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The social dilemma: What’s the first thing you do upon waking up?

Some would answer, “I pray and say THANK YOU for having been awakened out of my sleep.” Okay that’s good. What’s the next thing you do? You reach for your phone and check your messages. Or maybe check Facebook. Yes, an average person checks his or her phone 150 times a day or more.

Two former executives of Google and Facebook/Pinterest left the Big Tech companies to found the Center for Humane Technology and Moment — two companies which are now the conscience of social media. I am talking about Tristan Harris and Tim Kendall. Google them. Harris had been a design ethicist for Google while Kendall used to be the Facebook Head for Monetization. I saw them on Bloomberg TV being interviewed by Emily Chang and it got me thinking. I also saw them in the Netflix movie, The Social Dilemma. You have to watch the documentary and decide if you will get out of social media, control your children’s exposure to it, or be the big force in making society and governments change how Big Tech is shaping our lives. It’s something we need to be concerned about and I wish I could articulate how Harris explains it using psychology and persuasive psychology.

Kendall has also removed access to gadgets from his kids, making them learn under the trees and stars instead. You could say they are probably at the other end of the spectrum now — they are concerned that social media will ruin society’s moral fiber. It’s logical. Harris says “it’s a race to the bottom of the brain” and it’s about who gains more of your attention and time. “So, think how fossil fuels are now being replaced by electric,” Kendall says. It needs the state or all states of the world to bear down on Big Tech and use them for good rather than to incite outrage and rebellion, hate, and depression. Truly the governments must bear down on these behemoths and have them change their business model.

Harris continues, “They say they mirror society,” and he explains that the social media platforms give you a distorted view of reality — made up of Likes and Comments — because as the hate is fueled, people are fed more hateful feeds! “It is a distorted view,” he says, like a funhouse mirror that gives you a society that social media created. People react because of what they see on Facebook, like fake news and “bandwagon mentality” making them outraged at an event or a social poll or a presidential candidate. It sows fear, hate, and even violence.

So, do we just opt out and turn our backs on social media? Or has it become the only way to do our marketing and we have no choice now? Do we pay for sponsored ads and boost ads and feed the very people who are destroying our society? I got to thinking, what does a business need to do now? Influence the government to take a stand. Bear down on Big Tech to be more responsible.

And this is why China’s rules make sense. They do not have Facebook or Instagram. So their society is shaped by their own rules and societal norms — even if they differ from the rest of the world. Do you know that China will be the only country with a positive GDP by 3rd quarter among all the nations in the world? Because they have their own rules and laws — they attended to infrastructure first during COVID-19 and made consumption their last concern. They concentrated on their strength (infrastructure) in construction. They made domestic consumption resume only last August — unlike everyone else that was wavering between health and commerce. But that’s why it’s China. They make the rules. They don’t bend with anyone’s rules.

So, although social media is what we have left due to quarantine protocols preventing real life socializing, we need to be careful about how it consumes us. Are you confused yet? I was and am still thinking of how business can go on without it. Even if we are interested only in news and current events, we still get it via Social media!!

What to do to be enlightened about this:

1. Watch the Social Dilemma on Netflix.

2. Catch Tristan Harris and Tim Kendall on TED Talks and other interviews.

3. Think about how we can control social media, rather than it controlling us.

4. Advocate for a change in the business model of these Big Tech firms.

It is not a solution to just OPT OUT of social media. We need to control and manage what it is doing to society. Harris says we cannot wait 10 years, because it may even explode in a year or so.

If you can find time to open Facebook, find time to see how responsible they can be. We are all part of the damage we are causing ourselves.

It is indeed a social dilemma.

This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or the MAP.


Chit U. Juan is a member of the MAP Communications Committee and the MAP Inclusive Growth Committee. She is the President of the Philippine Coffee Board, Inc. and runs a social enterprise called ECHOstore.

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