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The biggest danger coming from the internet

What is the biggest danger coming from internet? On Mobile Tech Tracker, we wrote quite a lot about cyber security. Indeed, cyber attacks are on the rise and more and more people are becoming victims of them. However, we don't classify malicious cyber criminals as the biggest threat to an average person. The biggest, but much more subtle, danger lies in user engagement algorithms that big tech companies add to the popular social media apps.

You may ask, why do we classify it as a bigger danger than hackers? Well, the chances that a particular person gets severely affected by a cyber attack are fairly low, especially if a given person knows the basics of online safety. However, social media is something that most of us use on daily basis and, without even realising it, we get our brains literally rewired by the use.

Former Facebook executive, Chamath Palihapitiya, has admitted that what you see on your timeline on the social media network is not random. Behind the algorithms, there is a whole team of not only software developers, but also psychologists, who's job it is to keep you stay in the web app for as long as possible. This is why many of us can remember the times when we have only visited Facebook to quickly check on what our friends are up to, only to keep scrolling through the whole range of random posts an hour later. Facebook, by far, isn't the only social network that carefully craft the user experience to make the users stay.

The key to this is dopamine, a very powerful hormone that keeps people motivated. This is the same hormone that keeps heavy gamblers, alcoholics and drug users addicted. The posts that appear on your timeline give you a dopamine kick. The sequence of them is based on your interests that monitoring software have inferred from your previous activity and is applied in such a way that your dopamine keeps getting released while you are scrolling down.

The problem with dopamine is that it's not a happiness hormone. Instead, it makes you anticipate things and take action to get those things. You don't feel satisfied when dopamine is release. On the contrary, when it happens, you subconsciously think that if you'll watch one more post, you'll be happy. Same happens after the next post. Same happens after the next post after that. So it continues until your eyes are dry and red and you've got a headache. It is just the same as when an alcoholic thinks that one more drink is all that is needed, only to find himself unconscious after many more of such drinks.

When you get hooked on social media, your life goes downhill. It doesn't even have to be a full-blown addiction. Rather than seeking true happiness and doing something fulfilling, you spend most of your waking hour living in an anxious state of constant anticipation. The worst thing about it is that most of it is completely subconscious, so you realise that something in your life is off, but can't quite tell what exactly is it.

Most of professional jobs these days are done on a computer. However, because you can't resist the urge to check social media, your productivity goes downhill and your paycheck suffers as the result. Your more disciplined co-workers, who started at the same level as yourself, are now way ahead of you in terms of corporate hierarchy and pay scale.

One other danger that results from timeline feeds being configured for the most optimal way to release dopamine is reinforcement of confirmation bias. The algorithms know what your preferences are, so, over time, you will see more and more posts that align with your interests. So, if you have a particular set of political views, most of the information you will see on social media will align with your opinion, making you think that this is how the rest of the world thinks. Over time, you will stop distinguishing opinions from facts.

So, what can you do to avoid the dangers of social media addiction? First step is to be aware that social media has been deliberately designed to get you hooked and keep you hooked. After that, you can gradually reduce your social media consumption. When you use social media, it pays to be mindful of your actions and don't let provocative clickbait posts get at you. Also, you can give as little information to profiling algorithms as possible by keeping your "likes" and comments to bare minimum. Finally, if you consider yourself to be open minded, it would be a great idea to keep posts about your political opinion to absolute minimum. Otherwise, you will not be as open minded for much longer.

There is one important fact that you should remember:


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Posted on 23 Jan 2018

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