I have just finished reading Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now” and find that Lanier’s revelations about what social media platforms are doing pretty much match my apprehensions about social media. In fact, in some areas, particularly regarding the automatic fine tuning of and learning by algorithms, Lanier reveals ways that opaque social media algorithms operate that I had not imagined.
Lanier refers to what social media platforms do as BUMMER (Behaviors of Users Modified and Made into an Empire for Rent), although he appropriately replaces modified with manipulated where appropriate, and it is clear that the term manipulation is often appropriate.
He lists the components of BUMMER as:
- Attention acquisition
- Butting into everyone’s lives
- Cramming content down people’s throats
- Directing people’s behaviors in the sneakiest way possible
- Earning money from letting the worst assholes secretly screw with everybody else, and
- Fake mobs and faker society.
Essentially, although he himself is a Silicon Valley insider and works for Microsoft and LinedIn, Lanier lays out ten arguments for immediately deleting your social media accounts. He posits that social media accounts cause you to lose your free will and that quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times. Lanier says that social media turns us into assholes and undermines truth, devaluing what we say and destroying our capacity for empathy. Social media makes us unhappy, doesn’t want us to have economic dignity, makes politics impossible, and hates our souls.
I have been a severe critic of social media, but even social media addicts (and Lanier makes a strong case that addiction is an important element in the BUMMER business model) and deniers (the “it doesn’t affect me because I am smart and ignore it” crowd) should be able to pick up on what is happening, albeit perhaps with a bit of regret about having to do so.
In the summary of this short work, Lanier likens submission to BUMMER to the abandonment of a belief system for a new belief system that can itself be characterized as a religion.
The entire thrust of the book is that we should give up our social media accounts (Lanier himself has none), and the author does offer a few sketchy suggestions near the close of the work. They involve commonsense approaches such as interacting will friends via email and accessing news from carefully selected websites rather than what social media feeds us.
In attempting to break away from BUMMER social media, individuals will surely encounter other specific obstacles. One is how to contact people who do not have email. Another, and one that faces me, is how to replace Facebook groups and the Facebook event function that I have been using to organize face-to-face gatherings of friends.
But I believe those obstacles are not insurmountable, and in a post coming shortly I will lay out several steps I will take (I have already started taking some of them) in distancing myself from social media (in my case, Facebook only).