If you’re anything like me, flipping through Netflix for the next bingeable series is how you spend most of your weekends these days. I recently watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix, a docu-drama that explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations. As written by The New York Times, the show claims the manipulation of human behavior for profit is coded into these companies with Machiavellian precision: Infinite scrolling and push notifications keep users constantly engaged; personalized recommendations use data not just to predict but also to influence our actions, turning users into easy prey for advertisers and propagandists.
After watching the intense film, I found myself thinking about the challenges we face not only as digital marketers, but as consumers of media as well. Professionally, I thought about the heightened need for transparent corporate values and legislative reform; as a consumer, I quickly realized I needed to practice healthier habits with my own usage.
There is a lot to unpack here, especially as the communications industry continues to “lean in” to the world of all things digital. So, let’s jump in.
State of the Industry: Legislation Reform Is Needed
The pace of technology is lightyears ahead of our country’s regulation and legislation surrounding how consumers interact with Big Tech. Simply put, up until now, the darlings of the tech world (Google, Facebook, etc.) have thrived without much regulatory issue. But just last week, the Justice Department filed a long-expected antitrust lawsuit alleging that Google uses anticompetitive tactics to preserve its search engine monopoly and related advertising business, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The Federal Trade Commission is also moving closer to a decision about filing an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook for its market power in social networking, says The New York Times. This subject has been ever present as we are just a week away from our next Presidential Election, where members on both sides of the aisle have talked about the need for reform.
As digital marketers, we can all agree that there are growing frustrations with how “algorithms” have transformed so much of what we do. For example, to successfully market on LinkedIn, our clients are spending serious dollars to reach their targeted audiences and break through the digital advertising clutter. (This is part of the reason why here at rbb, we believe in implementing the P.E.S.O. model in all of our integrated client campaigns.)
And as consumers, it’s why we joke that Google can quite literally “listen to our thoughts” of wanting to purchase that expensive handbag, then get served ads on every single website the next day for said handbag, leading us to reconsider the purchase (guilty)!
People Over Profit: What Does That Even Mean in Today’s Age?
Facebook is in a precarious position: The company has made serious promises to its shareholders for continued business growth, making the need for advertising to drum up massive revenue figures its #1 goal. But what happened to the real, original purpose of social media: to connect with loved ones, share personal experiences and build an online community of people with shared interests?
Ultimately, transparency is the name of the game, here. It is time for Big Tech to take a hard look at its corporate values and re-balance itself on the spectrum to allow for healthy profits, while also keeping in mind the health of its product: consumer data.
The Consumer Perspective: A Healthy Approach to Staying Connected
The subject of mental health is no longer as taboo as it once was, and it’s no secret that the average time we spend on our phones and computers scrolling through social media, checking our emails and comparing our lives through these skewed social lenses is only increasing.
While only time will tell what happens with Big Tech’s legal reform, as consumers, we owe it to ourselves to practice unplugging and refocusing ourselves every now and then.
After you share your thoughts in the comments section, I challenge you to think about how you can disconnect from the digital world – even if it’s for just a moment.