Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now
Lanier, Jaron. Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. Henry Holt and Co., 2018. Kindle file.
Introduction, with cats
This book is about how you can you remain autonomous in a world where you are under constant surveillance and are constantly prodded by algorithms run by some of the richest corporations in history, which have no way of making money except by being paid to manipulate your behavior?
Argument One: You are losing your free will
Just in the last five or ten years, nearly everyone started to carry a little device called a smartphone on their person all the time
We’re being tracked and measured constantly, and receiving engineered feedback all the time.
Algorithms correlate what you do with what almost everyone else has done.
If a lot of other people who like the foods you like were also more easily put off by pictures of a candidate portrayed in a pink border instead of a blue one, then you probably will be too, and no one needs to know why. Statistics are reliable, but only as idiot demons.
What might once have been called advertising must now be understood as continuous behavior modification on a titanic scale.
what has become suddenly normal—pervasive surveillance and constant, subtle manipulation—is unethical, cruel, dangerous, and inhumane. Dangerous? Oh, yes, because who knows who’s going to use that power, and for what?
The core process that allows social media to make money and that also does the damage to society is behavior modification. Behavior modification entails methodical techniques that change behavioral patterns in animals and people. It can be used to treat addictions, but it can also be used to create them.
Addictive pleasure and reward patterns in the brain—the “little dopamine hit” cited by Sean Parker—are part of the basis of social media addiction, but not the whole story, because social media also uses punishment and negative reinforcement.
If someone gets a reward—
whenever they do a particular thing, then they’ll tend to do more of that thing.
it can be the first stage of an addiction that
Silicon Valley types have a sanitized name for this phase, “engagement,” we fear it enough to keep our own children away from it.
Many of the Silicon Valley kids I know attend Waldorf schools, which generally forbid electronics.
Social media algorithms are usually “adaptive,” which means they constantly make small changes to themselves in order to try to get better results; “better” in this case meaning more engaging and therefore more profitable. A little randomness is always present in this type of algorithm.
Social networks bring in another dimension of stimuli: social pressure. People are keenly sensitive to social status, judgment, and competition.
Social concerns are not optional features of the human brain. They are primal.
Everybody suffers from social anxiety from time to time, and every child has encountered a bully who used social anxiety as a weapon of torture,
Negative emotions such as fear and anger well up more easily and dwell in us longer than positive ones.
making people feel bad is more “engaging” and therefore more profitable than making them feel good.
behaviorism is an inadequate way to think
about society. If you want to motivate high value and creative outcomes, as opposed to undertaking rote training, then reward and punishment aren’t the right tools at all.
We need to think about people in more creative ways, if we expect them to be creative.
What started as advertising morphed into what would better be called “empires of behavior modification for rent.”
Addiction is a big part of the reason why so many of us accept being spied on and manipulated by our information technology, but it’s not the only reason. Digital networks genuinely deliver value to us. They allow for great efficiencies and convenience.
But the benefits of networks only appear when
people use the same platform.
The unfortunate result is that once an app starts to work, everyone is stuck with it.
Effects of this kind are called network effects or lock-ins. They’re hard to avoid on digital networks.
new kinds of massive monopolies because of network effects and lock-in. We foolishly laid the foundations for global monopolies. We did their hardest work for them.
One of the main reasons to delete your social media accounts is that there isn’t a real choice to move to different social media accounts. Quitting entirely is the only option for change.
ADDICTION AND FREE WILL ARE OPPOSITES
So the problem isn’t behavior modification in itself. The problem is relentless, robotic, ultimately meaningless behavior modification in the service
of unseen manipulators and uncaring algorithms.
Argument Two: Quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times
The problem isn’t the smartphone,
The problem isn’t the internet,
The problem is in part that we are all carrying around devices that are suitable for mass behavior modification.
The problem is not only that users are crammed into online environments that can bring out the worst in us. It’s not only that so much power has concentrated into a tiny number of hands that control giant cloud computers.
The problem occurs when all the phenomena I’ve just described are driven by a business model in which the incentive is to find customers ready to pay to modify someone else’s behavior.
The problem is all of the above plus one more thing.
negative emotions more than positive ones, so it’s more efficient at harming society than at improving it: creepier customers get more bang for their buck.
