Why are you on Facebook?

Updated: 24 October, 2020 06:42 IST | Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

Numerous warnings from around the world show that the social media giant has been causing us more harm than good

The impact of technology on our nature will only truly be understood a century or so from now. representation pic
The impact of technology on our nature will only truly be understood a century or so from now. representation pic

picI deleted my Facebook account a little over three years ago. I didn't do this because I was afraid of propaganda, although I now know that it is more rampant on the platform than any of us suspected at the time. I didn't delete it because of how it was subverting democracy either because there were few reports about its manipulation of data being published at the time. I didn't delete it because I was bombarded by photographs of cats, desserts, or viral videos, although that played a minor role in my decision. At the end of the day, I deleted it simply because it served no purpose in my life whatsoever.

It doesn't take more than a simple Google search to come up with a catalogue of crimes against humanity that can be laid at the feet of that social media behemoth.
Governments around the world have been accused of twisting its tools for skewed elections, and that isn't even the most alarming example of the power it now wields.

Most people won't bother trying to find out what these crimes are, because we live in a world where millions of innocent, illiterate folk buy cell phones that come with pre-installed social media platforms and accounts. They don't ask for access to this, but it is shoved down their throats anyway.

These accounts then drip-feed all kinds of disturbing content into their entertainment-starved minds like a drug, in much the same way news channels in India
now operate with impunity. The results are being felt everywhere, profoundly affecting even those who do not have access to smartphones.

We owe it to those millions of blameless souls to try and arrest this dangerous tool from being more powerful than it is, by using everything at our disposal to try and fight how it controls us. Technology sites list innumerable tips and tricks we can use to sabotage its algorithms, but what I believe to be most effective is a simple question we need to ask ourselves: Why do we need to be on Facebook?

I found myself asking that question repeatedly over a period of time and failing to come up with a satisfactory answer. I first thought I needed it because it helped me keep track of my friends and what they were doing, until I realised that this wasn't the case at all. I had lived with and enjoyed healthy relationships with people for decades before social media existed and had managed to get through life just fine without knowing what they were up to every minute of every day.

What were these constant updates from friends and acquaintances telling me about my own life? That they were living more interesting lives? That they were on holiday in exotic destinations while I languished in a dreary office? That their opinion about a new restaurant or product or service mattered to everyone they knew?

After a point, the constant barrage of superfluous information began to change how I interacted with people in real life. I found myself checking my phone during conversations at dinner and tuning out what my companions were saying because I was reading what someone else had to say about the state of the world.

Ours is the first generation of digital natives in human history. The impact of technology on our nature will only truly be understood a century or so from now. What we can do until that happens is take stock of information we do have and change our habits before they change us permanently.

No one can deny that these tools have brought a staggering amount of good into the world. They have mobilised people against injustice, helped bring attention to people and causes ignored by the mainstream media, and changed the lives of millions in all kinds of ways.

We need to find out how they affect us personally though, and question how we use them, and to what end. If we have accounts on Facebook that aren't doing anything positive, why do we have them at all? If we don't contribute to the platform in any way, and simply consume the content it gives us, how does that absolve us?

We are the people who made Facebook as big as it is today. We logged on willingly, populated it with personal data, and happily gave it control over our lives. This is a beast of our own making. It is also a beast we alone have the power to stop.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira
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The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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First Published: 24 October, 2020 07:00 IST

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