In Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, Jaron Lanier, Silicon Valley insider, writer, computer scientist, and musician explores the dark side of Social Media through the lens of a Silicon Valley insider, providing some disturbing insights in the process.
The BUMMER Phenomenon Of Social Media
Central to Jaron’s thesis is the acronym BUMMER which stands for Behaviors of Users Modified and Made into Empires for Rent.
According to Lanier, Social Media Platforms are designed to cause addiction in Users which is necessary to keep them ‘engaged’ and spending time on the Platform.
In addition, User data is collected in order to be sold to Advertisers as well as to create personalised experiences through feedback loops that keep Users coming back.
The BUMMER platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and to a lesser extent Google are in Lanier’s view driven by the same basic strategy which has its origins in the world of Online Gambling..
As a business model, the essence of BUMMER is Behaviour Modifaction which is achieved by continuous exposure to Socia Media Algorithms that exploit the Brain’s natural reward and Punishment mechanism.
Lanier describes Social Media Platforms as Behaviour Modification Empires that deploy a system of subtle and continuous Conditioning to manipulate Users for the sake of earning profits for the Owners of the Social Media Platforms.
BUMMER conditioning ultimately has a negative effect on our individual and collective well being as a species.
In addition, it results in toxic Political and Social dialogue by amplifying distorted information, and in the process limiting the ability for people to make informed choices.
The BUMMER Society is therefore characterised by misinformation and the overrall decline of Culture as Algorithms amplify the most Polarising and divisive content simply because it results in the most ‘engagement’, and thus Revenue for Social Media Platforms.
The result is cyber information warfare, distorted Elections and the rise of fringe Hate Groups who feel justified by the echo chambers resulting from Social Media feedback loops designed to achieve ‘engagement’.
In the final analysis, its unlikely that Social Media will completely disappear in the near future, nevertheless, Jaron Lanier’s work makes an important and informed contribution in helping us to understand the business side of Social Media as well as the strategies used by Platform Owners to achieve success.
What emerges is a disturbing tale of Mass Social Manipulation and Mass Social Control through what can best be described as a form of Electronic Pavlovian Conditioning.
The future of Social Media remains to be seen, but at this stage its safe to say, its rise to prominence has depended on amplifying the worst rather than the best aspects of Human nature.