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(Ten minutes read.) 

In theory, social media is designed to connect us. In reality, it acts as a barrier. Our impulse to broadcast our lives makes us miss out on them.

It has become an essential tool for providing a space and means for the public to participate in influencing or disallowing environmental decisions historically made by governments and corporations that affect us all.

However, it is also unmooring of mind from the body that has left people adrift, navigating a turbulent online world without the reassuring markers humans evolved to recognize.

Technology has wrenched mind from body.

Far from bringing us together, the digital world is breaking us apart into an unhinged world of short term gratification.  

It seems “who we really are” is now determined by how one chooses to present on social media, what we “want” rather than what we are.Group of people using their cell phones

Ironically, by engaging with social media, you lose the moment. In your quest to connect virtually, you disconnect from your reality and the people in it.

You’ve effectively pressed pause on the moment with your device becoming your main source of pleasure.

The mere presence of a cellphone, while two people are talking, interferes with their feelings of closeness, connection, and communication.

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Social distancing started a long time before the threat of contagion, sometime around 2005 with the spread of high-speed internet.

And now due to the pandemic, its a technologist’s wet dream:

Forcing people online to shop, to educate, accelerating what were already inevitable changes, fuelling a crisis of democracy hiding our sexuality and identity.

Kathleen Richardson, Professor of Ethics and Culture of Robots and AI at De Montfort University, Leicester said “Rather than seeing the youth of today as profoundly happy with this cult of consumer self-making, the research indicates they are in despair, and worse still, are shunning opportunities to develop critical perspectives that could help them out of the quagmire.”

Technology is not neutral in what is happing in society.

It is an industry where the libertarian views of Silicon Valley’s founding fathers meet with the commercial imperative of profit.

Arguably, to some degree, we each now advertise and curate our online selves as products; mindful that the wrong tweet or “like” could cause reputational damage, or even end our careers. 

While the urge to look at shocking content is a neurological response, the descent into more extreme material is facilitated by profit-seeking algorithms.

If the trajectory from moderate to extreme political content has implications for democracy, it is fair to ask, what if anything can be done.

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Are we wasting years of our life because we are more concerned with what is on the screen of our phones instead of the world around us?

Human interaction is becoming more extinct by the day.

The boundary between people and property is being systematically broken down, both in the form of customized social media surgeries to match the personas we each now advertise online. 

The rush into hyper-individualism, leaving no structure within which to frame human experience, nor legally protect human experience and bodies.

There is no better example of how over-dependent we have become on smartphones than the current Pandemic. 

Now before you call me a hypocrite, I will be the first to admit that I am using social media to post this blog.

With that said, I would like to clearly state there is nothing wrong with posting a Facebook status or Instagram photos to let people know how we are doing and what is new with our lives. However social media has now gone far beyond that. 

Through social media we have created the perception that our lives are a lot more exciting than they actually are, creating a false reality, which we now find ourselves – dare I say – forever entangled in.

It is as if the mute button inside of us is turned off and we are unable to have conversations with ourselves, again instead of substituting it with mindlessly scrolling around on our phone.

Geographical boundaries cannot stop social media from reaching people.

Around the world, billions of us use social media every day, and that number just keeps growing. To put it into some context, every minute we collectively send more than 30 million messages on Facebook and almost 350,000 tweets.

It is changing the way we are governed, and the way we live in society impacting our abilities to get a loan, down to how long a prison sentence you get in lockdown, or at the pleasure of the arm of the law. 

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Social media is a two-way street and allows non-experts to share information just as rapidly as health agencies, if not more so.

Before the dawn of social media, governments, along with the traditional media, were the gatekeepers of information. Whereas politicians and government officials once had to travel to interact with citizens, it’s now online. 

This relationship has been turned on its head.

Nowhere is this challenge more acute than in the world of international affairs and conflict, where the rise of digitally native international actors has challenged the state’s dominance.

The Arab Spring is perhaps one of the best-known examples of how social media can change the world.

What can be done to get transparent governance of these social media platforms?

We know social media content can lead to violence, but is there a plan to stop it?

The answer to this question

Is that these companies cannot fix themselves.

Is that in short, no one really knows how Facebook — or other social media companies — makes content decisions, and given the potential harms, this has to change.

We need governance solutions for social media, and we need them now.

because these platforms are owned by private companies they have no real transparency obligations. So self-regulation is off the table.

What about oversight from governments?

This is not a great idea as there is a big conflict of interest.

Governmental interests clash with responsible governance, whether it is a politician’s reputation or national security. We cannot — and should not — expect social media companies to be completely transparent to states.

So any oversight has to be independent, collaborative, and accountable.

A body made up of civil society, multilateral organizations, and researchers, with legal powers to enforce speech standards, algorithms, human reviewers, privacy practices, and internal policy processes, among other things rather than one staffed with those very companies’ picks.

This ideal oversight body should have an array of expertise:

From international law backgrounds to software capabilities to local socio-political context in various countries.

It should be able to tap into global networks of civil society and grassroots organizations. It should center a human rights approach — free of competing for governmental interests.

And of course, it cannot be a profit-maximizing initiative:

To hold social media accountable, its first responsibility must be too good governance.

Independent oversight is the only path to real change.

All human comments appreciated. All like clicks ad abuse chucked in the bin.