I soon began to notice more and more accounts, groups and posts related to fitness. After clicking and following, my Instagram was filled with fitness, motivational and fitness-related material and ads. Does this sound like you?
The more tailored your group, page, and people are, the less money and time it takes to sell you ideas. Brand ambassadors are more likely to do the job, spreading ideas, products and ideologies for free.
As a psychiatrist, I study anxiety and stress. I also write often about the way our culture and politics are enmeshed in tribalism and fear. My co-author is a digital marketing expert who brings expertise to the technological-psychological aspect of this discussion. We believe that with the nation at a high-stakes, it is important to examine how social media can be used to manipulate our society into tribalism. Even after the election is over, social media continues to be a source of division and conspiracy theories. We offer some tips based on our understanding of social media, stress and fear.
The old media, such as TV, books, and newspapers, exposed us to many different beliefs. H. Armstrong Roberts via Getty Images
The Matrix: A promise
Facebook’s inception was exciting for those of us who are old enough to remember what life was before social media. Imagine being able to reconnect with old friends you haven’t seen in decades! Facebook used to be a dynamic virtual conversation. The advent of Twitter and Instagram, and the apps, strengthened this brilliant idea to connect with others who share similar experiences and interests.
The world was not as simple. These platforms are now Frankenstein’s Monsters filled with self-aggrandizing ads, celebrity gossip and slanted stories.
Artificial intelligence is behind these platforms and determines your experience based on the social media and internet activity you engage in, including how engaged are you with pages and advertisements. On Twitter, you can follow politicians that you find interesting. Twitter’s algorithms will show you posts and people that are related to your political views. You will move in a political direction faster if you follow, like and share more. However, there is a nuance to this: The algorithms that track you are often triggered your negative feelings. This includes impulsivity and anger.
The algorithms amplify the negative and then spread the message by sharing the information among groups. This is a factor in the anger of those involved in politics, regardless of which side they are on.
Social media can cause stress. Dean Mitchell via Getty Images
The digital tribe
The algorithms will eventually expose us to the ideologies of one particular “digital tribe,” just as my Instagram community became dominated by super-fit, active people. The Matrix of one person can be the extremities of conservatism, liberalism, different religions and ideologies. Each tribe feeds and consumes the same ideology while trying to keep each other from opening up to others.
Inherently, we are tribal creatures. But when we feel threatened, we tend to regress into tribalism. We trust information that comes from our tribe more than other sources. It’s a natural evolutionary advantage. Trust is the key to group cohesion and helps us survive.
Now, tribalism, along with negative emotions, peer pressure and short tempers, often leads to ostracizing people who disagree with you. According to a study, 61% of Americans have unfriended, blocked, or unfollowed someone because of their political beliefs or social media posts.
higher levels of social media usage and exposure to sensationalized stories about the pandemic are linked with greater depression and stress . More time spent on social networks correlates with greater anxiety. This can create a vicious cycle. An example is the Pew Research Center report that 90% of Republicans, who only get their news from conservative platforms, said that the U.S. had controlled the COVID-19 epidemic as much as it could. Fewer than half of Republicans who depend on information from at least one major provider believed this.
The Matrix is the one who does all the thinking.
The human mind has changed. The “big picture” is harder to understand. A book can be too long for some people. The scrolling and swiping of the culture has decreased our attention span. (On average, people spend between 1.7 and 2.5 seconds per Facebook news feed article). This has also deactivated critical thinking. Even the biggest news stories don’t stay on our feed for more than a couple of hours. After all, there is always a new blockbuster coming up. The Matrix is the one who thinks we consume the ideology. Our tribemates’ likes then boost us.
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Prior to all of this, we were mainly exposed to our family, friends and relatives, neighbors, classmates, television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and books. That was all. There was a healthy and varied information diet, as well as a variety of nutrients. It was part of life to get along with people who had different views. These other voices are now more distant, and we hate them on social media.