Jenna Spevack | COMD3504_OL08 | FALL 2021

Discussion: Week 9

“If you don’t understand the medium you don’t fully understand the message”

Marshall McLuhan

“If you’re not paying for the product, then you’re the product.”

Tristan Harris

According to Tristan Harris, the founder of the Center for Humane Technology, we are “witnessing a totally new species of power and influence. Machines behind social media are controlling us more than we are controlling them. This is overpowering human nature”.

Unfortunately, Netflix took down the free version of The Social Dilemma from YouTube after I published this initial post. If you have a Netflix subscription go ahead and watch The Social Dilemma. If you don’t, no worries, the following videos which include clips from the movie and related interviews, give a good if a not better explanation of the dilemma.

In the documentary and the interviews below, early leaders in social media have revealed that the medium of the internet, specifically social media, is becoming an existential threat to human society.

While he didn’t foresee the negative effect on society, consider Marshall McLuhan’s prophetic theories about electronic media in the late 1960s, specifically how technology is an extension of humanity. Think about the current design of social media and the consequences of our growing dependence on it. Check out the Center for Humane Technology for proposed solutions to this dilemma.

Watch the following videos and respond to the prompts below.

  • How has social media’s persuasive technology transformed human nature and changed human thought patterns and behavior?
  • Based on what the inventors of/leaders in social media have revealed in this film and in the interviews below, why will the medium of the internet, specifically social media, become an existential threat to human society?
  • What will become of society if the persuasive technology used in for-profit social media advertising is allowed to continue as it is now?
  • How could the social media advertising model change to put people before profit?

Add your ideas in a comment in this Discussion post by Friday, November 5th at 6 pm to allow time for responses. Add at least 4 follow-up responses to your classmates’ comments by Monday, November 8th, at 11:59 pm.

Clip from The Social Dilemma (45 secs)

92nd Street Y – Interviews with Filmmaker and Tech Experts (1hr 15 min)

Interview with The Social Dilemma: Filmmaker and Tech Experts in Conversation

Tristan Harris – A New Agenda For Tech Presentation (54 mins)

Tristan Harris – A New Agenda for Tech Presentation


  1. Nicholas Albanese

    Social media technology has transformed the way we think and behave today in the sense that it has made us more irritable and more likely to information overload. The time we spend viewing other peoples’ content can leave us feeling envious of others and even make us irritable long after we put the phone down. Technologies employed such as algorithms are also designed in a way to curate specific content to us and in the worst-case scenarios, that content can show some of humanity’s worst and darkest aspects.

    Based on what the inventors/leaders of social media have said, the internet will become an existential threat to human society by bringing out the worst aspects of humanity in society. Due to information overload and the destruction of what “truth” is, people using social media can become easily manipulated into believing different “truths” and realities. Nowhere is this especially prevalent with groups like climate change deniers and conspiracy theorists who have become so manipulated that they can handwave some of the worst atrocities in human history as “fake”. Social media and the persuasive technologies it provides means that every human will be stuck in their own little bubble and have their own reality and version of “truth”. This will cause a further divide between humans, feeding into some of its most condemnable aspects.

    I believe that if the persuasive technology used in for-profit social media advertising still continues, it will lead to further division and unrest among people and society. If it is already having this effect in 2021, I can imagine that it will only worsen if it continues.

    I believe that social media advertising can change to put people before profit by making the advertising more focused on engagement outside of social media. For example, more political advertisements can be changed so that it encourages people to vote instead of making them more divisive on candidates.

    • Zi Hang Lian

      Yeah, social media is a dangerous thing. Things like misinformation or scamming can occur online too. Not just in public. If social media were to use technology for in-profit advertising, I can see people would try to take down that platform and it’s not going to be pretty.

    • rahel lehar

      I haven’t been on social media for a few years now because I hate looking at people being fake. I wish social media discouraged fake content and showed anything from real life because that’s what matters.

    • SimonWill21

      Yeah many of these conspiracy videos online just makes it harder to know what is and what is not true, which is why is its so easy to manipulate people using social media.

    • Eric Sukhdeo

      In that scenario for political advertisers would need to favor the people because is their vote that they need but in terms of general advertisers like companies trying to sell you things I don’t see a reality where they favor the people over profit.

