Some negative uses of social media


Digital/Bi-lateral/Twitter brains

The Internet is changing the way the brain reads

- there is evidence that humans are developing digital/bi-lateral/Twitter brains with new circuits skimming through the torrent of information online. ie artificial skimming. This is an alternative way of reading and is competing with traditional deep-reading circuitry developed over several millennia, ie more in depth processing.

- US adults now spending 5+ hours per day (2013) online via computers and mobile devices; this is an increase in 3 hours since 2010. In Australia, the average time spent online has tripled over 10 years with 80% spending the equivalent of 1 day online per week.

- even though the brain is plastic and it is constantly adapting, it is not designed for reading, ie there are no gene for reading as there are for language or vision. Spurred on by the emergence of Egyptian hieroglyphics, Phoenician alphabet, Chinese paper and the Gutenberg printing press, the brain has developed reading capacity.

- before the Internet, the brain mostly read in linear ways, ie one page led to the next page, etc.. The book's layout and reading in print helped us remember where key information was to be found in a book. But the Internet is different

"...With so much information, hyperlinked text, video alongside words and interactivity everywhere, our brains form shortcuts to deal with it all - skimming, searching the keywords, scrolling up and down quickly. This is non-linear reading..."

Michael Rosenberg, 2014

"...we are spending so much time touching, pushing, linking, scrolling and jumping through text that when we sit down with a novel, our daily habit of jumping, clicking, linking is ingrained in us......we're in the new era of information behaviour, and we're beginning to see the consequences of that..."

Andrew Dickson as quoted by Michael Rosenberg, 2014

- comprehension and learning are still superior when using a traditional approach to reading, especially when under pressure

Loss of privacy as everything on the internet is open, marketable & transparent, eg Google can collect data from

- Google+ (contacts, photos, etc)

- Phone (time, date & call duration, SMS details)

- YouTube (videos you watch, etc)

- Apps (documents & calendar. etc)

- Your device (browser details, unique device no., mobile network, search history, interests, etc)

- GPS (current location, etc)

- Gmail (contact list, messages, etc)

Google's response to a lawsuit against ad-targeting

"...A person has no legitimate expectation in privacy in information he voluntary turns over to third parties..."

as quoted by James Hutchinson et al, 2014

Even though Google is known as a search engine and e-mail service, 84% of its 2013 revenue (around US$ 60B) comes from advertising based on information it has about people's lives.

"... Everything you search or write in a Google service - especially the free services - is up for grabs by advertisers..."

James Hutchinson et al, 2014

Our willingness to give up our data, for free, has allowed Internet companies to create vast monopolies or oligopolies that build fortunes.

"...They pay very little tax, employ very few people and manipulate what see, while selling our data to others for enormous sum. We have been lured into spending most of our lives on the Internet and giving away all our research and other usable data for free......we have to change......massive and dangerous flaws in our platform-based, network, networked digitised economy by giving individuals the ability to control and charge for the information and content that they own and create by living their lives online..."

Jaron Lanier (computer scientist who helped pioneer virtual reality in the 1980s) as quoted by Joanna Gray, 2016d

An example of loss of privacy is USA's National Security Agency (NSA)

- under "Prism" (surveillance system). NSA and others are able to access private information, eg e-mails and Internet communications, from hundreds of millions of users. - this information is stored by major players in social media/Internet/telecommunications sector like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, Skype, Apple, AT&T, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, etc
- also, NSA stole information by tapping into the undersea cables of Google and Yahoo; it implanted spying devices in a 850,000 + computer systems in around 90 countries (Snowdon, 2014)

Concerns about privacy mainly centre around 2 Internet organisations, ie Google and Facebook. In fact, Google has considerably more access to private data, in terms of quantity and sensitivity, than Facebook

"...Google has a much bigger footprint when it comes to tracking and profiling everyday lives of billions of people..." 

Wolfie Christi as quoted by 
Drew Harwell 2018 

"...people who have downloaded there Facebook data have been surprised to find catalogues of their online relationships, events and messages, as well as which advertiser has their contact information. The download of one's Google trove could be even more exhaustive, including users' full browsing and searching and by-the-second data on their activities and real-time locations..." 

Drew Harwell 2018 

"...Google's parent company, Alphabet, runs the world's most popular search engine ( Google), smart phone operating system (android), Web browser (Chrome), video site (YouTube) and e-mail service (Gmail) giving the company unprecedented details of its users' daily lives.

