Talk about your timeline

How social media sites can change what we think

I remember when Facebook changed from the chronological timeline to an algorithm that was supposed to show users more of the information that they wanted to see.  At first users could choose which timeline to use, but then all users had to use the new system.  Then Twitter started mixing chronological order with a “while you were away” section of tweets they thought users would like.  Eventually Twitter and even Instagram also converted to completely tailored timeline.

Although the idea of this is to show users information that is most important to them by analyzing what tweets they interact with most, there becomes room for the social media site to influence the the information we consume.  Over time, this has the potential to change individuals thoughts and to shape society.

Millions of people use social media sites, and tailoring timelines requires decisions and rankings of importance.  Companies use algorithms, which are series of questions designed to rank what is most important.

“These are all human choices. Sometimes they’re made in the design of the algorithm, sometimes around it. The result we see, a changing list of topics, is not the output of “an algorithm” by itself, but rather of an effort that combined human activity and computational analysis, together, to produce it.” wrote Tarleton Gillespie in a NiemanLab article.

This gives social media companies a lot of area to push agenda’s, whether for money or a cause.  For example, Facebook generally leads liberally, and the one of their algorithm curator’s recently said that “his fellow curators often overlooked or suppressed conservative topics.” As a left leaning registered independent, I generally don’t mind not having many conservative posts on my timeline, but this can give false perceptions of reality. My Facebook and Twitter feeds made me under the impression that Donald Trump could never win the U.S. election, but based on election night, Trump won by a landslide.

Social media sites have as much power or more than the massive media corporations, and they have don’t have the same regulations of influence.  Media manipulation is what makes lots of money right now, and Forbes explained what this means:

“When the news is decided not by what is important but by what readers are clicking; when the cycle is so fast that the news cannot be anything else but consistently and regularly incomplete; when dubious scandals scuttle election bids or knock billions from the market caps of publicly traded companies; when the news frequently covers itself in stories about ‘how the story unfolded’—media manipulation is the status quo.”

In the case of the 2016 election, this manipulation led me and many others believe that the Democratic Party had it in the bag.  As a big Bernie Sanders supporter, I personally wish that Twitter could have decided the election, because that’s what my feed was full of, but I understand that’s not what the country, (or at least the DNC wanted).  Transparency and accuracy in trends are a necessary responsibility for social media companies with a conscious.

**Featured image is Public Domain



Does “No Mean No” in Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality is becoming more and more prominent,

and with that comes a new virtual world. I can even walk into Appalachian State University’s library and test out some great VR headsets for free.

As the technology improves, the VR world is appearing more realistic each day. But in order to truly trick our brains into believing in this virtual world, we will need other senses to be simulated. While it is relatively easy to add sound, touch would add an incredibly realistic element.

Imagine being able to feel the grass in a field against your legs, the wind in the air, or reaching out to hold the hand of the person you’re walking with. Although this would all be artificial feelings, in combination with the sight of the virtual world, it would be incredibly convincing to our brains that we were actually experiencing these things.

Perceptual psychology has taught us that our brain can fill in missing information from our senses through patterns.  However, the patterns have issues, and they are issues that we can take advantage of.  To add the sense of touch to virtual reality, we wouldn’t need to add the exact feelings,  but instead add feelings that are consistently inaccurate.  If the feelings all follow a similar pattern, and there are no extreme outliers, our brain will be fooled to fill in the rest of the information for us.

Essentially, if the entire virtual world is all the same level of incorrect, our brain will perceive it all to be correct, therefor truly taking us into he virtual world.

Issues arrive with this however, when the person you were holding hands with in the virtual field is actually Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, who decides to “grab a pu**y” and virtually rapes you.

When our brain is tricked to believe that this a real world, there must be some rules and laws in that world to protect the users.  Especially when people aren’t who they are in real life.  We have seen the issues with child predators and other criminals hiding behind the anonymity of the internet.

Now, imagine a free world where these people could disguise themselves as anyone they wanted to be in any situation.  While this technology could be incredible for the good people in the world, it also opens up an entire new world of problems.

Zoltan Istvan, a Transhumanist U.S. presidential candidate summed this up perfectly for Australian publication, Vertigo:

“We’re approaching an age when we’re going to be rewriting a huge amount of the rules of what it means to either harm somebody, or hurt somebody, or even scare them or bother them. Clearly the controls, the security systems and the anti-hacking software will have to be much better.”

I wish we could all explore the virtual world safely without rules and regulation, but as the technology becomes more realistic, that’s simply not possible.



**featured image owned and copyrighted by Marina Noordegraaf under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Yes or No? The Dangers of Social Media

Millennials like myself may have been the last generation to experience a childhood without smartphones and social media, but we have certainly been sucked in to its endless information now.  Like many others, I am active on the big three sites; Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

These site’s short text posts, memes, and videos are allowing people to gain information quicker than ever before.  Within a few minutes I can read news articles, laugh at viral videos, check up with my friends, and read a meme about Donald Trump.

But, is this information overload actually sticking with me?  I often find myself turning off my phone and wondering what I was just looking at for the last 15 minutes.

Social Media “expert” Jim Steyer told the Los Angeles Times that “In a world where everyone is addicted to cellphones, there’s less reflection.” Although people are accessing information at rates never seen before, they aren’t actually analyzing or absorbing it.

This leads to generalizations and allows users to easily be influenced to one opinion or another without knowing the facts.

Social media’s quick content encourages simple “yes” or “no” opinions, which has helped to polarized politics even further.  Instead of researching all of the options,  social media gives users a short video, meme, or unsupported statistic and expects users to make an opinion immediately by liking, sharing, or commenting on the post.

Trump has been using this lack of reflection to gain popularity in the 2016 election. His sporadic, opinion-based tweets have received viral attention.  Despite the tweets nearly always lacking factual support, they force people to make an opinion on it.  Either “Make America Great Again” or “#NeverTrump”.  Regardless, the reactions cause the posts to trend, and they gain more exposure, and more quick opinions to be formed.

Like a reality TV show, this election has been all about popularity instead of the issues, and  as Steyer put it, “Trump understands reality TV.” His celebrity persona gained him attention across social media and broadcast media.  Whether the attention was good or bad, it allowed Trump to gather supporters.

Also,  following a politician, cause, or biased news source can influence opinion’s simply by the nature of social media.  This allows all of the information we are processing by social media to be molded into the scope of these accounts.  For example, users following left-leaning accounts will never see a story about Donald Trump in a positive light, but those following Trump and his supporters will only see pro-Trump propaganda.

Consequently, the followers can inherently believe that everyone agrees with their opinions.  This shared support then adds credibility to the cause, when in reality while the rest of the internet, and the country has their own opinions.  This apparent credibility can be especially dangerous, when the campaign is built on opinion instead of fact.

Although potentially dangerous for our country, Trump has been able to build a credibility for himself among supporters without a political background or even endorsements from any of the living President’s.

Regardless of the cause, social media’s ability to rally people together is why a Forbes article considered social media as “the ideal vehicle to deliver messages asking for support.”