    • bryanmendez

      social media has skewed the way we see ourselves and perceive others and popularity on social media has become important to some of us

  2. bryanmendez

    The way that social media’s persuasive technology has transformed human nature and changed human thought patterns and behavior is, by the way, we perceive ourselves online and the way we represent ourselves online. We now think twice about posting or even taking pictures whether it’ll look good on Instagram or Facebook we look at likes and that is what decided what is a good photograph. We now have feelings of anxiety about whether a photo will be perceived well by social media and whether it’ll get like.

    Based on what they said on the panel and what Tristan said in his talk they talk about how the medium known as social media is and will be the existential threat to human society. But now I bring up the why, why would that be the case well what they said was that social media bring “information overload” like new but not only that with that information comes opinions, thought, and even falsified information. There is also a bubble that is created around those people who follow those opinions and false information and that becomes their reality.

    Well, society will be morphed by the persuasive technology if it is used in for-profit advertising because it will target and keep those that may be in a bubble and will transform them into a more conservative version of themselves.

    Well, the way social media advertising can be changed is to put people first instead of listening into conversations and looking through their lives. Advertisements that feed into their ideation could be either removed or changed

    • Zi Hang Lian

      Yeah, misinformation is a things nowadays. You may not noticed that much but it’s almost everywhere. Ads, headlines, magazines, etc. We just don’t realize it. In this society today, I do agree with you that advertisements can be changed or removed. Worst-case scenarios would be companies going bankrupt or bad rumors about that company.

    • rahel lehar

      it’s true that looking at social media all the time mentally restricts us from enjoying real life

    • SimonWill21

      Very true, some people live in a bubble of ignorance and social media doesn’t help

    • Nicholas Albanese

      I heavily agree. I have even noticed it in myself and my own thinking patterns where I have second-guessed what I post for fear of being seen negatively or in a way that is unappealing. This has led me to make some decisions in real life led by these same anxious feelings. I feel that if social media advertising were to become more advanced, these feelings would only grow.

  3. Zi Hang Lian

    Social media is a platform where everyone post their stories or artwork for everyone to see. Social media has evolved greatly throughout the years. Not only it’s a platform for communication, it’s also a way to connect with people you love. Whether it’s a Youtuber, Twitch Streamer, or any other media platforms. Social media has influenced us so much. We would look at posts and if we like it, we heart them or like them.

    Based on the panel interview, the interviewers speak of social media and how social media is a big threat to society. Topics like algorithms, segregation between the lucky and unlucky people, and scamming. As to the reason why social media is going to be a big threat to society, it all comes to looking at your profile, big data, algorithm and other aspects. If you’re a lucky person, you’ll get luckier and on the other hand, if you’re a unlucky person, you’ll get unluckier. Social media can segregate people in horrible ways. In other words, if you’re someone who isn’t influential, you mostly not going to get great opportunity. Scamming is also a problem too. For example, insurance. We all know insurance are a big thing and are very expensive. If you’re willing to pay more, people may charge you more. Same can be applied to buying houses. If you don’t know what you’re buying, you’re going to get scammed.

    Imagine a world with technology featuring in-profit social media advertising. This can cause imbalance and segregation of society. We’ll also have a hierarchy class society and not everyone’s going to be happy. There will be riots, protests, fights, and arguments between peoples and companies. If this was to continue, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was another Civil War or a WWIII or WWIV coming our way.

    To prevent worst-case scenarios, always listen to the consumer’s suggestion or advice. We need more companies who’s willing to listen the consumers. Don’t forget, in the society we have now, consumers can make a company bankrupt if consumer’s demand aren’t met. It’s fine to put ads but in a way that gather consumer’s attention instead of trying to sell your product.

    • rahel lehar

      Social media and the internet has too much access to too much of our sensitive information

      • Zi Hang Lian

        That’s really true. We don’t even have privacy nowadays.

    • rahel lehar

      I agree that social media does allow scams because even people who are truthful, everyone has the ability to lie. Scammers can now lie to the point they look legit such as fake job offers in our emails from “city tech emails”.

      • Zi Hang Lian

        Oh, I see those almost all the my City Tech email. It’s really annoying. Like how is it even possible to earn that much money in a week.

    • SimonWill21

      I wouldn’t be surprised if WW3 started because of if big tech industries like Facebook or twitter.

      • Zi Hang Lian

        Right? Sounds pretty scary.

      • Jennifer Salazar

        I really though at one point that would have happen because of a few tweets

    • Eric Sukhdeo

      That is a good way of having our voices be heard with these companies. We need to hit them where their money is in order for them to listen to us, the consumers.