Deleting your accounts now will improve the chances that you’ll have access to better experiences in the future.
The better analogy is paint that contains lead. When it became undeniable that lead was harmful, no one declared that houses should never be painted again. Instead, after pressure and legislation, lead-free paints became the new standard.
Smart people should delete their accounts until nontoxic varieties are available.
The same account of the pieces that make up the problem. How about “Behaviors of Users Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent”? BUMMER.
The six components of the BUMMER machine,
A is for Attention Acquisition leading to Asshole supremacy
With nothing else to seek but attention, ordinary people tend to become assholes, because the biggest assholes get the most attention.
B is for Butting into everyone’s lives
Algorithms correlate data from each person and between people. The correlations are effectively theories about the nature of each person, and those theories are constantly measured and rated for how predictive they are.
C is for Cramming content down people’s throats
Component C means each person sees different things. The immediate motivation is to deliver stimuli for individualized behavior modification.
D is for Directing people’s behaviors in the sneakiest way possible
The default purpose of manipulation is to get people more and more glued in, and to get them to spend more and more time in the system.
The algorithms are rarely interrogated,
in part because it’s hard to understand why they work. They improve automatically, through feedback.
E is for Earning money from letting the worst assholes secretly screw with everyone else
To avoid being left out, journalists had to create stories that emphasized clickbait and were detachable from context. They were forced to become BUMMER in
order to not be annihilated by BUMMER.
F is for Fake mobs and Faker society
Bots, AIs, agents, fake reviewers, fake
friends, fake followers, fake posters, automated catfishers: a menagerie of wraiths.
The problem isn’t any particular technology, but the use of technology to manipulate people, to concentrate power in a way that is so nuts and creepy that it becomes a threat to the survival of civilization.
Argument Three: Social media is making you into an asshole
a BUMMER addict eventually becomes preternaturally quick to take offense, as if hoping to get into a spat. Addicts also become aggressive, though they feel they are acting out of necessity.
In order to avoid falling into asshole behavior you had to make yourself fake-nice. You’d have to be saccharine polite, constantly choosing your words super carefully, walking on eggshells.
I don’t want to be an asshole. Or a fake-nice person.
I’ve observed that since social media took off, assholes are having more of a say in the world.
THE MYSTERIOUS NATURE OF ASSHOLE AMPLIFICATION TECHNOLOGY
It’s not helpful to think of the world as being divided into assholes and non-assholes, or if you prefer, trolls and victims.
Each of us has an inner troll.
We’re like wolves. We can either be solitary or members of a pack of wolves. I call this switch the Solitary/ Pack switch.
When we’re in a pack, interactions with others become the most important thing in the world.
Capitalism fails when the switch is set to Pack. The Pack setting causes market bubbles and other market failures.
When people act as solitary wolves, then each person is in a unique position in society and thinks in a unique way.
Democracy fails when the switch is set to Pack.
collective processes make the best sense when participants are acting as individuals.
of the large social networks, the one with the fewest assholes is LinkedIn.
Argument Four: Social media is undermining truth
A Assholes change discourse into discharge.
makes people pay so much attention to social status competition that they can become blinded to everything else,
B Tech companies spy on you,
When people are constantly prodded by spying technologies, they lose authenticity.
C Cramming experiences down your throat.
engineered addictions are applied to manipulate masses of people for commercial gain,
E Earning money by letting some people, often nasty ones, secretly modify the behaviors of other people.
F Fake people have no reason to tell the truth.
interacted with a fake person online,
You decided to buy something because it had a lot of good reviews, but many of those reviews were from artificial people.
You looked at a video or read a
story because so many other people had, but most of them were fake.
If your extended peer group contains a lot of fake people, calculated to manipulate you, you are likely to be influenced without even realizing it.
the social loss of truth spills out from BUMMER and hurts even people who are not engaged directly with BUMMER at all.
People are clustered into paranoia peer groups because then they can be more easily and predictably swayed.
paranoia turns out, as a matter of course, to be an efficient way of corralling attention.
Argument Five: Social media is making what you say meaningless
What you say isn’t meaningful without context.
It’s easy to miss this simple fact in our day-to-day, face-to-face lives, because the context is usually obvious.
