Social Media Echo Chambers: Tunnel Vision of Reality (Part 1)


Social Media’s Spell On You

Last time we looked at information, knowledge of tech and truth in the era of misinformation. In this final part we will look at the psychological and social need we all have that are being exploited for profit and the effects they have on our psyche. Why are we failing to communicate and the responsibilities we all share?

“We have a deep need and desire to connect. Everything in the history of communication technology suggests we will take advantage of every opportunity to connect more richly and deeply. I see no evidence for a reversal of that trend.”
– Peter Morville

Who We Are!

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs rank sense of love/ belonging as 3rd. Above food, sleep and water! What does that say about how social media networks are actively exploiting this need?

A sense of not belonging can drive us to develop a false self. Karen Horney teaches us that a sense of not belonging can lead us to develop a false self. Like she puts it: people are neurotic to the extent that they invest energy in their false selves and not in their real selves. And according to Goffman’s terms, when we cannot pull off the roles we are born to play, we specialize in roles that don’t really suit us. Which roles are we born to play? Human baby, offspring, a creature of comfort, touch, sleep, love, food, drink, play, collaboration, aggression, and sex. The false self is generally more interested in money, status, and applause. It’s not easy to specify how the selves differ, but generally, the false self, cares about how it is seen by others, while the real self, cares about the biological reinforcers and the quality of relationships.

And social media play on this using “positive intermittent reinforcement”. Gambling is an example of intermittent reinforcement. You don’t win every time or win the same amount when using a slot machine- this wouldn’t be exciting or fun. The reinforcement is intermittent and causes a positive and euphoric response in the brain that in some circumstances can lead to gambling addiction. Like buttons, photo tagging and push notifications features were design to do the same thing.

Growth Hacking is also another tactic that was deployed by Facebook. If you ask 10 people, the question “what is growth hacking” you will probably get 10 different answers. There’s still too much misconception or confusion (and fear) around this term. But in fact, it’s very simple: growth hacking is a data-driven methodology and collection of smart marketing techniques. They are focused on reaching scalable growth of businesses. It emerged out of the Silicon Valley startup scene. With limited marketing budgets, business owners had to come up with innovative new ways to grow their businesses quickly and at a minimal cost. The term “growth hacking” has been coined by Sean Ellis.

Andy Johns, who use to work at Facebook doing just this, “Most people don’t realize what was going on behind the scenes at these companies (and what still goes on is) most were conducting several experiments a day to determine how to best sway people to do what they wanted them to do,” Indeed, what is most striking many growth hackers like Johns say how successful these creative techniques have been to increase user acquisition rates, drive customers to purchase a product, or reduce the friction of using a product. Growth hacking can be applied to nearly any digital goal that involves persuading people to click, purchase, sign up, or read. According to Johns, the principal objective of growth hacking is to create a user acquisition coefficient that is higher than one. For example, a company should aim to have more people using their product over time than it loses from attrition. By experimenting with different growth hacking methods, companies can determine the optimal means to increase that coefficient dramatically.

Chamath Palihapitiya Former Vice President of Growth at Facebook (2007-2011) said that at Facebook the formula was simple:  users bring in 7 more users in 10 days. How did they do this? Well use emotional “contagious” experiments. Emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness. Emotional contagion is well established in laboratory experiments, with people transferring positive and negative emotions to others. Data from a large real-world social network, collected over a 20-year period suggests that longer-lasting moods (e.g., depression, happiness) can be transferred through networks, although the results are controversial. In an experiment with people who use Facebook, they tested whether emotional contagion occurs outside of in-person interaction between individuals by reducing the amount of emotional content in the News Feed. When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicate that emotions expressed by others users on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks. This work also suggests that, in contrast to prevailing assumptions, in-person interaction and nonverbal cues are not strictly necessary for emotional contagion, and that the observation of others’ positive experiences constitutes a positive experience for people. But with “Highlight Reel” on the raise are these emotions even based on reality?


Highlight reel, meaning everyone shares their best moments in life. Because of this, comparison is becoming a common negative feeling, especially in kids. Such comparisons may occur frequently on social media because, users tend to disproportionately represent positive life developments, portray themselves to be happier than they actually are. According to a study done on about 1,500 teens and adults, Instagram was rated the “worst social media network for mental health and wellbeing” (Macmillan, 2017).

According to the Global Web Index we spend 2 hours a day on social media and this is increase with 2 minutes a day. On average lifetime that amounts to 5 years and 4 months which is 43,817 hours. Wow, this caught me a bit by surprise. We are being follow the whole day by a medium that (even in your bathroom) is constantly trying to generate feeling off “Need”, “Lack” and “competition”. And we think is strange that the increase in “anxiety”, “depression” and “stress” is link to high consumption of social media.

Economy of attention or “social currency” has made us into the products, and we seem to do so, “willingly”? The fear of not being liked or accepted in the pack has rendered many feeling trapped. “Just get off social media”. But another psychological phenomenon comes into play, F.O.M.O. We fear missing out, we fear falling out of the pack, not knowing what is going on. And even logged off companies like Google can use 57 data point to build your persona and feed you targeted content. And going cold turkey has real physical effects. Phantom vibration syndrome is one of them.

Phantom vibration syndrome or phantom ringing syndrome is the perception that one’s mobile phone is vibrating or ringing when it is not. Other terms for this concept include ringxiety, fauxcellarm (meaning “fake” or “false” and “cellphone” and “alarm” pronounced similarly to “false alarm”) and phonetom (a portmanteau of phone and phantom). According to Dr. Michael Rothberg, the term is not a syndrome, but is better characterized as a tactile hallucination since the brain perceives a sensation that is not actually present. WebMD published an article on phantom vibration syndrome with Rothberg as a source. So, it feels like a need and need become addition. And many think social media is a new drug.

To be continued!

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