by Mikhailangelo Panzo | April 19, 2022
There is some sort of danger when it comes to giving us the freedom to influence others. Freedom is a right that we all should have, but it is not a simple concept. You cannot simply have the freedom to do whatever you want on your neighbor’s lawn when you’re oppressing their freedom to own that lawn. We know our boundaries — or so we think. It would be a different story if you think they don’t have the right to own that lawn, and it would be a more convincing story if instead of lawns, it’s their thoughts and opinions.
Social media is a technological wonder — we know we cannot live without it. Yet, it is dangerous. It gives us the ability to reach almost anyone and make an impact almost anywhere, yet this amount of freedom is what makes it very toxic. Cancel culture, misinformation, unhealthy trends, and the modern online chismis — the number of issues in these platforms are simply astonishing, to the pitiful point of treating them as entertainment. What’s worse is that these platforms are designed to be, for lack of a better word, “mindless” — letting the users consume short content that they prefer, providing them short dopamine feels without a satisfactory end to the scrolling, and exposing them to an addictive environment that slowly indoctrinates them on what they’ve been consuming. The worst of the platforms’ problem is that most of us are affected by the design.
All of these are subtle, yet they make us think that we’re free when we interact with issues online, not knowing that we are being manipulated.
You may think your opinion or choice is right and the opposition simply is invalid. After all, your well-crafted feed is full of posts supporting your perspective.
You may think you’re canceling something evil and that something’s defense is non-existent. In your understanding, the hashtags are just a call to blindly follow the hate and pick only one side.
You may think what you know is true and should be the basis of truth to be applied to everyone. At the end of the day, you did “in-depth” research of spoonfed “information” from people who don’t know the meaning or importance of premises and sources, but they all spout the same conspiracy.
This does not apply to everyone, and most of social media’s features and trends aren’t harmful or controversial at all. But it’s exactly this elusive peaceful environment that we’re in that opinions are manipulated on certain issues. Shift the thoughts of enough people and it’ll become the majority’s thought to the point that it looks like the truth. The irony of this “freedom” is that although we are oppressed, we willingly and ignorantly get manipulated and do most of the oppression.
Take a look at George Orwell’s “1984”. It’s a dystopian story of totalitarianism, where the ruling party watches every move of the people, stripping them of any sort of freedom that they deserve. This authoritative reality is translated into the word “Orwellian”. If you haven’t read the book, you may find it difficult to think there are parallels between the problematic freedom of social media and what you would describe as Orwellian. The word is not synonymous with authoritarianism. In the novel, there is the language of “Newspeak”, a language crafted by the party that has restricted vocabulary, making it difficult for the people to think critically, articulate thoughts of identity, and have thoughts of dissent against the ideals set by the party. Although the government watches and suppresses them, Newspeak changes their way of thinking to the point of changing their perspective on life, as if the ideals of the totalitarian regime are simply the reality that they should live with. There is also the “Ministry of Truth” which rewrites their history to further fit the party’s narrative, further confining their reality much like Socrates’ cave. Along with the authoritative actions by the party, this manipulation of the people’s psyche through language and memory is what makes its reality “Orwellian” and why there hasn’t been a revolution in that story. Their boundaries on freedom became tiny and made to look as if they were still large. However, the appendix of the novel suggests that the regime was eventually defeated. The manipulation was not enough against the rebellious spirit of the people towards the authoritarian government. Finally, they were reminded of what is undermined and discover that they were manipulated. The Orwellian dystopia has never come into our reality because of the constant reminder of a bitter life, but having a pleasant and relaxing life might be much worse.
The Netflix documentary “The Great Hack” took a modern take on “1984”, but this time, the people embraced the manipulation. It shows how big data and analytics can be used to manipulate people to politically align themselves with a United States candidate in 2016 and other international political campaigns, including our own. Your preferences, even from which Disney princess you want to be, are used to determine what political campaigning materials are used for you. It shows how current technologies are used to manipulate people on a psychological level. Trends and catered feeds are seen as weapons to move the masses and influence their opinion. You become a data point that can be changed and used for an agenda you might not have aligned yourself with before. All of these together would make anyone think they made these choices by themselves. The boundaries of freedom are still vast, but we are led into a tiny box, moved around by those manipulating us while trampling the liberty of others. “Slavery is freedom, ” as the ruling party says in the dystopian society of “1984”.
When you fall victim to the antics of the online space, you become susceptible to the ever-changing collective ideals: one with barely an identity that is controlled. Your voice on matters stops feeling like your own and you don’t realize it. It’s important to take back your freedom and not let anyone dictate what you think about different matters. Widen your horizon, view things from different angles, and when you decide on your stance, take pride that this time, you have your own opinion. Freedom is much more complicated and it’s something you have to work for to truly have it.