Online, we often have little or no ability to know or influence the context in which our expression will be understood.
you don’t know the context in which you are expressing anything and you have no reliable way of knowing how it will be presented to someone else.
We have given up our connection to context.
Social media mashes up meaning. Whatever you say will be contextualized and given meaning by the way algorithms, crowds, and crowds of fake people who are actually algorithms mash it up with what other people say.
I speak in public sometimes, and I instinctively adjust my presentation to an audience.
BUMMER replaces your context with its context. From the point of view of the algorithms, you are no longer a name, but a number: the number of followers, likes, clicks, or other measures of how much you contributed to the BUMMER machine, moment to moment.
To become a number is to be explicitly subservient to a system.
a concentration camp, where your number was tattooed on your arm.
What if deeply reaching a small number of people matters more than reaching everybody with nothing?
much of the online world is fake.
Now the real news is called “fake news,” because by the standards of BUMMER, what is real is fake; in BUMMER, reality has been replaced by stupid numbers.
A part of the online world that hasn’t destroyed its own context—at least as I write, in 2018—is podcasting. It isn’t BUMMER yet.
Argument Six: Social Media is destroying your capacity for empathy
we notice one another’s reactions in order to help us each get our own bearings. If everyone around you is nervous about something,
you will get nervous, too, because something must be going on. When everyone is relaxed, you’ll tend to relax.
But when we’re all seeing different, private worlds, then our cues to one another become meaningless. Our perception of actual reality, beyond the BUMMER platform, suffers.
in your BUMMER feed. Content is chosen and ads are customized to you, and you don’t know how much has been changed for you, or why.
I have no way of seeing your social media feed, however. I therefore have lessened powers to empathize with what you think and feel.
Empathy2 is the fuel that runs a decent society.
the most common form of online myopia is that most
people can only make time to see what’s placed in front of them by algorithmic feeds.
Not only is your worldview distorted, but you have less awareness of other people’s worldviews.
You are banished from the experiences of the other groups being manipulated separately. Their experiences are as opaque to you as the algorithms that are driving your experiences. This is an epochal development. The version of the world you are seeing is invisible to the people who misunderstand you, and vice versa.
To have a theory of mind is to build a story in your head about what’s going on in someone else’s head.
“Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”
Most animals get by without theory of mind, but people need it. When you can only see how someone else behaves, but not the experiences that influenced their behavior, it becomes harder to have a theory
of mind about that person.
And that is our new BUMMER world. We seem crazy to each other, because BUMMER is robbing us of our theories of one another’s minds.
we see less than ever before of what others are seeing, so we have less opportunity to understand each other.
I remember when the internet was supposed to bring about a transparent
society. The reverse has happened.
Argument Seven: Social media is making you unhappy
The cheerful rhetoric from the BUMMER companies is all about friends and making the world more connected. And yet science reveals1 the2 truth. 3 Research4 shows a world that is not more connected, 5 but instead suffers from a heightened sense of isolation. 6
they could make people unhappy without the people realizing why.
their products can do real harm.
of course it’s great that people can be connected, 12 but why must they accept manipulation by a third party as the price of that connection?
BUMMER places me in a subordinate position. It’s structurally humiliating.
BUMMER makes me feel judged within an unfair and degrading competition, and to no higher purpose.
The whole purpose of BUMMER is turning you and changes to your behavior into a product.
How can you be authentic when everything you read, say, or do is being fed into a judgment machine?
there are two levels of judgments going in the BUMMER machine. One kind can be understood by humans, and might be seen by
The other level of judgment is based on mathematical correlations that people might not ever see or be able to interpret.
I don’t personally have anything against Mark Zuckerberg. It isn’t about him. But why would you subordinate a big part of your life to any one stranger?
Argument Eight: Social media doesn’t want you to have economic dignity
Since BUMMER showed up, the economic lives of many people in the developed world have taken on an uncomfortable quality. More and more people rely on the gig economy, which makes it hard to plan one’s life. Gig economy workers rarely achieve financial security, even after years of work.
Meanwhile, a small number of entrepreneurs—
have become fantastically wealthy,
BUMMER has not only made a lot of people emotionally insecure; it has also made many folks financially insecure.
Being free is what propelled these services to become
so big so fast.
turned most of the human race into part-time lab rats.
So, two passions collided. Everything must be free, but we love mega tech founder heroes.
