Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now
by Jaron Lanier (Bodley Head, £9.99)
Author Lanier is a disenchanted idealist, a digital pioneer who once believed that technology would improve our lives.
He now associates social media with “nastiness”. People come together in a setting “in which the main – or often the only – reward that’s available is attention”. “Groupthink” or “tribalism” result as they align themselves with or against the attention-seekers, the studied controversialists.
He laments the passing of the “old shareable world”. Waiting for a bus, for example, used to be an everyday social experience, but no longer is: these days people stare and jab at their phones, barely noticing those around them. We used to get our information from the same programmes and newspapers, but not any more: “I have no way of seeing your social feed, however. Therefore I have lessened [my] power to empathise with what you think and feel…we do need to be able to peek at what other people see.”
Tech companies are infringing on our privacy, gathering data on us without our permission and selling the information to unidentified third parties. Google and Facebook are the main ‘data-scoopers’: “Algorithms gorge on data about you, every second. What kind of links do you click on? What videos do you watch all the way through?…what facial expressions do you make?”
Information about an individual only becomes useful when correlated with information about others: “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.”
As an election approaches strategists can use the information the algorithms have gathered to direct voters towards a particular party, or away from it, or indeed to abstain from voting: “You might be targeted before an election with weird posts that have been proven to bring out the inner cynic in people who are similar to you, in order to reduce the chances that you’ll vote.”
The tech giants exploit workers. Google for instance hoovers up translations of words and phrases without acknowledging – much less remunerating – the people who produced them, effectively appropriating the work of others to improve its own translation service.
Silicon Valley should adopt a “less deleterious” business model, one which would involve us paying tech companies to use their services, them paying us to use our data. Lanier urges us to apply pressure on them by closing our social media and Gmail accounts. He directs readers towards news websites, particularly those which employ investigative journalists, and advises against reliance on newsfeeds.
Lanier writes with the authority of a man who has been in the business for decades. He compares social media with 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 non-toxic varieties are available.”