Google and Facebook share a duopoly that dominates online advertising, and Google shows no signs of slowing down. It is considered an industry leader in driverless car development (Waymo), smart-home appliances (Nest), and artificial intelligence (through Google AI and Deep Mind), all of which need users' data to thrive..."

Drew Harwell 2018 

Both Google and Facebook were used by Russian sources to spread misinformation during the 2016 US presidential election.

Cambridge Analytica's use of data from around 90 million worldwide users has exposed Facebook's lax policies on privacy and highlights customers' fear about how their data might be used against them.

Google classifies the data it collects into 3 categories:

i) things you do (what you search for, which websites and videos you look at and where you went) 

ii) things you create (your e-mails, contacts, calendar events, photos, documents, etc) 

iii) things that make you 'you' (name, birthday, e-mail addresses, phone numbers, etc)

There is an expectation that things on the Internet should be free like use of Google maps, applications on Facebook and Instagram, etc. Furthermore, there is an expectation that the Internet is a wide open space, without government interference and available to be used at no cost to anybody with the interest and means to get online. 

The entrepreneurs on the Internet usually make money by selling advertising, ie 

"...The Silicon Valley firms offered advertisers a different deal, though, not the mass market approach of a 30-second radio spot or a quarter of a newspaper page. Facebook promises ads in front of the eyeballs of just the right person, having learnt who had what by paying attention to online activity..." 

Lee Schafer 2018 

What is your personal data worth? 

in 2017 "...Facebook generated about $US 19.5 billion in the US and Canada and revenue from its users, working back to around $US82 each...... applying expenses and taxes, the value of the date is around $US20.72..." 

People finding out, via Internet & social media, sensitive Government information before it is released to the general public

Phishing (spear-phishing) = when staff who have access to sensitive information are fooled into supplying it to those that shouldn't have it, eg mistakenly clicking on a fake email from your bank, etc. The weakest link is the human element

Increasing power, inter-linkages & scope of systems increases the chance of disrupting an entire organisation rather than just one system

Buying of illicit drugs on the internet, ie "deep or dark web" eg Silk Road (it is claimed that they traded $1.2 b until it was closed in Oct. 2013)

White House Twitter hoax (April 23, 2013) - a hacked Twitter account of Associated Press falsely reported 2 explosions at the White House and that Pres. Barack Obama had been injured. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by 150 points. This wiped US $136.5b from the US Equity market in 3 minutes

NotPetya ransomware (June 2017) (fraudulent software update on the popular Ukrainian accounting software package. The entire network of shipping giant Maersk was infected. As a result, it had to replace 45,000 PCs, 4,000 servers and 2,500 applications at a estimated cost of around US$ 300 m. (Emma Connors, 2018)

WannaCry ransomware (May 2017) (spread to 150 countries, paralysing industries from healthcare to hospitality) (Emma Connors, 2018)

Cyber-predators like cyber-bullying, eg estimates upto 40% of Australian children suffer from this (2014)

- no filters on information

eg) allows fake news (deliberate attempts of spreading misinformation usually negative, ie people invent news stories and pretend that they are true)

ii) radicalisation of people, eg extremists

iii) normalises extreme behaviours like graphic displays of violence and/or atrocities including murders, executions, beheadings, accidents (vehicles, etc), shootings, etc

NB the more shocking the scene, the more interest in it, ie goes viral on the Internet

iv) creates instant celebrity status that many people are unable to handle

v) encourages peer group pressure

vi) encourages bad behaviour like deliberately upsetting someone who has a different point of view (extreme cases involve hate speech)

vii) there is little privacy (see more details later) as everything on the Internet is open, marketable and transparent

viii) buying of illicit drugs on the Internet, ie "deep or dark web", eg silk Road (it is claimed that it traded $1.2 b. until it was closed in October 2013)

ix) terrorism, ie use of mobile phones and social media to detonate explosives, track people movements, promote activities like beheadings, etc

x) cyber predators, like cyber bullying, eg up to 40% of Australian children have been exposed to it (2014)

xi) child abuse/pornography, eg revenge porn

xii) social gambling (see below)

xiii) cyber espionage like Chinese military hacking of the US defence contractors involved in the F-35 joint strike fighter aircraft

xiv) hacking (illegal access to some-one else's computer and data)

NB Like any new technology, there are good and bad impacts. Need to regulate the bad aspects like mis-use of personal data

- Addiction to instant gratification

The use of social media especially on smart phones supports instant gratification and this can conflict with what the education system is about, ie delayed gratification.