The most dangerous thing about BUMMER is the widespread illusion that BUMMER is the only possibility.
In some alternative universe—a universe we must build if we are to survive—there will be both the convenience of an app like Uber and a sustainable social and economic fabric in which a lot of people build security with dignity.
One way is to directly monetize services such as search and social media.
BUMMER was originally sold as a barter deal. “Let us spy on you and in return you’ll get free services.” This might seem like a reasonable deal in the short term, but in the long term it’s terrible.
THE CORP PERSPECTIVE
a non-BUMMER business plan. It will be better for them!
Google and Facebook,
make the preponderance of their profits from BUMMER despite massive investments in trying to start up other types of businesses. No matter the scale, a company based on a single trick is vulnerable.
Sooner or later some disruption will come along, and then a BUMMER company, no matter how large, will quickly collapse.
THE USER PERSPECTIVE
It might sound undesirable to someday have to pay for things that are currently free, but remember,
you’d also be able to make money from those things.
Argument Nine: Social media is making politics impossible
justice got broader over time. In one period, slaves were freed; in another women got the vote; in another LGBTQ people gained rights and respect. Democracy spread to more and more countries.
in the age of BUMMER, the arc is showing signs of crashing to the ground
In recent years Turkey, Austria, the United States, India, and other democracies have elected authoritarian-leaning leaders who rely on tribalism for their power. Voters are choosing to negate themselves.
The Arab Spring was an occasion for hearty self-congratulation in Silicon Valley. We claimed it as our glory at the time. “Facebook Revolution” and “Twitter Revolution” were common tropes back then.
There wasn’t any particular charismatic figure, for instance. There was no George Washington or Vladimir Lenin.
What social media did at that time, and what it always does, is create illusions: that you can improve society by wishes alone; that the sanest people will be favored in cutting contests; and that somehow material well-being will just take care of itself.
What actually happens, always, is that the illusions fall apart when it is too late, and the world is inherited by the crudest, most selfish, and least informed people. Anyone who isn’t an asshole gets hurt the most.
BUMMER is neither liberal nor conservative; it is just pro-paranoia, pro-irritability, and pro–general assholeness.
An interesting detail that came out a year after the election is that Facebook had offered both the Clinton and Trump campaigns onsite teams to help them maximize their use of the platform, but only Trump’s campaign accepted the offer. 18 Maybe if Clinton had agreed to have Facebook employees in her office, she would have won.
It’s as if Facebook is saying, “Pay us or you don’t exist.” They’re becoming the existential mafia.
Argument Ten: Social media hates your soul
To review: Your understanding of others has been disrupted because you don’t know what they’ve experienced in their feeds, while the reverse is also true; the empathy others might offer you is challenged because you can’t know the context
in which you’ll be understood.
You’re probably becoming more of an asshole, but you’re also probably sadder;
Your ability to know the world, to know truth, has been degraded, while the world’s ability to know you has been corrupted.
Politics has become unreal and terrifying, while economics has become unreal and unsustainable: two sides of the same coin.
a web of change in the human condition.
It is like the EULA agreement—the user agreement—that you clicked “OK” on without reading. You have agreed to change something intimate about your relationship with your soul.
engaging with BUMMER initially appears to be a funeral for free will. You give over much of your power of choice to a faraway company and its clients.
The important change is that you now have less free will, and a few people whom you don’t know have more of it. Some of your free will has been transferred to them. Free will has become like money in a gilded age.
the overall project of the internet is not at fault. We can still enjoy the core of it.
Believing something only because you learned it through a system is a way of giving your cognitive power over to that system.
What is a person? Whatever a person might be, if you want to be one, delete your accounts.
Conclusion: Cats have nine lives
Don’t reject the internet; embrace it! The internet itself is not the problem.
Email your friends
get news online: Read news websites directly
Subscribe to great news sites!
Start your own website!
Quit ’em all! Instagram and WhatsApp are still Facebook and still scoop your data and snoop on you.
the combination of mass addiction with network-effect lock is formidable.
A monopoly exists when there is only one seller, while a monopsony exists when there is only one buyer.
WhatsApp is part of Facebook; even if it sometimes feels like any other texting platform, it’s in fact a primary data scooper for BUMMER.