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Should we step back from the marketing and data-mining phenomenon that is social media?

By Glen Anderson - posted Monday, 26 March 2018


I also encourage my students to consider the frivolity of social media – can it be said that any of the interactions on the various platforms advance solid outcomes? Does it result in healthier friendships? Are the digital interactions emotionally fulfilling? Does it result in an enhanced career? Are dancing cat videos really so important?

Social media can also be highly negative when seeking employment. Prospective employers sift through profiles and – if privacy settings are not maintained – voyeuristically peer into private lives to draw all sorts of unfounded conclusions.

But the workplace problems do not stop there. We have all heard stories of work colleagues weaponizing social media to inform on their “friends” to superiors for their own nefarious reasons. Social media can be a significant workplace liability.

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Younger members of the workplace are particularly vulnerable for two reasons: they are most likely to have prolific engagement with social media, and they tend to be junior, which makes them easy prey for more senior colleagues.

Perhaps the increasing weaponization of social media is one of the reasons why younger people are developing two profiles: a public “shopfront” or “image-driven” profile, and a more limited “private” or “real” profile. But is this bifurcation a step too far? Does it not hint at the very problems in social media itself, namely, its susceptibility to abuse, voyeurism, and superficiality?

And this says nothing of the inherent platform addictiveness and manipulation, (the “social validation feedback loop”) which sees users unwittingly devoting their time and energies to various algorithmic stimuli.

Indeed, one of the primary architects of the Facebook platform, Sean Parker, admitted in an interview with Axios that the network exploits vulnerabilities in human psychology. 

Of course, there are many people who will remain committed to social media. But there are now enough systemic problems emerging to place a serious question mark over its utility.

What are the implications for democracy? What are the privacy implications? What are the workplace implications? What are the mental and emotional fatigue implications? What are the psychological implications, particularly for vulnerable young people attempting to define their character and realise their position in society?

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If we want to achieve more concrete and positive outcomes in our real lives, then perhaps we should step back from the marketing and data-mining phenomenon that is social media.

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About the Author

Glen Anderson is a lecturer in law at the University of Newcastle. Dr Anderson researches and teaches in the areas of international law, equity, company and property law. He has formerly taught Australian and international politics.

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