The dark side of social media influencing

 Dark side of social media influencing. 

Just months ago, only a section of online users essentially knew Andrew Tate, an online influencer. However, he is now all over social media, with almost every big international media outlet reporting about him.

The 35-year-old claims to be a self-help personality and revels in misogyny – content that got him banned from social media after a public outcry and became a topic of controversy, creating huge debates on various online platforms.

Tate purported to extoll wisdom that helps men “escape the matrix,” and has falsely insinuated that women bear some responsibility for being sexually assaulted, saying they have no “innate responsibility and honour.”

Tate also once described in detail how he might attack women who cheat on him and largely criticised people going through depression and seeking mental health treatment.

But before he got banned and his videos deleted, Tate’s videos had racked up 11.6 billion views in a short amount of time, grew his online fan base, and even started an online university, with most of his viewers being young men.

One teacher on Reddit expressed her concern saying Tate’s influence had taken over her students. 

“The rise of Andrew Tate is ruining my freshman boys. They’re addicted to his content. Just this week I had to have six convos with families about their sons saying s**t like ‘women are inferior to men’ and ‘women belong in the kitchen.’”

On Twitter, one mother wrote, “I did not know who Andrew Tate was but my 12-year-old son did. Parents, they are coming for your boys. They market misogyny and racism to cishet white boys, in a package that seems appealing. Talk to your children, and have hard conversations. It is important.”

Following the issue, TikTok said: “Misogyny and other hateful ideologies and behaviours are not tolerated on TikTok, and we are working to review this content and take action against violations of our guidelines. We continually look to strengthen our policies and enforcement strategies, including adding more safeguards to our recommendation system.”

However, it is not surprising how Tate’s messages were able to spread so fast on social media, as platforms like TikTok make it easy for such information to thrive due to the sophisticated algorithms that customise each user’s experience. This was perfectly portrayed when the Guardian did an investigation on the TikTok algorithm that showed how likely it was for young men to see misogynistic posts. 

In the study, Callum Hood, head of research at the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, noted, “The dangerous thing is that it is very eye-catching content, and the TikTok algorithm, in particular, is so aggressive that you only need to pause for a few moments before it will begin to recommend similar content to you again and again.”

But Margo Lindauer, director of Northeastern Law’s Domestic Violence Clinic, believes that such content has real-world consequences.

“There is an explosion of misogyny in all facets of the internet that can be incredibly toxic and very harmful because it has consequences in terms of how people relate to one another, how people speak to one another, how people treat one another,” says Lindauer.

For most young people worldwide, social media is a tool of necessity and arguably, one of the first things they check when they wake up. It is where they source current news, connect with people and a great way to escape from everyday reality – taking us into a fantasy world, where everything is unicorns and rainbows. These platforms allow us to see the glamour in life as we sink into the lives of the so-called influencers, hawk-eyed to their every move, spending hours scrolling through their timelines.

Over the years, most research and studies done tend to focus on the bright side of social media, aiming to help users in leveraging the manifold opportunities proffered by this technology. However, it is paramount to acknowledge the increasingly observable vices presented by the dark side of social media, posing enormous risks to users and society as a whole.

From cyberbullying to online witch hunts, trolling, addiction, privacy abuse and fake news, there is a need to exemplify the multidimensionality of the evil side of social media when it comes to content consumption.

When The Conversation conducted an online survey involving 500 Instagram users on problematic engagement (obsession with checking influencers’ accounts), findings showed most followers developed attachments both to influencers (parasocial relationship) and their community (sense of belonging).

In return, this led to users getting easily attached while engaging excessively, creating an unhealthy relationship between the influencer and the follower. 

Visual-based social media platform Instagram is rife for such vices where one is allowed to cover up and edit the truth, replacing it with their idealistic version and negatively impacting one’s body image, making it a home to countless pro-anorexia and self-harm accounts.

According to research by Nicole Spector of NBC News, over 64 per cent of the pictures posted online are edited. 

A survey involving 1,500 individuals, 14 to 24 years, was done seven years after Instagram was launched and dubbed it the most dangerous social media site. This was after the results showed that the platform had a serious impact on young people’s body image, contributing to bullying, anxiety, and depression.

When a devastated family called out the platform’s management following their 14-year-old daughter committing suicide from viewing self-harm content on the site, Instagram said they had removed double the amount of the suicide-related content.

“We aim to strike the difficult balance between allowing people to share their mental health experiences – which can be important for recovery – while also protecting others from being exposed to potentially harmful content,” said Instagram. 

However, Dr Rachel Kent, a Digital Health Expert, says even though it’s difficult to predict how users might abuse the site, it’s naïve for them to assume that it would not.

“Instagram started as a very utopic, representation of our idealised lives, bodies and landscapes. It is a classic case of toxic positivity, but we just didn’t know it at the time,” says Kent.

“So to launch an unregulated site where anyone could share any sort of information to an ever-growing following was always going to have the potential to be incredibly dangerous and damaging. When you are developing something like this you must ask, what is the worst case scenario?”

Numerous documentaries have been done to explore further this dark side of social media, showing how such vices pose harmful emotional and physical effects on victims while greatly manipulating users.

The Social Dilemma, a Netflix docudrama, explored the different tiers of how social media has become an internal force, taking many people hostages, oblivious that they are no longer in control but somewhat think they have power over what they choose to see.

The documentary highlights how social media’s design nurtures addiction to maximize profit and its ability to manipulate people’s emotions, views, and behaviour while spreading conspiracy theories and disinformation. 

For instance, with every video view, post like, or any word you search on Google, any page you visit is recorded while an algorithm studies your behaviour to the point where it knows you better than you know yourself. The algorithm will then be able to predict your behavioural pattern, and that is how they sell that information to advertisers generating trillions of dollars for these companies.

Jaron Lainer, computer scientist and virtual reality pioneer, explained in the documentary how manipulation has taken over our conversations, changing what you think, what you do, and who you are.

“We have created a world in which online connection has become primary. Especially for younger generations. And yet, in that world, anytime two people connect, the only way it is financed is through a sneaky third person who is paying to manipulate those two people. So we have created an entire global generation of people who were raised within a context with the very meaning of communication, the very meaning of culture, is manipulation,” said Lainer.

To understand this phenomenon better, take a close look at your friend’s timeline either on Facebook or Instagram, and you will see that your news feeds are different. What this means is that the algorithm gives you information based on what you are interested in or support, giving you an unreal version of the world where you think almost everyone agrees with your worldview. 

The best case scenario was portrayed in Netflix’s The Great Hack, where Kenyans were some of the many oblivious victims of manipulation by Cambridge Analytica during the election process of 2013 and 2017.

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