’ve already seemed to have done.

  10. Justin lin March 8, 2018 at 11:44 pm #

    In the current world, a lot of countries have dictatorships leader. For example, Putin’s Russia had been in power for fourteen years. And Donald Trump would like to be someone like Putin. On the other hand, Facebook is the dictatorships of social media. In the modern world, a lot of people rely on social media. When people being harm by social media, they feel the same pain as physical pain in their brain. After people are being harmed by social media, they will become antisocial and feel treated by the society. And social media companies are making money by influence how people think and behave without them even being aware. Social media company are controlling people’s mine, like Kim Jong-un in North Korean. The US is a free world; people should not feel being in control by the social media company. And Google controls most of the social media companies. According to the article, the most time people use social media, they are more valuable to the companies. The advertising company will happy to buy all the information about people using social media from Google, and they will use it against people.
    For people that were born during the internet age, they will never know what freedom feels like since they grow up using social media. And the Children will not have face to face conversation anymore, people will not seeing children playing football in the years after school anymore. Google will gain a lot of competitive advantage by knowing people’s mine. The US regulator needs to step up and prevent people from control by social media happen. The US government need to protect people’s privacy and stop internet company from manipulating people’s information.
    I agree with Samuel’s comment. Social media are treating democracy by controlling what people think. Since people always post a lot of private stuff on social media, the social media company will always know people’s secret. Ever since the internet become popular, people’s privacy becomes not exist. And sometimes they can use that secret for marketing purpose or sell it to other company. The social media company also have the power to delete the post or modify the post. And Google had control of most of the social media companies. Hence people rely on social media, Google can control the majority of people’s mine, while the US government only control people’s physical body.

  11. Matt Henry March 9, 2018 at 3:35 pm #

    This article is pretty farfetched. There is an apparent problem in online advertising especially with social media companies deceiving users and taking advantage of the time people spend online. But this comparison to casinos is embellished.
    “There is a similarity between Internet platforms and gambling companies. Casinos have developed techniques to hook customers to the point that they gamble away all of their money, even money they don’t have.
    Something similar – and potentially irreversible – is happening to human attention in our digital age. This is not a matter of mere distraction or addiction; social media companies are actually inducing people to surrender their autonomy. And this power to shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies” (Soros).
    In the net neutrality debate, the monopoly that these huge companies hold is recognized as a pressing issue. But to compare these companies to a totalitarian controlled state is not helping anybody. US IT companies are not collaborating with dictators in other countries in order to further their own interests. As much as companies strive to profit, they are not trying to take over the world. The best part about this article is the end that talks about laws trying to break up this problem. The EU does have the power to break up this trend and if more inequality arises from the domination of these companies then it will be important to break them up. Even though I agree with the end of this article, I felt some bias reading in its entirety and it made me disagree with most points.

  12. Gabrielle Pietanza March 13, 2018 at 11:56 am #

    In the world of which we live, more so than prior, few companies strongly command the attention and minds of society. These companies which hold the power are able so shape the opinions of the public and once we lend our ear to them, we tend to have difficulty regaining the freedom that has been lost. People as a whole have surrendered a great deal of themselves and their freedoms to big business, media, and government. Although the statements provided in this article are dark, they are realistic as well. We are surrendering much of our freedoms and powers to these institutions which shape society in a particular way.

    By giving power to media and with the increased technology surrounding us, the algorithms websites use are capable of targeting us and individuals believed to be similar in regards to the advertisements, suggestions, news articles, and internet search results we receive. I believe society is beginning to come to realize that regulations must be implemented to target the alterations and shapes the internet takes to give us information specifically formulated for us. In order to live in a fair and informed world I believe individuals must all have equal access to the same resources and able to take in multiple perspectives. If this is not the case society is threatened as we will be controlled without ever realizing it. Our privacy is and continues to be unknowingly surrendered and we are being monitored in every aspect of life. In order for individuals to live in a better world we must realize that our privacy is being seized and in turn strive to regain that privacy that has been taken by large institutions.

    In regard to this articles stance on government and mafia states, I believe the information spoken to threatens democracy as we know it. Government itself uses the internet to sway the views and opinions of the public to align them with a particular candidate and or party. By targeting individuals in this way yes we are voting but we are being told who to vote for through unethical practice. We must leave it to the people to come to their own conclusions regarding what they are looking for in a leader and governmental servant. There must be reform to protect citizens from taking their money, freedom, and opinions.

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