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Social Networks and the Internet: A Threat to Democracy?

The era we are living in is currently facing a major democracy crisis, resulting from the incapacity of our society to deal with the ever-growing influence of internet companies on capitalism. The phase we are going through can be defined as surveillance capitalism. All our actions and preferences are tracked and recorded, in order to sell users what they are made believe they like and are in need of, from information to physical products. Therefore, we have become the product of the internet businesses, whose task is to build models based on algorithms that predict our next actions. In this way, engagement, advertising and invitation growth will continue to increase, as users are offered content related to their personal interests and online search. It is not by chance that internet companies are the richest corporations in history, since their market is based on trading the future of humanity on a large scale.

Have you ever counted how many hours per day you spend on your phone? Or how many times you scroll down your social media homepages? The results might be shocking! According to research from RescueTime, people spend an average of 3 hours and 15 minutes on their phones everyday, which amounts to over 45 days a year. After this, if you are reading this article on your smartphone, you have probably put it down by now. However, it is to be noted that scrolling down social media pages and opening notifications has  become an unconscious habit that is implemented  in relation to the rising addiction we have to our phones and technological devices. This is the basis of growth hacking, which allows internet companies to continue expanding more and more, and it affects us all. 

More seriously than being constantly tracked are the consequences that media platforms have on our lives, in particular on the weaker or younger individuals. Since 2011, depression and self-harm, including suicide, have risen exponentially. According to WHO (2020), 16% of the global burden of mental disease and injury is in people aged 10-19 years. One of the main causes of this result lies in exploitation of vulnerability in human psychology via social media. On social platforms, we very often find ourselves competing with perfection canons that are not real, or at least do not represent the vast majority. Hence, a sensation of fake brutal popularity leads users to shape their behaviour to gain social approval. During teenage years, this may be detrimental to mental health and cause feelings of rejection and worthlessness.

Additionally, political parties are increasingly incorporating social media platforms in their election campaigns. Facebook can be considered a massive contagion experience, through which people’s ideologies can be shaped by the information they dispose of. This information may often correspond to fake news, a tool in the hands of powerful elites or political parties, who are consequently able to mould the conception of reality for their own gain. This can also result in conspiracy theories, aimed at undermining an opposing political group. As in the case of ‘Pizzagate’, the Democratic Party, specifically Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager Podesta, were targeted as leaders of a child trafficking ring headquartered in Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington. As a consequence of this news, as well as other conspiracy theories, opposing political groups might end up attacking the scapegoat in question, and, in the worst-case scenario, it can result in war. 

Hence, it can be claimed that the technological market is challenging democracy and freedom. Individuals find themselves in an oblivion – they are no longer aware of what they can consider true, or if there is such a thing as truth. Therefore, they are not able to navigate out of their disagreements, which leads to the incapacity of society to heal itself from these conflicts. The result is a global assault of democracy, which is facing a crisis of confidence. It is necessary to make people concerned about the negative consequences caused by this extreme use of social networks and the Internet. Companies are making a profit from our personal weakness, causing us to become addicted to them. IT users need to start critically analysing the information they project to the masses, as it often does not portray reality as it truly is. 



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