#25. Social Dilemma: The Side Effects of Social Media Apps

About 45 days ago, I watched a hard-hitting documentary on the ill effects of social media apps. I was quite shocked by how social media manipulates us deeply even without our knowledge. Many know that social media apps make money by showing ads to their users. However, what we fail to see is the science behind those popping ads and how it manipulates our identity. This article emphasizes the unknown and grave ill effects of social media apps based on the documentary “Social Dilemma“.

Let us first enumerate the most popular social media apps: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Google, Tiktok, Reddit, Linkedin, Pinterest, and Snapchat. These 10 apps are widely used across the globe. Second, let us dive into their business model. According to Shoshana Zuboff, Professor Emeritus (retired), Harvard Business School, social media apps sell certainty to advertisers. They predict user behaviour and sell those predictions to advertisers. To predict the behaviour, they get all possible data from users regardless of its relevance to the app. Our behaviour is the product that is sold to a company. In total, it serves as a market place to trade human futures.

Third, we must understand the tracking parameters they use to grow the business. They are screen time, visiting frequency, and acquisition. Overall, a social media app seduces the user to spend more time in the app, lures the user to check it out frequently, and deceives the user to bring more users to its platform. For example, photo tagging is a feature invented to bring the user to the Facebook page frequently. It taps the simple human emotion to check their self-image. So, a user cannot resist the emotion but open the app to have a look at it. Another example is the recommended video screen after every finger swipe. When we pull the mobile screen downwards with our fingers in the YouTube mobile app, the videos suggested on the screen change, not once but every time. A psychology concept called “Positive Intermittent Reinforcement” is used to hold our attention to the screen.

As you understand from the business model, social media companies make money only by selling our information. Additionally, the information must be right for it to make more money. At first, they collect data to see our behaviour. As time passes, they understand how we behave based on the zillions of data collected across the globe. Gradually, they make a slight imperceptible change in our own behaviour and perception. In other words, these social media apps change who we are and how we think. Our behaviour is modified to the expectation of advertisers without triggering our awareness. However, it doesn’t end there; these manipulations go beyond perception towards the product.

After the invention of social media, there is an alarming increase in the need for social approval. As human beings, we require social approval but not for every activity. Like and Love buttons in the social media apps conflate fake popularity with value and truth. Users desire the perceived sense of perfection.

Depiction of a girl seeking social approval. Source: Social Dilemma Documentary

Besides that, there is a rise in conspiracy theories, false news, and hate speeches. The social media algorithm empowers people to see similar videos or posts. No one checks whether it is true or fake. As a result, a person believing in flat earth theory will get 100 recommendations of flat earth theories which further reinforce the person’s belief in flat earth theory. The division is extreme when it comes to opinions. As people see posts related to their opinions, they believe they are right and are supported by vast numbers. This makes them hate people with contrasting opinions. One of the horrible incidents quoted in the documentary was the case of false reinforcement that occurred in Myanmar where 700 Muslims fled the country due to the extreme one-sided opinion triggered by Facebook.

So, how can we preclude these social media apps from eyeing our attention? Remember, they have a growth hacking team of engineers whose job is to get us to spend more time on the apps. These smart people have also attended programs from top universities to create things that persuade people and build those things into technology. The recommendations suggested in the documentary are as follows:


  1. Government should create regulations for digital privacy. It should not be left at the hands of big technology companies.
  2. Government should tax companies based on data to avoid the collection of unnecessary data while installing and using the app.


  1. Uninstall apps that are wasting your time.
  2. Turn off notifications.
  3. Choose what you want to see instead of the recommended video.
  4. At a fixed time, all devices must be out before sleep
  5. No social media apps till age 16.
  6. Work out a time budget with kids as to how much they want screen time. Usually, it will be reasonable when they begin using the apps.
  7. Voice your opinion for digital privacy.
  8. Do the right thing, not the cool thing.

In summary, reduce your usage of social media apps. Personally, I have reduced my YouTube addiction. If you have time, please do watch the documentary. It’s worth every minute invested. Thank you, Thompson, Beyza, and Hilal for suggesting the documentary.

Thanks for reading the full article. I hope the article is useful for every social media user. I will meet you in the next post with an interesting topic. Meanwhile, please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Published by Portgas D. V

I am a self-motivated person who likes to explore different themes of lifestyle. In the process, I enjoy guiding my inner psychic energy for the betterment of self. When I am free, I would like to read and listen. My long term goal is to become a good writer.

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