Acton Institute Powerblog

Does social media compromise free will?

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In an article for Law and Liberty, Michael Matheson Miller, a research fellow at the Acton Institute, reflects on the book “10 Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.” Written by Jaron Lanier, a “technologist and musician”, “10 Arguments” shares thought-provoking ideas about the dangers and risks involved with social media.

“It’s worth noting that Lanier is not anti-technology,” Miller writes. Working for companies like Atari and Microsoft, Lanier has devoted much of his life to the tech industry.

Miller shares how, interestingly enough, Lanier’s life-long career in technology has not made him a supporter of social media but rather quite the opposite. “Lanier believes that social media and companies like Facebook and Google are practicing behavior modification that harms the individual and society and undermines economic dignity,” notes Miller.

Lanier condemns the ability of social media sites to monitor user actions. Miller notes, “Through algorithms that monitor our behavior and activities, Google and other free social media are changing our behavior without our even knowing it.” With “advertisers…watching us,” rather than consumers simply viewing advertisements, there are many negative implications, including to “undermine free will”.

Lanier focuses heavily on the idea of “free” social media and the merits of profit, Miller points out. “Everything is supposed to be free,” postulates Lanier, “but everything is also supposed to be about hero entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs make money.” The “free, open source model”, Lanier notes, “has actually limited commerce and created a situation where all the money goes up to the top.”

Lanier and George Gilder, author of “Life After Google,” proclaim the “social benefit of profit”, whereas there is “a widespread view of profit as something negative and harmful for society.”

“With Facebook and Google we get spying, data-mining, manipulation, and a faux morality of ‘Don’t Be Evil’” writes Miller. However, “paid transactions are real social interactions with claims and obligations” that “constitute a type of social capital that is important for society.”

Miller summarizes Lanier’s argument that argues for “more commerce and more transactions.”

At the end of his review Miller advises readers who decide to delete their social media accounts: “If you do read Lanier’s book and it convinces you to delete your accounts, at least share this essay post before you log off.”

Read Miller’s full book review here.

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Allyson Wierenga

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