September 16, 2020

How Social Media is Hijacking Your Emotions

The screens we surround ourselves with can change our minds, define our days and make us smile. But, they can also push us to tears, incite arguments and end relationships. As people, we decide how and when we use technology but, it turns out, we don’t have as much control as we think.

Black Lives Matter bots

The world is rapidly changing in response to the BLM revolution, mostly thanks to social media. But, in between every legitimate call for change, there’s a bot trying to disrupt. One in three tweets about the BLM protests is composed by bots, just to manipulate users and spread unnecessary division. Naturally, it’s a hot topic and emotionally charged, so that’s how online conversations go. But instead of lighting little emotional fires everywhere, the bots dive in and turn it into a colossal blaze. 

Coping With COVID

We’re hyper-vigilant as we navigate COVID-19, a literal life and death situation, so our bodies respond by pumping us full of adrenaline. Unlike dropping a knife or narrowly missing a fender-bender, our brains haven’t had a chance to recover from the stressor of a global pandemic. Chemically, our bodies are in complete overdrive. All these tense human beings are the perfect victims for bots. As brand and marketing professionals, we’re used to tapping into people’s thoughts and feelings to make communication more effective and impact purchase decisions. But, unlike us, the bots don’t have consciences or ethics.

Alluring Algorithms

When you go online, algorithms captivate you with curated content that speaks directly to your pains and passions. If you’re an environmentalist, you’ll see oil spills and climate protests. After scrolling through half an hour of doom and gloom, you’re going to feel pretty revved up. These tech terrorist bots work in the same way, using your feelings against you, ramping up your emotional response over time by littering your timeline with tweets designed to get an angry response. 

Tech Terrorists

These bots create automated content to upset people. The fake accounts flood newsfeeds to put you in an echo chamber, pummeling you with information to agitate you. When a real human posts something contrary to their narrative, they smother it with automated posts. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement has centred on police violence and so when users uploaded content about individual officers being helpful or kind, these bots flood to that tweet and bury it. By creating a flurry of counter comments proposing another version of events, these true accounts are being silenced. So one person tweets a police officer kneeling in solidarity, and ten bots reply in all caps THEY ARE KILLING US. Sometimes they’re easy to spot because the bots make mistakes like assigning a caucasian profile picture, but often you can’t tell who’s real.

The Reality

Online conversations are no longer reliable. We can’t guarantee the opinions we see on social media are from real people, and not from a bot that’s scoured the internet for the most provocative statements to serve you with. The bots suppress any reasonable conversations with a ‘pigeon’ strategy where they fly in, shit on everything, and fly out. The motivations behind these tech terrorists are varied. Some aim to disrupt political forces, manipulate democracy or merely create chaos. Internal and external forces from multiple countries orchestrate misinformation for their own agendas and with globalization, your feed, your beliefs and your emotions could be the target. 

Who’s responsible?

Higher-level decision-makers aren’t necessarily the ones programming the bots, but they are still complicit. Their capitalistic motivations create algorithms that are faceless, nameless machines and then they apply these to thinking, feeling humans. It doesn’t work. The tech giants are the ones who have the power to let this type of activity continue or not, but they don’t all agree. Jack Dorsey wants to eliminate fake news on Twitter, possibly even censoring Donald Trump’s tweets, but Mark Zuckerburg says he won’t censor Facebook because it’s a platform and that’s not their responsibility.

The Point

Keep vigilant about real responses to your virtual life. Surround yourself with diverse opinions in this reality and online. Follow that alternate political party and like a bunch of their posts so your feed starts showing their content, confuse the algorithm and ensure you aren’t only presented with content that reflects your views mixed with posts that provoke you. 

Life isn’t as binary as algorithms make it out to be. Yes, a lot of the time, the algorithm gets it right. You pick up running and all of a sudden you’re seeing targeted workout wear ads. But, this doesn’t mean we have to be blind to the ways algorithms and bots can manipulate us into more radical versions of ourselves. Social media is powerful, don’t underestimate it.

Emails suck. Ours Don’t
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