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The Usage of Social Media and the Individual’s Role in It

Professor Goetz, I have read your feedback and thoroughly modified my final post. I have kept some sources but mostly I consulted ones related to the syllabus this time around. I hope this is sufficiently modified, better draft.

Key points for improvement:
- your new title should still have indicated to you that the paper is still too broad. The title reflects the body. If there is not enough (or, in this case, too much) information, this makes it difficult to write a good title, conclusion, excerpt. The conclusion effectively says nothing new given the premise of the course. See tip #2:
https://interculturalextraneity.com/important/about#week11
- the idea in the excerpt is interesting but never addressed in the post
- the introduction is compelling but contains ideas that are not returned to
- the body of the post reads more like a laundry list than a coherent composition. You seemed to have wanted to say everything, but as that is not possible in a short paper (and often, even in a book), there are some problems that are not fully developed
- you made an effort to cite a variety of sources but a) this was a variety of sources of your own choosing far more than a variety of sources covered in the course material, which is what you were asked to include and b) sometimes the choice of sources to make certain points showed a lack of awareness of the purpose of citation (e.g. why is tesla an authority on where data goes?) It would be ok to, for example, cite a forum member on a subject like that if they had cited a range of sources – but that would be how you would present their credibility
- moving forwards: it would be better for you to cut a lot of this paper because laundry lists are not meaningful compositions, and you are to strive for meaning, not listing (an academic post is not a listicle). But how do you know what to cut and what stays? Remember that you will need to include at least one more reference to course material, so that might bring in a new point. You need to decide what you want to write about. Is it the idea from the conclusion about how it is we that can make of social media – but if that is what you want to consider, then the paper will have to show HOW we do this. The closest general statement (see point #1, again https://interculturalextraneity.com/important/about#week11) is in the extract, but I would suggest tailoring that to better fit what is actually in this post: WHO gets to decide what social media means? The data collectors? The users? … but the conclusion must not end up being the same in essence as what you have here if you want a higher grade. You will need to make up your mind as you sift through the examples that your paper contains. What would help you here would be to include the lens of critical theory or literary theory (e.g. Bakhtin).

For a (relatively) recent technological development, modern social media has rather quickly revolutionised practically every aspect of our lives, from communication and entertainment, to education and marketing. However, for all its ingenuity, it has brought forth a plethora of risks, and so the conversation about social media has to be a complex one, and we must make sure we observe both the good and the bad sides of it. We need to examine who exactly determines how social media is used, and what specific role we, as the individuals and users, play in that.

When it comes to social media, it is instrumental to keep in mind that it is not a black-and-white phenomenon. It has good and bad sides, but it is what we make of it that truly counts. To put it a little bit differently: in the hands of a chef, a knife is a tool; in the hands of a criminal it is a potential murder weapon. But is a knife good or evil by nature? Of course not. It is a piece of sharp metal that is defined by its use. Social media is much the same. For example, social media has shaped elections (Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017, p. 212), shaped public opinion) (Wilson & Wiysonge, 2020), and saved lives (González-Padilla & Tortolero-Blanco, 2020, p. 121) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The problem arises when we realise that we, the individuals, are not the only ones who decide how social media – more specifically, the data we provide through it – is used. Our data has become the main currency of social media: we exchange private information for a more tailored user experience, and often do it completely unaware (Cakebread, 2017). Doctorow (2020) said it quite nicely by stating that “we trade our privacy for services”. In return, Big Tech companies give us social media tailored to us: recommended YouTube videos, Instagram profiles to follow, articles to read based on our latest interests, et cetera. At best, our personal growth is being hindered by receiving an inordinate amount of information about the same topics over and over again; at worst, we are consolidating “power over information, and conversation, into the hands of the small number of companies that own the platforms and write the algorithms”, according to Carr (2020). In short, we have given the power to shape our opinions and our lives to Big Tech by clicking a single “Accept” button.

It becomes apparent, then, that we are not the sole owners of our social media, but it is important to note that that doesn’t mean we are not in control. Metaphorically, two hands are holding the knife and deciding whether it is a chef’s tool or a murder weapon: the user’s hand and the data collectors’. Whose hand prevails?

