As I was reading my colleague Leigh’s introduction to this week’s blog, it made me think back to the days when I was first got into MSN messaging. Queue the intro to Web2.0, the social web. In 2004/2005 my family was still behind the times running Windows 98, as we skipped Windows XP and eventually got Windows Vista. My parents were not overly technology savvy. I took the leap of faith and downloaded MSN messenger on my parent’s Windows 98 computer. This was my start of connecting on the web socially. Followed by creating my Facebook account under a fake name in 2007, (because I was concerned about privacy?). Twitter when I was in high school. Instagram and Snapchat in University. TikTok within my graduate studies this past year. Needless to say, it is until very recently until I started to recognize the impact that social media has had on myself as well as society as a whole.
The Social Dilemma
This week I watched the Social Dilemma for the first time. It was a documentary that I have been meaning to watch, but reluctant to watch because of the polarization of society, and the one-sided view the documentary provides.
In a nutshell, the documentary highlights how technology and social media continue to damage, polarize, and use its power for financial gain through surveillance. The use of social media in politics, the negative impact on mental health as well as the role in spreading conspiracy theories.
I believe it is easy to get caught up in the hype of this documentary. I believe the documentary brought up many good points, but lots of this information isn’t new. However, I believe may be important for some people to watch especially if they get caught up in participating in the “fake news” and believing the conspiracy theories that are being put out on the internet.
Let’s start out with some of the points that the Social Dilemma highlights.
- Conspiracy Theories and Polarization
- Data Tracking
- Role of Mental Health on Social Media Users
Conspiracy Theories and Polarization
The movie points out conspiracy theories and misinformation that have spread like wildfire throughout social media.
However in the current time, the United States election that happens tomorrow, we see conspiracy theories such as QAnon. Now the fact that people believe these conspiracy theories, is alarming and quite concerning. Even in Saskatchewan, we have seen a candidate resign after engaging in QAnon and sharing how he “believed the COVID-19 pandemic” had started. So these theories are not just south of the border, but they are infiltrating our society in Canada as well.
Our Role as Educators
As educators, what is our role in educating about conspiracy theories and polarization? I believe we need to teach our students to be aware of the misinformation. Teach students to be critical and to learn how to access the facts. One of the lessons that I have taught this year is called Break the Fake, by Media Smarts. It allowed the students that I was working with to explore news articles and determine if they were true or false.
As Roger McNamee states, “The way to think about it is 2.7 billion ‘Truman Shows’. Each person has their own reality with their own facts.” These facts run on Artificial Intelligence, which looks at everything we are accessing. The algorithms are in place to do multiple things. Keep us coming back to the device, and to sell out data to corporations in the hopes that we buy their product.
Our Role as Educators
Recently I have reflected on how as educators we often like to save money and will use the free applications or programs on the web instead of the paid versions, or a more well-known trusted app. Although the app may be free, and you may save some money here or there, the bigger issue is what is the company doing with your personal data. Chances are they are selling it. In the article Why your free software is never free, it highlights that we could leave our information open to hacks. It also states that we can’t anticipate what advertisers, hackers, governments, tech companies, or anyone who gets their hands on our highly sensitive data, will ultimately do with our data.
As educators, I think that step one is that we need to be better at reading the terms and conditions of websites. Use privacy-conscious software such as the ones we have previously discussed in class. Teach students to be aware of where their data goes. Ensure that your students have a voice in their own digital profiles.
Social Media and Mental Health
According to the American Journal of Epidemiology as quoted by the Social Dilemma, “A 5,000 person study found that higher social media use correlated with self-reported declines in mental and physical health and life satisfaction”.
The stats that were shared by the Social Dilemma were shocking, however, again we have heard this before. Social media and the impact on mental health, the increase of suicide rates, rates of self-harm.
Our Role As Educators
As I blogged about in a previous post. Bailey Parnell highlights four steps that we can take to ensure that our mental health stays in check when we are using social media.
- Recognize the problem
- Audit your social media diet
- Create a better online experience
- Model good behaviour
I think that the Social Dilemma is a good reminder. We need to stay vigilant, we need to be aware. However, I don’t believe we should be deleting our social media profiles, but rather develop our critical thinking skills, our students’ critical thinking skills.
There is a lot of positives that can be found in social media.
- Connection to each other
- Provides a platform for those otherwise not heard
- Connecting and learning from others.
I will leave you with this quote from an article that I read about the Social Dilemma.
We can all agree that technology is both a utopian and dystopian creation. We have to understand and be aware of what these companies are doing and how we can make more ethical changes to the business of tech.
Thanks for reading.