    • Nicholas Albanese

      I totally agree with your solution. Social media needs to focus on the growing suggestions/needs of the consumers and prevent misinformation better. This is especially true of Facebook when they failed to cover up misinformation about the U.S. government and let Q-Anon conspiracy theories spread like wildfire. People have lost their friends and family due to this misinformation and the spread of it makes people more divided.

    • bryanmendez

      The platforms that were originally made for sharing and keeping in touch with relative has evolved into a hell scape that people are addicted with

  4. rahel lehar

    Social media technology has made us extremely more sensitive to a lot of topics because of the constant new information we’re absorbing pretty much 24/7 every day of the year.

    Social media is already an existential threat to human society because many people replace real life with artificial stuff from social media especially tik tok. On tik tok we see so many “fake people” because the majority of us know the difference between what’s real and what’s not. People tend to forget that what they see on the internet and social media is mostly a lie and differentiates from the truth in real life. It has made us overwhelmed and stressed out. We are also stuck fully depending on the internet for everything like contact with coworkers, friends, family, online shopping, ebooks, videos, etc.
    If the persuasive technology used in social media advertising is allowed to continue like this, we will become even more self-absorbed and isolated.

    Social media advertising should stop neglecting people because we’re only getting worse. It should advertise things that are more productive and healthy rather than just showing clickbait for views which leads to social media having a much more toxic relationship with everyone.

    • SimonWill21

      So true about the “fake people” thing. A lot of these influencers will physically and mentally put on persona that is completely opposite of how they are in real life.

    • Zi Hang Lian

      Oh, artificial stuff? I don’t think that sound good.

    • Jennifer Salazar

      There is a lot of fake information online. And the way people depict themselves

    • Eric Sukhdeo

      I agree with your point about “fake people” because there are influencers out there who say they do stuff for the fans but would only do things if they are getting paid for it and tend to lose their connection with their audience.

    • bryanmendez

      Yeah social media only tries to advertising and forgets about the human aspect

  5. SimonWill21

    Social Media has as changed the lives of many people because we are now more frequently on our phones than ever. People are constantly using it to socialize, check the latest news and trends, try to make money, or watch some sort of media. Social media at this point has become an addiction for many because we spend hours on hours using it.
    In the documentary by Tristian Harris, young teens are pressured with how they look when posting on social media and also are addicted to watching and consuming media such as YouTube and Netflix. , “tech addiction, “polarization” “bots” “election manipulation” are just some of the view issue that comes about from social media. Harris states that social media damages our attention span, mental health, critical thinking, productivity, and many many more.

    If we continue down this route of persuasive technology being used in for-profit social media advertising, I think that its effects on people will start to show much more, More and more people will suffer mentally.

    The social media advertising model could change to put people before profit by showing them or alerting them if they are overusing social media. For example, if I am on constantly Instagram or Twitter for more than 2 hours, the app will alert me via a notification that give should take a break from the platform.

    • Zi Hang Lian

      Yeah, social media can influence us a lot. By one point, we’ll be trusting everything that’s on the net if we get too addicted.

      • Jennifer Salazar

        I agree with how you stated that people will start trusting the internet everything said online since it’s been happening recently. A lot of the things said online by younger generations are taken really seriously.

    • Eric Sukhdeo

      That is a good way of having people be aware that they are on their phone too much, with screen time notifications. I never really thought of using those.

    • Nicholas Albanese

      Unfortunately, with the introduction of the Metaverse and how companies like Facebook, Mojang, and Roblox, it seems that more and more people are being sucked into the virtual world rather than living in the real physical one. While these new virtual technologies could prove useful, an overreliance could lead to people becoming more detached than ever before. I do believe companies should encourage people to spend more time in the real world but I pessimistic about this possibility and don’t see it happening with how these companies are tackling both virtual reality and AR technologies.

    • bryanmendez

      how would they suffer mentally i know that it is bad and has negative affects

  6. Jennifer Salazar

    I think social media has transformed human nature and human behaviors a lot. From my own personal experience, I did not use to be online when I was younger till mid-high school, and I started to see why people acted the way they did, and how I changed to fit a standard, I ended up changing my behavior and how I acted. I think that letting society continue as it is while letting for-profit media advertising continue, could go either way. There are some positive views people are trying to push towards ads but also really negative views. I think social media can put people before profit by realizing how much more they could make from thinking about how people actually care for or can benefit them without negative outcomes.