This is where I highlight the role of the individual, and return to the simple fact that our data has become a treasured form of currency that we use to trade for services on social media. Should users change what data they provide, or stop providing it altogether, they would be controlling the sole thing that Big Tech hinges its business on – “letting users control disclosure would create value”, as Doctorow (2020) would put it. Turning the tables and using our data as a bargaining chip against Big Tech would be the best possible move for social media users in my opinion, however difficult and painstaking the process of getting there would be.

But how do we, the individuals, become the sole proprietors of our data and social media? Do we stop using social media altogether? As user powerpuff2 (2020) so aptly put it, “while it would be good to have social media just magically disappear like they never existed, realistically that is impossible in this day and age”, and I am inclined to agree, since it has become so intertwined in all aspects of society that it is simply not possible. Do we allow our governments to protect us? User lumpenprol (2020) correctly points out that this would simply be “a shift of power, rather than a solution.”

So is there even a solution, or are we stuck in this unstoppable-force-meets-immovable-object situation where nothing changes? Doctorow (2020) suggests that a solution does exist; several, in fact – “norms, law, code, and markets.” There’s only a small matter of being “terrible on all accounts”, as he puts it, but that is subject to change; humanity has always adapted to the circumstances, and social media is no different. An optimistic perspective on my end, perhaps, but not impossible. Conceivably, the best way to effectively and responsibly wield social media is to gather knowledge: what data we give out and to whom, and how to avoid giving it out in the first place are certainly good questions to ask ourselves if we mean to combat the misuse of our social media.

To conclude, while social media has cemented itself as an essential tool of the 21st century, it is not inherently good or evil in any way. The task of deciding where on that spectrum it falls is primarily left to us, the users. Rather than letting companies dictate how and for what we use social media, we must take matters into our own hands and fight back by protecting our data as much as possible and using social media responsibly.

By J.P. (mmmpast)

References:

1. Allcott, H., & Gentzkow, M. (2017). Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 31(2), 211–236.
https://doi.org/10.1257/jep.31.2.211

2. Cakebread, C. (2017, November 16). You’re not alone, no one reads terms of service agreements. Business Insider.
https://www.businessinsider.com/deloitte-study-91-percent-agree-terms-of-service-without-reading-2017-11?international=true&r=US&IR=T

3. Carr, N. (2020, March 10). From context collapse to content collapse. ROUGH TYPE.
http://www.roughtype.com/?p=8724

4. Doctorow, C. (2020, February 11). The Curious Case of Internet Privacy. MIT Technology Review.
https://www.technologyreview.com/2012/06/06/19572/the-curious-case-of-internet-privacy/

5. González-Padilla, D. A., & Tortolero-Blanco, L. (2020). Social media influence in the COVID-19 Pandemic. International Braz j Urol, 46 (suppl 1), 120–124.
https://doi.org/10.1590/s1677-5538.ibju.2020.s121

6. L. (2020a). The Nuance and ethics of digital culture | Intercultural Extraneity. Intercultural Extraneity.
http://interculturalextraneity.com/articles/the-nuance-and-ethics-of-digital-culture

7. P. (2020b). Should we delete our social account/s? / Social networks / Intercultural Extraneity Forum. Intercultural Extraneity.
http://interculturalextraneity.com/forum/viewtopic.php?pid=213#p213

8. Wilson, S. L., & Wiysonge, C. S. (2020, December 3). Misinformation on social media fuels vaccine hesitancy: a global study shows the link. The Conversation.
https://theconversation.com/misinformation-on-social-media-fuels-vaccine-hesitancy-a-global-study-shows-the-link-150652

PLAGIARISM DECLARATION:

I, J.P., hereby declare that this essay is my own work; all materials that were taken from different sources have been listed in the references list. I am aware of the possible consequences in case of plagiarism regarding this paper. My work and research have been conducted by using Internet sources, news articles, journal articles, and YouTube videos. All opinions and quotes that aren’t listed in the reference list are my own. I understand all the rules and regulations stipulated by the University of Belgrade, Faculty of Philology.

JP, Dec 21

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