Updated: Feb 3

Is persuasive technology killing our society, our people, and our kids? September is the month of suicide awareness and watching a Netflix documentary on the dark side of social media called “The Social Dilemma” led us to address yet again the difficult subject of teens and suicide.

Social media and the invention of the internet has changed our lives forever globally, allowing us to access so much information at our fingertips and staying connected. All intentions at the beginning were inspired by the desire to create a better more connected world.

“The Social Dilemma” documentary where several former social media executives discuss the perils brought on by social media and its disturbance to the fabric of our society clearly illustrates the turning point when things started to go wrong.

Social media companies decided to monetize their platforms creating a new discipline called “persuasive technology”. This brought on the development of powerful algorithms for the benefit of advertisers who, by having access to our every moves from our likes to how long we look at a picture or what we click on, are able to push the right product or content at the right time to our devices. The colossal amount of information gathered is used to create a detailed profile of each one of us. We are then receiving on our devices curated information that will reinforce our own beliefs, creating an artificial isolating often inaccurate world view, leaving us wanting more screen time, and making it very difficult to resist advertised products and even know where the real truth of all things lies.

“Never before in history have 50 designers made decisions that would have an impact on two billion people,” says Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google.

Each platform is designed to exploit human vulnerability the way casinos and slot machines have succeeded. The highly addictive platforms are using human physiology and psychology by exploiting our hormones and emotions to entice us to change our behaviors without triggering awareness. The industry looking to maximize engagement, growth, and advertising successes on their platforms has found a way to tap into our primal brain and use subliminal cues to manipulate us. Beyond impacting adults, the highly addictive customized content is also negatively impacting kids and teens resulting in a significant increase in anxiety and depression in schools.

‘The Social Dilemma” Netflix documentary compares social platforms to a “digital pacifier” tricking us into not being able to function without our devices, into needing social acceptance at a larger scale and making us more vulnerable to bullying, psychological abuse, and manipulation. Our children are especially at risk when their self-worth, desire to belong, and identity are developing and are powerful drivers to behavior and their sense of well-being.

Fake news has greatly worsened the negative effect of social media creating destabilization, unreliability, and insecurity in our society.

How is this going to impact our children’s mental health in the long run when they grew up in an environment of deceit and exploitation of minds and behavior?

To complicate this further, how will the trauma coming from dealing with the disruption of our lives due to the current pandemic affect our children long term? Is this reinforcing their dependence on social media to compensate for physical social isolation?

It is too early for sociologists and psychologists to answer those important questions, but these concerns greatly stress the importance of engaging in constant communication with your children to have a clear sense of their mindset and mental health.

The fact that some of those social platforms’ former executives who were instrumental in their development and monetization are limiting their personal use and their kids’ use is quite telling in itself!

What can we control and what are some recommendations to help our kids stay mentally healthy while using social media?

We are their role models, let’s not fall victim of social media ourselves and watch our time on our devices

Only introducing them to social media in High School

Setting rules around devices at home such as no devices while eating and no devices in the bedroom after a particular hour would be essential

Deciding on a “time budget” with our children- how many hours of social media are allowed each day

Asking them to turn all notifications off

Giving our kids a larger sense of life and a strong sense of self-worth so they are not reliant on social media for it

Teaching them to have an open mind and not become another victim of algorithms by not always liking what they like or watching videos recommended to them but also searching and reading different views and opinions so the algorithm exposes them to a more varied set of content

Showing them how to seek reliable sources of information and to always question the validity of new content before reacting or forging an opinion

SOCIAL MEDIA ADDICTION IS REAL! As Edward Tufte, an American statistician stated, “There are only two industries that call their customers “users”, illegal drugs and software”.