"...The culture of the Internet is of immediate pleasure...... the inverse of school, which is about delayed gratification..." 

Monique Dagnaud as quoted by Alissa Runin et al, 2018 

Social media is 

"...A culture of creates a rapport with the world that is very immediate, very visual, fun..." 

Monique Dagnaud as quoted by Alissa Runin et al, 2018 

Schools are focusing on preparing their students for the 21st century, ie 

"...we must give them the tools of modernity; mastery of mass, of general culture,  the ability to flourish in social relationships, a capacity to discuss with others, to understand respect others and then very strong digital skills..." 

Jean-Mochel Blanquer as quoted by Alissa Runin et al, 2018

Research has shown that using a smart phone sets off the production of dopamine. It is the same system that is implicated in addiction and drugs. 

Also, it reduces your visual sensations 

Dilemma of social media 

"...The utopian notion of an Internet that unifies people across borders, fosters the unfettered flow of information, and allows truth and reason to thrive is already under attack on multiple fronts..." 

Suzanne Nossel 2018 

Already governments in countries, like China, Russia, Turkey, Iran, Egypt, etc want to be able to interfere, censor, manipulate, etc information and access to the Internet by its citizens. For example, Google in 2010 withdrew from China as it was uncomfortable with that government's demands, such as its stranglehold on political freedom, freedom of speech and civil liberties. Then in 2018 Google reversed its decision and agreed to the Chinese demands so that it could get access to the Chinese market. Allowing governments access to "private" information has led to the description of these Internet giants as 

"...While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are pygmies..." 

Republican Tom Lantos as quoted by 
Suzanne Nossel 2018 

The financial lure of China can be too great, ie 

"...According to September 2017 report by Boston Consulting Group, with more than 700 million users (nearly as many as the next two biggest markets - India and the United States - combined) and close to $US 100 billion in revenue, China has become the world's largest Internet market by several measures, only behind the United States in terms of online spending. The future upside seems nearly boundless. With its vast and upwardly mobile rural population, growth rates in Chinese Internet use far outpace any other market, with Internet penetration rates still lagging well behind those of other G20 countries. Right behind the US tech giants Google, Amazon and Facebook, five of the world's 10 largest Internet companies are Chinese, including Tencent, Alibaba and Baidu. China is also home to 20 to 40% of the world's "unicorns", defined as privately held start-ups valued at more than US$ 1 billion..." 

Suzanne Nossel 2018

Any leading global player cannot afford not to be involved in China. To do this, they have to become active partners in the government's efforts to silence dissent through censorship, mass surveillance, and the use of criminal charges.

The Chinese justify their position under the notion of cyber-sovereignty. This rejects the universalism of the Internet in favour of the idea that each country has a right to shape and control the Internet within its borders. This paradigm stands in direct opposition to the concept of an open Internet.

It needs to be remembered that Internet platforms are profit-making identities, not human rights organisations!!!! 

Social gambling (social gambling is where people gamble on-line for no financial prizes but can be charged minimal amounts for upgrades, etc. It is feared that this is a training ground for money gambling, ie a source of future customers. In 2012, gamers spent around US$1.7 billion on online slot machines and virtual poker games. Even though this is a small % of the US$390.5 billion global gaming industry, it is expected to grow. Thus many of the traditional gaming players are becoming actively involved. For example, poker-machine manufacturer Aristocrat Leisure bought social casino game maker Product Madness in late 2012. It is estimated that 3.5+ million play Product Madness slot games like 3D Slots and Hollywood Spins on Facebook. An added concern is the easy access to these sites 24/7)

Chasing quick buck - many organisations in social media are funded by venture capitalists who are not about sustainability as they are keen to build something very quick and sell it off to someone else (Fiona Smith, 2015a)

Graphic displays of violence and/or atrocities including murders, executions, beheadings, accidents (vehicles, etc), shootings, etc. The more shocking the scene, the more interest in it, eg goes viral on the Internet. On the other hand, there is some research ( Texas A&M International University, 2008) which found that there was no evidence to suggest that exposure to media violence leads to violence in the viewer

Instant celebrity status that many people are unable to handle. In ancient times a person's role in life would be assigned at birth and only a few could escape this destiny; in recent times there is a possibility of self-advancement through innate talent. There is an abiding myth that anyone can become a star with the right combination of talent, looks and luck. The rise of social media platforms like YouTube have created a channel that via which would-be "stars" can reach a global audience instantaneously: this was previously unimaginable. The flip side of this opportunity is that sudden stardom can lead to unanticipated unhappiness and tragedy.

