Turning Us Into Monsters One Newsfeed at a Time

If you haven’t seen the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, stop what you’re doing and watch now. As you will learn from that outstanding show, Social Media is turning us into monsters, one newsfeed at a time. Listen now!

Show Notes


  • Book about the dangers of using a typical cell phone
  • Summary from the end of the first chapter: “By carrying a smart phone, you’re making an enormous privacy compromise. You have chosen to carry a device that marries an incredible sensor array and several radio interfaces with a baseband processor. When combined, your device is capable of:
    • Constantly monitoring and recording your location, even when you have disable location services and believe the device to be turned off
    • Refine your location through Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to a matter of a few feet, and determine your location within a building
    • Monitoring your microphone, even when you believe the device to be turned off
    • Remotely activating the camera(s)
    • Betraying your standard voice and text data to the cellular service provider, law-enforcement and government agencies, and malicious hackers, and
    • Mapping your home, and knowing when you sleep, wake, and your patterns of activity.”
  • Your privacy is basically zero with a standard cell phone
  • Many companies have access to your stuff, well above just your cell service provider

The Social Dilemma

  • Outstanding documentary from Netflix about the dangers of Social Media
  • So pertinent to so many things we talk about on this podcast
  • Very prominent people; name a social platform, and it’s represented on this documentary
  • Some of the messages are so sobering they are scary: a prediction of civil war
  • A fictional storyline that runs through the piece
  • Given when this was probably produced and edited, the predictions are all the more prescient and chilling
  • Almost like a confessional

Down the rabbit hole

  • New York Times did a deep dive series on their podcast called Rabbit Hole
  • How they feed you more of the thing that pushes you even further down a rabbit hole
  • How that can impact your worldview
  • Feeding you the next level
  • Phew fell down a series of rabbit holes re migrant issues back in 2016
  • Rabbit holing just one small part of this documentary, and this one small thing has impacted the fabric of our world and our culture

The algorithms

  • Directly impacts your perceptions – of basically everything
  • So many prior fears confirmed by this documentary
  • Giving you more of what you want and what you are, and more extreme versions of those things

A different world for literally every user

  • Thinking, “How can those people believe what they believe? Are they not seeing THIS in their newsfeed?”
  • Nope, they are not; EVERYONE is being fed a slightly different version of the world, based on who THEY are
  • This is NOT organic
  • Serving up different search results to the same exact searches
  • Giving conspiracy theorists more conspiracy theories
  • Autofill options
  • Kenny Cook: almost no results to a search for guns
  • Unc had the exact same experience when he was searching for guns
  • Overt example of manipulation and suppression of search results

Man vs machine learning

  • Not a fair fight
  • Artificial manipulation of behavior
  • Advances in technology vs the degree to which the human brain is advancing
  • How often you go on Social Media to do something specific, and, 20 minutes later, you realize you completely forgot to do that

What’s good for them is almost always bad for us

  • What’s good for Facebook is literally what is bad for us
  • Not malicious, but just the organic result
  • Angry at the tobacco industry for misleading us re addictive additives
  • Social Media is perhaps even more addictive – no one is warning us

Philosophical aspects

How to discern real from fake

  • What we’re dealing with now is way worse
  • We cannot distinguish between the shadows and the reality
  • We cannot separate fake news from real news
  • The breakdown of categories makes it even harder to communicate with one another
  • We cannot live in a political context in which we don’t agree on what is truth and what is fiction
  • If we live in a world in which everyone’s worldview is unique to them, then we don’t have actual community

Communication breakdowns

  • How this manifests, as Phew said in I Don’t Want to Live in a World Like This Anymore: getting hammered by BOTH sides of the political spectrum
  • Semantics and inconsistent labeling of things causes communications problems
  • The sheer VOLUME of things that were shared
  • The QUALITY of the people who appear

The people in The Social Dilemma

  • Tristan Harris is a super smart, very impressive dude
  • People who were in on the ground floor at Twitter, YouTube, Google, Facebook, Instagram, etc.
  • Even had Sean Parker on the show
  • How YOUNG so many of these people are

Too big, too powerful and not enough regulation

  • The influence of these companies is SO out of whack
  • They are like black holes in which the laws of physics break down
  • This is all about persuasion and perception change
  • The very definition of irony: people who believe that the government is listening in on every phone call will willingly install an Alexa or similar listening device
  • We hope people are starting to realize that all the craziness we’ve been experienced is NOT entirely organic
  • It’s being warped by algorithms and the unique worldviews that those algorithms are created for each and every one of us who spend time on Social Media

They need to be broken up

  • The major Social Media companies need to be broken up
  • Everyone wants to scream, everything is at a fever pitch
  • Even if it isn’t intentionally malevolent, it is at a minimum accidentally malevolent
  • If you can’t conceive of a world in which Facebook, and Google and Amazon are broken up, that is a clear sign that they NEED to be broken up

The virality of fake news

  • Fake news is SIX TIMES more viral than real news: the truth is boring
  • If the goal of these companies is MORE – more Liking, commenting, sharing, more time spent on their site – and YOU KNOW that fake news is 6X more viral than real news, what would YOU do?
  • The algorithms must, by design, skew in favor of fake news
  • These companies have a direct, financial incentive to do things that are NOT in our best interest, both from an individual and a cultural perspective

This path cannot continue

  • At a certain point, the AI takes over and just starting morphing itself
  • This path can’t continue
  • Becoming addicted to something that you designed yourself, KNOWING the goal was to create addictions
  • Prediction: nothing will happen, and nothing will change
  • Stop using things that stop tracking your data

Unc couldn’t pull the plug

  • When presented with a golden opportunity to take the advice of COMSEC, from someone who was already living it, Unc’s first reaction was to try to come up with reasons NOT to do it
  • A major reason NOT to “go off the grid” from a being-surveilled perspective: what about all the stuff I’ve ALREADY done?
  • They keep all your data for five years
  • Verizon is the worst of the offenders (of the cell providers)

Once the tech companies align with an administration, we’re done

  • Imagine if someone did physically what is currently being done digitally? No one would stand for it
  • Upcoming blog post: once there is a regime change in which the political party in power aligns with the major tech companies, it’s GAME OVER
  • There will NEVER be a real opportunity for real opposition to cobble together a resistance
  • Similar to olden times: how do you fight the railroad?
  • Worse yet: how do you fight the railroad, if the railroad can listen to your calls and read your emails and texts?
  • Government’s ability to gain access to information via political leverage
  • Artificial amplification of who we are, to unfortunate ends