We lost our Privacy. Are we on the Verge of Losing Our Identity?
When we lost our privacy, we compromised our identity.
It was speculated that Facebook has 52000 data points about you.
And that’s just one social media channel.
Never mind that you’re not active on Facebook.
Somewhere along the tech giants line, you might have fallen prey to one of Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Reddit, and even Quora.
From funny product advertisements to your preference of cat-videos.
They know what you like, want, need.
They are more aware of your deepest desires than you are.
So when you stumble upon a series of interesting Youtube videos to watch on your suggested feed, they are not there by accident.
They were there by design.
January 26, 2019 — When the Cambridge Analytica Scandal was documented as “The Great Hack” on Netflix, people of power started to become worried about the repercussions of a lack of regulation on privacy in Silicon Valley startups. It happened after unfair election results were a result of unregulated Facebook ads spreading false information to the devices of voters, essentially influencing their voting decision.
Then, approximately a year later on the same date, Netflix released the Social Dilemma, this time with a wide array of big names — from the Creator of the Facebook ‘Like’ button, President of Pinterest, and the co-creator of Gmail (to list a few), the very same people who set out to change the world positively failed to see the ‘flip side of that coin.’
Expressing concern that it might be a little too late to turn things around, the same people who worked at the Bay Area — are now partnering up with Tristan Harris, founder of the ‘Center of Humane Technology’ to advocate for the regulation of our data and respect to our privacy.
So this raises a very daunting concern — Do we lose our sense of identity as we lose our privacy?
I have reasons to believe so.
The biggest reason for that loss of privacy is because the machine knows us better than we know ourselves. Through a meticulous design in machine learning, it’s an application of Artificial Intelligence, known as Inductive Learning.
Inductive Learning is essentially a process where the learner discovers rules by observing examples. In this case, feed the computer with Terrabytes and Terrabytes of data from users, and watch as they process information with pinpoint accuracy to make an informed judgment about your (on an individual level) behaviors. How many hours you spend on IG Stories, the type of videos you watch before you sleep, the workout celebrities you’re always following on your fitness journey.
With that loss of privacy, you are vulnerable. The algorithms, that only get stronger with its prediction (gradually increasing its confidence levels to 99%), can predict your next actions or nudge you towards performing the intended action that is considered as a ‘successful hit’ — or goal: which is to make you spend more time on these sites.
That also means the bell will chime when you’re most susceptible to picking up your phone. You will be notified when someone tags you on FB, or when you receive a comment on the photo you just uploaded. The idea here is to keep encouraging you to come back for more — by preying on your FOMO (fear of missing out) or your sense of self-esteem.
Humans have an innate desire for attention and validation. It’s one of the core attributes in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
As early as our ancestral days, we work together in tribes. Our inability to fit into a social setting will result in tremendous implications such as starvation or death. Fast forward a couple of centuries later, our inability to fit in has far more drastic consequences — the gradual degradation of mental health. As opposed to physical health, the depreciation of a mental state shows no scars or bleeding. It’s a gradual process that rips us apart from the inside until we can no longer bear the overwhelming tension as we resort to 101 methods of suicide to numb the pain.
It’s no coincidence that adolescents’ suicide rates have risen tremendously since social media companies’ conception. Find any chart out there. The numbers don’t lie. The birth of social media companies since Facebook in 2004 has unintentionally thrown human beings into a pit as they fight it out against one another.
Yes, fight it out against one another.
How did I arrive at this drastic conclusion?
As machines understand us better than we understand ourselves, they can design a feed that corresponds to our likings and interests. That being said, algorithms can design mechanics that will reward specific behaviors and content. For instance, if a photo of us in Hawaii (with an irrelevant Hashtag #blessed caption) has garnered 300 likes more than the photo of us expressing our love towards our beloved mother for her years of showering us with care and affection, which type of content will we be predisposed to release more?
The one with higher engagement has boosted our self-esteem and sense of self-worth. That is because each time you receive an 😍😍😍 emoji or praise of your looks on your timeline, you receive a feel-good feeling from a dopamine hit! that makes you feel that sense of happiness. It’s the same type of hormone that your body secretes after a rigorous workout or sexual intercourse. In other words, activities that generate these ‘dopamine hits’ were supposedly achieved either through effort or patience, but could now be manufactured by lying on your bed as you post a ‘filtered,’ ‘primed for perfection’ or ‘flawless’ picture of yourself in the island expressing your satisfaction towards the so-called ‘beautiful life you’re currently appreciative for.’ It’s instant gratification at your fingertips. Why go so far as to fall in love with someone, invest time and effort into taking care of them, and then engaging in stimulating sex when you could skip the hard work and instantly hit someone up on Tinder for quick sex? You get the point. Human beings are primarily predisposed to performing any actions that can tick off our feel-good hormones.
So when I brought up the idea that social media is making us compromise our identity, I mean it subtly and indirectly. As individuals, we tend to go to lengths to receive a dopamine hit whenever we put out a photo of ourselves. And then we compare. If photo A garnered more likes than B, we learn the content our audience enjoys browsing. It gradually becomes a loop. We begin to serve our audience the content they enjoy, rather than the content we genuinely want to share with the world.
If you aren’t convinced of this argument yet, ask yourself: How many times have you heard your friend saying: I can’t post this on my timeline, it will ruin my carefully curated feed?