Addiction to social media, ie online addiction to porn, gambling, gaming, shopping, video streaming, etc. An example of this is a young person with self-esteem issues who is obsessed with body image will frequently use social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat where images of one's ideal self can be posted, with flaws cropped or filtered out. This can lead to using steroids and being addicted to the gym as they become neurotic and hyper-anxious about their body image. Research is linking social media with higher rates of eating and distorted body image disorders. The Internet is playing a role in mental health disorders, ie

"...the Internet is the latest vector for addiction in the same way mosquito is a vector for malaria..."

Alistair Mordey as quoted by Anne Hyland 2017

Some of the names given to this addiction include Internet addiction disorder, problematic Internet use, pathological Internet use or compulsive Internet use. It is regarded as similar to chemical addiction.

Some questions need to be answered when defining online addiction, ie

- Does Internet addiction lead to mental health problems or do mental health problems lead people to using the Internet in problematic ways?

- Do mental health and Internet addiction mutually influence each other, ie does a person who trawls the Internet online gambling sites have a gambling problem or an Internet addiction?

- Do people become addicted to the platform for the content of the Internet?

" broader terms, Internet addiction is a compulsive need to spend excessive amounts of time engaged in online activities, while other important aspects of their life - work, school, friendships and family - are neglected. Internet addiction appears to share similarities with other addictive disorders, such as withdrawal problems, tolerance and negative social repercussions..."

Anne Hyland 2017

" media becomes a problem......when a person becomes so dependent on it they give up normal relationships, socialising and hobbies such as sport..."

Beb Teoh as quoted by Anne Hyland 2017

One way to determine online addiction is to take a break from the Internet for a few days. If you experience withdrawal symptoms like irritability, agitation, anger or distress, etc and Internet access dominates your thoughts, then you have the basis for addiction.

Similarly a person may turn to the Internet to cope with negative feelings, like guilt, anxiety or depression, to escape from their loneliness, to procrastinate and neglect work or studies, etc.

In some countries it is estimated that Internet addiction impacts up to 10% of the population. This is expected to increase with more and more time spent online and ever expanding use of social media. For example,

- Snapchat started in 2002 and now has around 10 b. videos watched daily

- YouTube (launched in 2005) the world's busiest television platform

- Tinder (started in 2012) now receives more than 1 billion left and right swipes daily

- every day billions "likes" are clicked on Facebook; yet the like button was introduced in 2009.

The 2016 AIA Healthy Living Index survey reported

"...Australians on average spend four hours in the front of a screen for non-work use, compared with the regional average of three hours......almost 2/3 of adults admit to finding it hard to break the habit of spending so much time online, up from 56% in 2013. Half of those surveyed said social media and online were becoming addictive for them......people respond Pavlovian-like to every notification, buzz and ding. More Australian households now own a smart phone than a TV......the arrival of the smart phone in 2007 changed everything. Suddenly, the Internet is available everywhere..."

Anne Hyland 2017

Also, technology companies are developing more and more powerful algorithms that can manipulate and exploit human psychological vulnerabilities, ie they can influence reward-motivated behavioural parts of the brain to keep people glued to their websites for longer.

"...The company that keeps the eyeball for longer is typically more profitable..."

Anne Hyland 2017

"...when a person experiences a reward - for example winning a race - the level of dopamine, the feel-good chemical in the brain, rises. The person feels pleasure and excitement, an experience a loser doesn't. Many addictive drugs such as cocaine and ice increase dopamine activity. Research suggests that online content from social media, porn, gaming and gambling also activates dopamine levels in our brain..."

Anne Hyland 2017

Anything that increases the dopamine levels can become addictive!!!

Scans of the brain have shown that the areas that light up on social media activity this are the same for heroin addiction.

"'s tapping into the reward system in the brain and can become addictive. It's why children often get very angry and aggressive when you want to take away their PlayStations..."

Jane Williams as quoted by Anne Hyland 2017

online sites exploit the human desire for social approval and status, ie

" get an instant, affirmative reply; your tweet or message in a roundabout way boost your status within the pack or tribe..."

