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Freedom From Social Media Bias: What? Why? How?

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Why are big companies and governments investing in social media advertising more than ever? And why is it problematic? Because we are sheeple. Or so they assume that we have no faculty of our own to make decisions for ourselves. We are easily being manipulated by a popular hashtag or challenge. We follow what’s trending. We find opinions on the insufficient information that is fed to us in under 200 words on social media.

Why do you think we have such sophisticated apps and services at our disposal for free? Major players in the market are gambling for you and me. People have become the new business. You are now reduced to a spreadsheet entry under a category determined by fixed factors like your gender, age group and purchasing power.

The highest bidder puts you on sale and calls out tenders for interested parties to manufacture consent [1]. This model is the safest in any democracy, because there doesn’t appear to be any force, threat or violence. It simply makes us believe that the opinions we hold and the decisions we take are our own. But that is indeed far from the truth.

Now, for those of who ask, there is hope! How? By distracting the master gambler and sliding away without gaining much attention. The process maybe a bit tricky but with continued efforts, we can reach the desired end.

Number one, do not chew on popular content. If it is cheap and has mass appeal, stay away! Of course, your peers will shame you for not knowing but consider yourself privileged for escaping the trap. There is almost always most money put into products that sell the most, popularity is no coincidence.

The trump card of these gamblers lies in making you self-important by making you prioritise your selfish interests. They ensure that you simply look in one direction and ignore the rest. In fact, this entire social media space gives you a page of your own, you are its king and you have a circle of influence. But this model cleverly distracts you from realising that everybody else on the platform also has a page of her own. Now to break this chain, we need to start thinking for others. Is the food on your table coming at the cost of an underpaid farmer mulling suicide?

A third way to ensure you secure your freedom is by questioning. By being a thinking individual, you can resist to conform. Once, in a major marketing campaign feminism was tied to smoking [2], and more and more women took up smoking in rebellion, it was a historic win for the tobacco company but did no one else any good. Remember, these gamblers thrive on your limited knowledge. It is upon each one of us to expand our understanding by consuming information from various sources.

Next, be aware of your medium. Marshal McLuhan mentions how ‘medium is the message’ [3], meaning the medium determines the ways in which a message will be perceived. Why do you think apps with essentially the same functionality, under the same parent company, exist? Simply to trap you at the right space.

Now consider this – the main three social media apps are Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Facebook for the middle aged, Instagram for the youth, Snapchat for teens. Notice how each medium has neatly categorised you into one of these three groups to align your interests. Folks familiar with all three will be able to distinguish them in a linear fashion.

a person holding a phone in their hand
Interactivity, technical complexity and sophistication grow with each new app.

Let me explain. Interactivity, technical complexity and sophistication grow with each new app. Whereas intellectual complexity, variety and credibility is lost with each new app. So, their attempt is simply to ensure that you spend more time but perceive information in a more simplistic fashion with each new generation. Hence, it is important to access material independent of these popular apps and invest both intellectually and economically in independent media sources.

Once you have successfully eliminated these game plans set by your gamblers, we come back to the question of our freedom from social media bias? What opinions should you hold? How can you call-out propaganda?

In my opinion, Kant may have come close to a precise definition of freedom. He ties freedom with ethics [4]. Kant argues that we are free when we respect the humanity in others and don’t see them as an end in themselves. He believes that all rational creatures can instinctively and empathetically know where our freedom ends, and somebody else’s begin. Meaning, you can simply put yourself in the shoes of a minority, woman, LGBTQ+, migrant, Kashmiri and decide what is right for them.

About the author: Akshita Pattiyani is Editorial Assistant with Taylor and Francis Academic Publishing House.

References:

[1] Herman, Edward S.; Chomsky, Noam. Manufacturing Consent. New York: Pantheon Books. p. 306

[2] Amos A, Haglund M From social taboo to “torch of freedom”: the marketing of cigarettes to women Tobacco Control 2000.

[3] McLuhan, Marshal. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. McGraw-Hill Education 1964

[4] Warburton, Nigel. Philosophy: The Basics. Routledge 2012

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