In another context, a big claim I will make regarding social media manipulating us would be in the form of ‘faking it till we make it.’ We might not have a million dollars to spend, but partying like it’s the 4th of July in a holiday house, showing off to the world like you’re having a good time is just the sort of content that would get you the most engagements and reactions. Besides, tapping into our inner desire for validation, we have successfully conjured an image into our audience’s mind that ‘this person is financially successful.’ However, it may not be the case. In one of my favorite books, Trick Mirror — Jia Tolentino points out the mirage and facade that we put up on social media to get people to like us. I will take it one step further to quote Will Smith: “We spend money that we do not have, on things we do not need, to impress people who do not care.” It shows that the average human being is a whore for attention — for it is our longing to belong and be validated by the society that makes us feel part of the homo sapien tribe.
If it might not be prevalent in the example above, here I will list more examples that you might (or might not) be able to relate.
Couples who are constantly arguing behind the scenes but acting all lovey-dovey on social media.
People who are “always seen with pets” on their stories but are horrified to pick up a puppy in real life.
Sharing success, fun, or joy in carefully curated feeds, while retreating to private accounts or twitter accounts to express your frustration and desire to “die rn.”
The perfect scenery on the top of a hiking trail on a glorious Sunday morning. But you casually left out the part where you were arguing with your friends on the way down because of something someone said.
The point that I’m making here is simple. Social media has nudged us into ‘behaving the way we think people would want us to behave’ as a way to receive their approval. If I ever posted any contrarian thoughts on my feed, I will receive significant backlash because it goes against popular opinion. If I ever diss ‘digital creators’ because the only content they put out is ‘unrelated quotes from Google’ or pictures of their abs, tits, or ass while boasting their 200K followers, they’re not a godforsaken influencer. They’re just a whore — for attention with no practical value for their audience. Counterintuitively, they are committing a crime. A subtle crime that nudges normal average people like me into believing perfection is attainable (just not for me), financial success at my age is not difficult (just not for me), having acne-free skin is just a skincare routine away (just not for me), Arnold Schwarzenegger’s chest could be achieved by just hitting the gym and eating well (just not for me).
Social media is playing with our psychological tendencies to manipulate us to be inauthentic unintentionally in so many wrong ways. In the search for attention and validation, we are pitting ourselves against each other — once again subtly and indirectly. What happened to honesty? What happened to days before facial filters or plastic surgery? What happened to ‘honest,’ ‘reflections,’ ‘raw emotions’ that we feel these days? To be authentic and not a simultaneous victim and criminal of egregious behavior.
I’d argue that if we cannot delete all social media apps, as suggested by the Founding Father of Virtual Reality himself, Jaron Lanier, there is a second solution that is less extreme — and that is to be your true, raw, authentic self. Life is a series of good and bad things happening simultaneously. We should be courteous with the content we choose to put out, for the sake of others. Eluding them into thinking our life is perfect — and their’s is not, is a subtle crime we commit that pushes them gradually, nearer and nearer to the cliff — until the point of no return. Hence, if you’re going to share any content on social media, do so with the intention of ‘YOU’ in mind.
And no one else. Be honest, don’t do it to impress others or hope that the person you have in mind responds to your content. You’re old enough to be reading up to this point — don’t play games; they are for kids. Ask yourself, what you want to post, and do it without hesitancy or fear of what others might think of you.
Another way you can make it a safe space for people to express themselves is to be genuine with your feelings. Please don’t take my words at surface value. Take the time to be in touch with your feelings. “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Give your conscious efforts in being honest with yourself, your current situation, and express yourself — for good and the bad times. If you just found yourself a date and you enjoyed yourself, it’s alright to share it. But if you broke up and you’re out there dating new girls, don’t you think it wise, to be honest with your audience? Remember to act in good faith that you don’t want to elude anyone else into believing in mirages or facade, just the way you don’t want to believe that the members of BTS or heck — even Rihanna is not as attractive as the magazines have covered them to be. “Don’t do unto others what you don’t want to be done unto you.”
Gary Vee advocates for people to put up content daily. The only reason I could think of as a significant hindrance to posting daily is the fact that we are perfectionists when it comes to the creation process. In fact, I remember it will take me days to craft the complimenting caption to my Instagram post that I plan on sharing with the world. The only reason I could finally sit down and write this entire article — in one sitting is that I decided to be honest with myself. Urgency lends itself to action, and I’m finally writing down everything that has been on my mind for a couple of years now (2 years to be exact) — with no filter. To the digital content creators or famous ‘influencers’ (who I don’t know what they’re influencing most of the time), I’m unapologetically sorry. I’m only sorry because society wants me to be sorry. But I’m not sorry if it hurt your feelings, because what you’re doing — the idea of spreading false perfectionism is damaging more people than you can imagine. Inadvertently, I’m staking my reputation as a thinker, writer, and human being by spitting the cold hard facts as I plan to address the elephant in the room. Too many of my friends are getting ‘depressed,’ too many people I know have talked about dancing with death. Some even have markings on their hand to prove it too.
So, when I suggest that the loss of privacy has lead to the compromising of our identity. I meant every single word of it. I don’t intend for this piece to be taken heavily by people only because it goes against everything we’ve been thinking — but if you’re one of the few people that have found an epiphany struck upon you, please share this with someone you love because you never know when mental health would get the better of the people we love. Once again, unlike physical health — if you get hurt emotionally, you don’t have scars to prove it. You only have heavy emotional baggage to bear. Let’s make social media a comfortable space for people to share the things they want to share, the good and the bad, the honest, and the raw emotions. So before we fall into this ‘trap’ of social media pitting us against each other in a mental health war, we should take a step back and evaluate our usage of social media, because that’s what we lack in today’s landscape.
Honesty and authenticity.