Alistair Mordey has quoted by Anne Hyland 2017

This satisfaction is gained in real time

Surveys in 2016 like Sensis Social Media report, State of the Nation (Australian Psychological Society), etc are showing the following trends

- a 3-fold increase from 2015 in the amount of time spent each week on Facebook, eg 12.5 hours

- social media is both a cause and a way of handling stress, eg around 50% visit social media as a form of stress release (up from 1/3 in 2011)

"...Using social media can have positive benefits irrespective of whether we are in reality or virtual media and the Internet are an accepted part of modern life and communications, and enable us to maintain established networks, particularly with friends interstate or overseas, organising to meet friends after work. Social media can even increase a person's confidence in relating to others without the usual added social pressures. It has also created awareness about charitable causes, even protest around the globe..."

Alistair Mordey has quoted by Anne Hyland 2017

strategies for dealing with Internet addiction include cognitive behavioural therapy, abstinence, yoga, meditation, encouraging socialisation, sporting activities and hobbies, etc.

It is claimed that the Internet has reduced our collective attention span. For example, people used to lose themselves in a novel for hours; now, they are inclined to flick through "pages" on the Internet. This has led to a condition which has been called reading insecurity, ie a subjective experience of thinking that you are not getting as much from reading as you used to and a suspicion that the ability to concentrate and absorb has atrophied.

. Many studies (Katy Waldman, 2015) suggest that people read the Internet differently than they read print. We skim and scan for information we want on the Internet rather than starting at the beginning and ploughing through to the end. Our eyes jump around, magnetised to links - which imply authority and importance. If need be, we will scroll. We read faster and lighter engaging in skim reading and hopping from one source to another

. The difference between these modes of reading have caused a debate around "orality and literacy".

. It is much harder to concentrate when you read online, eg e-mails, social media, etc.. It has been suggested (Katy Waldman, 2015) that people's comprehension suffers when they read online because of the barrage of extraneous stimuli interrupting the transfer of information from sensory to working memory, and from working to long-term memory.

People also report being more impatient when they read online

. It has been suggested that the "deep reading brain" is becoming redundant and therefore in danger of disappearing if we don't learn how to handle online distractions.

. We are becoming more e-dependent and reading more electronically as it is more convenient, more accessibility, cost-effective, user-friendly, etc

. With traditional reading methods, we read more slowly when we like a text as our brains enter a state of arousal that resembles hypnosis, ie a trance; it is claimed that this reading requires deeper engagement.

Some research (Daniel Willingham, 2015) shows that attention span is not shrinking with the digital age. In fact, attention span is divided into 2 elements, ie

i) how much we can keep in our mind (this is measured by asking people to repeat increasingly long strings of digits in reverse order)
ii) how well we can we maintain focus (asking people to monitor visual stimuli for occasional subtle changes)

Over a 50 year period there has been little change. On the other hand, there are 2 systems of attention and associated thought, ie

i) directed outwards like when you are scrolling through e-mails or playing a video game ii) directed inwards like when you daydream, plan the future or reflect on the past

Both systems of attention cannot be working at the same time.

Most digital activities involve outwardly-directed attention and there are some fears that we could be losing our ability to daydream. Daydreaming is associated with greater creativity.

The downsides of inwardly-directed thought are

- daydreaming can distract us when we need to be focused
- reflection can turn ugly, eg fixating on some past insult or error

It is claimed (Katy Waldman, 2015) that the younger generation have fewer problems with comprehension and recall than older generations when engaged in on-line reading

Also memories are being altered by the digital revolution, ie

"...the savage irony is that the more accurately the Internet remembers everything, the more our memories atrophy. The result is an amnesia about everything except the immediate, the instant, and now and the me..."

Jonathan Freedland as quoted by Andrew Keen, 2015

Less polite, ie in communicating, people are more direct, aggressive, rude, etc and less tactful, diplomatic, nice, civil, etc to each other on social media

Some Australian examples

- Whitehaven Coal Press Release hoax (Jan. 7, 2013) resulted in A$ 300 m being temporarily wiped off the firm's value

- David Jones fake bid of A$ 1.6 b by penniless recluse living in a Scottish housing estate (July 2, 2012) instantly affected the share price

Some general comments

- On Facebook it is best to be positive

- Twitter is an early warning system/leading indicator/real time engagement

- YouTube is like having own cable channel

- Data on the network is doubling every year

- Use of media sectors by frequency (% who use several times per day), ie Facebook (53%), TV (44%), Radio (32%), Online news (24%) & Newspaper (5%)

- Social media is a great media for storytelling

(sources: James Hutchinson et al, 2014; Michael Rosenberg, 2014; Michael Harris, 2014)


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