The Challenges of Social Media
Last year, as people sat around in their homes, there was a lot of growing anger and interest in the power of corporations such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and others. For example, there were calls to boycott Amazon during Prime Days because of its treatment of workers.
But Amazon wasn’t the only big tech company under attack. Netflix put out the documentary, “The Social Dilemma,” which is considered a must-watch film. In the documentary, viewers see how social media and technology platforms use people's experiences, thoughts and ideas as commodities to sell.
Yes, folks, we're the product. Every time you share a family photo or the picture of your dog, you're creating data for platforms, such as Facebook, to turn around and sell you something. And yes, even leaders of nonprofits and fundraising social enterprises need to be aware of what their teams share on social media.
Brain Hacking and Our Phone Addiction
In the Netflix documentary, with many former social media techies, you'll hear the ideas of Tristan Harris. Harris was a product manager at Google. And while people are speaking up about the digital dangers, he's one of the few in the tech industry to do it. He says that one of the most egregious problems with social media and technology has to do with "brain hacking."
In short, brain hacking occurs when you get conditioned to check your mobile phone continually. Because big tech understands behavioral psychology, they get the public addicted to their mobile devices with endless notifications. The reality is that it's not easy for our brains to see those notifications and ignore them. In fact, we have an innate need to see what's up — again, brain hacking.
The Problem With Social Media
Harris co-founded the Center for Humane Technology with Aza Raskin. The organization’s mission is “…to drive a comprehensive shift toward humane technology that supports our well-being, democracy and shared information environment.” The way they see it, social media companies and big tech are profiting from the outrage it's helping spread (e.g., fake news, amplification of negative headlines).
Moreover, these companies are addicting people, particularly youth, by manipulating human behaviors or brain hacking. For many, this addiction to social media leads to depression, a threat against democracy and social well-being.
As explained on the Center for Humane Technology site, companies have economic pressures to keep us all hooked. They need to grow their profits and the sales for shareholders. However, we also have a situation where one group of haves could wield enormous power through technology against marginalized groups.
Also, we have to be mindful that artificial intelligence and algorithms do not care about us or our feelings. In short, they have a specific function, and they do not care about what it could do, even unintentionally, to people. For instance, take teen suicides that have occurred — caused by social media comments and shares. That's probably the most challenging thing ethically for our society. People shouldn’t have to feel they need to kill themselves.
What You Can Do to Help Everyone Do Better on Social Media
While social media isn’t going to go away, there are ethical issues. For instance, algorithms have to get tested for bias because it exists. We have to remember that just because technology is great and could do so much for humanity, it doesn't mean we don't have an obligation to hold leaders accountable. So, the next time you consider upgrading technology, ask the provider questions about bias in their algorithms.
We achieve a more ethical social environment by letting our voices get heard and counted concerning policies to balance constitutional rights with technology that could virtually do anything we could think of — for better or for worse. As we know, Facebook now faces regulatory scrutiny as a monopoly with too much power.
Nevertheless, those of us in the social sector have a special obligation to do good and lead change. So, as a nonprofit leader, the following are some ways you could use social media ethically in your community.
Quick Tips to Do Better on Social Media
- Get yourself informed about the ethics of social media. You could start by checking out the documentary, “The Social Dilemma.” If you lead a school or a nonprofit with many young supporters, consider screening the documentary for your community. Also, get familiar with the Center for Humane Technology.
- Don't share disinformation or enflame divisive social issues. People think that social media is like the old town square. It isn't. Social media shares the content that is getting the most traction to make money. It's not about you or your community. It's about shareholders. It's OK and essential to discuss challenging social issues, but don't put gasoline on the fire. Have weighty discussions in person or face-to-face.
- Be careful about reaching out and connecting with your donors and supporters on social media. Some people have started to create boundaries on social media by tightening up their privacy settings. So, if you decide to reach out to donors or supporters, be mindful about the idea that they might reserve their social media presence only for close friends and family.
- Don't take things personally. It seems that filters are off with social media, and no, I don't mean the tools to add colors and designs to your photos. People are much more likely to personally insult people on social media, including in the nonprofit sector, than they would have ever done in person. If someone offends your nonprofit, you or the work you do — keep moving. Take the high road. It's better for you and your brand.
- If you happen to work or lead a youth organization or school, take a look at The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. The organization works with districts, schools and the government for social media and technology policy and research. Again, the more informed you are, the better you could serve your community.
- For those who work in fields related to technology, consider integrating the Center for Humane Technology Principles into the work you do. Some of the principles include obsess over values (instead of obsessing over engagement metrics), enable wise choices (instead of assuming more choice is always better) and nurture mindfulness (instead of vying for attention).
Let's not forget that virtually anyone, including kids, could see social media. So be mindful about what you share and what you say. When times arise to discuss serious social issues, let's discuss—even with those with whom we disagree—but let's do it in person and not on anonymous social platforms.
Editor's Note: This Rethink: Social Good column was originally published in the March/April print edition of NonProfit PRO. Click here to subscribe.
Wayne Elsey is the founder and CEO of Elsey Enterprises. Among his various independent brands, he is also the founder and CEO of Funds2Orgs, a social enterprise that helps nonprofits, schools, churches, civic groups, individuals and others raise funds, while helping to support micro-enterprise (small business) opportunities in developing nations and the environment.
You can learn more about Wayne and obtain free resources, including his books on his blog, Not Your Father’s Charity.