    • Nicholas Albanese

      I think the cons far outweigh the benefits when it comes to for-profit media advertising. Because of social media, all of our information is out there and able to be sold or even stolen without us knowing. In its worst cases, advertising can lead to people falling for scams or conspiracy theories that have no basis in reality. This can cause further social unrest.

    • bryanmendez

      social media profit are definitely more important than the social media users as they prioritising advertisers over the people

  7. Eric Sukhdeo

    After watching “The Social Dilemma”, it opened my eyes to certain things that I was not aware of such as if there is no product being sold, you are the product or the data that you provide is more valuable than you yourself. Some other things I already knew about were discussed such as all these companies more specifically Facebook monitoring us to predict what we’ll do in order to keep us longer on the app. I’ve seen how social media persuasive technology has gotten us as humans who are very social creatures to become disconnected, it could be everyone on the bus or train on their phone or using social media as a primary way of communication.

    We can see how social media will become an existential threat in human society for a number of reasons. One would be how advertisers use the data we produce to keep us on the app longer to provide even more data for them to use. Another reason is that people slowly become more introverted with social media and do not develop real-life social skills. Another reason I can think of is extreme groups finding it easier to get together and perform certain acts, I am talking specifically of groups who favor white supremacy. Those are some issues I see but the film brings up problems with the economy, global warming, and “civil war”.

    The way I see persuasive technology being used for profit continuing as it is now we would just become disconnected as human beings. We would rely heavily on our social media apps and people would adjust so as not to interact with one another. This in turn has people stay more on those social media platforms giving more usage to companies so that they can use our data to sell us things then make money. I feel that is something we can surely see within the past 2 years with people being quarantined and having next to no social interaction.

    I can never see social media advertisers putting people before profit because they are all companies and a company needs to make money. There are people’s jobs on the line along with some business owners who made this platform for the sole purpose of making money. I may sound pessimistic but this is just something I can never see happening.

    • Nicholas Albanese

      I totally agree with your pessimistic view on social media companies and their views on people. These companies, at the end of the day, are trying to make a profit and with these social media platforms hosting millions of users every day, they can’t please everybody. It’s the unfortunate truth but I don’t see the social disconnect ending anytime soon.

  8. Jenna Spevack

    Great ideas everyone!
    Do you think it’s possible to reimagine the current social media profit structure and the algorithms behind it so that they are less harmful to humanity? As Kathy suggests in the 92Y interview, we can do this by legally regulating algorithms.

    We have regulations on all other mass media, why not social media? Check out this Op-Ed in Financial Times: “EU should regulate Facebook and Google as ‘attention utilities’”:

  9. Ebony Star

    Social media’s persuasive technology has transformed human nature and changed human thought patterns and behavior by manipulating us through algorithms that zero in on desires and vulnerabilities through devices. With these powerful artificial intelligence capabilities, corporations are able to persuade users using data collected through trusted technologies. This information is now used against the user to pull attention from what they actually want to what corporations want users to look at. Social media’s persuasive technology impacts one’s individuality, altering one’s sense of self-awareness and replacing it with a mechanism created to steal valuable time for engagement making us more profitable if we were on the screen.

    Based on what the inventors/leaders in social media revealed, the medium of social media will become an existential threat to human society due to the lack of regulations, rules, and laws on digital privacy to protect user information. Social media’s persuasive technologies have created tools for its users that can be utilized for corruption, degrading, demoralizing, and creating unsustainable fear, hate, and distrust throughout society. It is possible that technology will bring out the worst in society because no one will have a sense of trust in one another, government, or being unable to decipher from real or fake news.

    I think if the persuasive technology used in for-profit social media advertising continues, its hold on society will have an economic and social impact that can affect our future well-being. People will lose their sense of reality and the more important aspects of life. Prioritizing companionship, independent growth, marriage, and building a family will all come secondary due to the consumption of persuasive technology in social media, and misleading information. Corporations’ main goal is to get you to change your mind about your overall beliefs or create FOMO which will eventually win because the opinions of others if your thoughts are beliefs aren’t the same.

    I believe social media advertising could change by putting people before profit by offering ways to educate society on generational and racial growth. Experimenting with advertisements to bring us together to engage in a physical form, with the inclusion of all men and women, of all races, no matter their sexual preference. An influential force of leadership throughout social media advertisement.