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  • Writer's pictureEduardo Franco

We need to understand how Social Media works

Art by Eduardo Franco, based on picture by NBC News

"Senator, we run ads."

This almost ironic and apparently simple and obvious answer was given to Senator Orrin Hatch, from Utah on April 10, 2018, when the congressman asked Mark Zuckerberg "How do you sustain a business model in which users don't pay for your service?" during Facebook's CEO hearing at the U.S. Congress. A lot of the questions - or at least the way they were made - were seen as funny and as clear indicators that most of the senators are not exactly experts in how Facebook (and Social Media in general) works.

Yes, hearing phrases like "If I'm emailing within WhatsApp, does that ever inform your advertisers" can be entertaining. But what this hearing revealed was that a lot of people (from Congressmen to ordinary people from all over the world) are using and being impacted by products and services they have very little understanding on how they work.

Technology and social media platforms have completely transformed the way we interact with each other. They are imposing a new model of communication and media consumption. It has a lot of positive impact on society, but also some very serious issues that need to be discussed and addressed. Every element that impacts people's lives should be evaluated, questioned, and debated. People have the right to understand how are they being influenced, what role is tech playing in their lives, and how are they contributing to it.

Protecting people's privacy is a very urgent issue. As urgent as controlling hate speech, cyberbullying, and the spread of fake news. As important as reflecting on the amount of time we are spending on these platforms and what consequences are we facing.

The weird questions asked by U.S. Congressmen just prove how all these issues need to be further discussed, understood, and reflected upon by all of us. The first step to fix what's wrong with social media (and the way we interact with it) is to understand its mechanisms and be aware of its problems.

These are new technology, that we are constantly trying to keep up with. The challenges they bring are part of the equation and should be taken into consideration, together with the positive impact they are bringing.

Connecting people, giving them a voice, raising awareness for different and relevant causes, and empowering people should inspire us, as a society, to think about the positive core of these platforms, and work to fix what's wrong with them, by holding the right people accountable and demanding changes, demanding more transparency.

The social media cup is not half empty, nor half full. It's a cup being served, being constructed on the go. It's our job, as a society, to help shape this future.

Mind map created around the theme.

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