Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have heard that Facebook is currently being criticized for manipulating about 700,000 of its users’ news feeds to see whether or not it would affect their emotions. They concluded that it did. Now, a lot of people on the interwebs are all butthurt about the fact that they were 1.) unknowingly manipulated by media and 2.) used as research subject without their express consent.
I have to get up on my big old soap box here and loudly call Bullshit. Yep, it’s gonna be one of those posts.
Watch the Video on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbTJEZxC0rQ
Are you kidding me?! Never mind that we are being and have continuously been manipulated by all manner of messages 24/7 since the 1920’s when Edward Bernays, the father of modern advertising, figured out that if you speak to consumers’ insecurities, you can sell more stuff. This concept quickly morphed from merely using consumers’ lack of self-esteem against them, to actually perpetuating and even creating more of those insecurities. Never mind that 99% of most people’s opinions are not their own and have merely been unquestioningly adopted from their parents, teachers, politicians, television, movies, magazines, and society as a whole. Never mind that the real issue is not whether or not others are trying to manipulate us, but that we are so manipulatable in the first place.
Let’s debate if it was right or wrong for Facebook to do exactly what everyone else is doing. Yeah, because that’s what’s important.
We’re missing the point
We’re focusing on the wrong questions. But that’s the core of the whole problem, isn’t it?
I’m not here to defend Facebook, believe me. I’m also not here to tell you that the powers that be are trying to manipulate your brain waves through the TV and you should start wearing tinfoil hats immediately. I’m here to argue that we shouldn’t give a shit what Facebook and their brethren do. We should make it totally irrelevant. Instead of fighting against those who would manipulate us, we should become unmanipulatable. I’m here to change the damn debate.
What do you actually think?
How many of your own, personal opinions are actually yours? Do you form opinions quickly, or do you take your time, gathering information, trying out different points of view instead of just dismissing the unfamiliar? Are your opinions set in stone or do you reevaluate them often, making sure that what you believe is still in line with your ongoing and never ending evolution as a human being? Do you tend to agree with those around you, or do you challenge perceptions and beliefs, preferring to form your own point of view? Do you tend to think of things in terms of “right opinion” and “wrong opinion” or are you comfortable living in the space in between?
Opinions shouldn’t be formed quickly, especially not big, important ones. They should be deliberated over, thought about, debated and be open to change. And this is why this whole debate about the rightness or wrongness of what Facebook did bugs me. Because no matter what side of that debate you’re on, you’re still totally missing the point that we don’t have to pay any attention to what’s in our newsfeeds, or on our television screens or written in magazines. The question should never be about how to control those who control our minds. The question I want to ask is: why aren’t we freaking controlling our own damn minds in the first place?
The study that Facebook was conducting was looking at whether or not it’s possible to manipulate someone’s emotions by showing them either positive or negative impressions. Well, duh, of course it is. But this is not some kind of inherent psychological human trait that we can’t do anything about. It’s simply the result of living reactively. If your emotional stability is determined by whatever just happens to pop up in your field of vision, then you’ve got much bigger problems than what Facebook is currently doing. Because that means you’re living reactively, instead of deliberately.
Why living reactively sucks eggs
When you live your life reactively, you are making everything and everyone around you responsible for how you feel. This is a rather difficult way to live. You have to try and control everything and everyone that doesn’t agree with what you think is right, with what you’ve been told to think is right. You live your life in black and white; there are “right opinions” and “wrong opinions”. The grey areas in between, the ones that require you to think for yourself, are scary. You’re not seeking happiness, you’re just trying to stay safe, and anyone who thinks differently from you is clearly a threat to that safety.
And when you find out that those whom you’ve entrusted with your emotional wellbeing didn’t take good care of it, even manipulated you for their own purposes, you get angry. How dare they not take this responsibility seriously? How dare they take advantage of you? After all, you trusted them!
I have a question: Why? Why do you entrust what is essentially your own mental and emotional health to someone else? Why would you hand over the only thing you actually have control over, your own, unique point of view, to others? And how many times do they have to abuse the privilege before you take that responsibility back and put it where it belongs – with you?
Let’s break the cycle
How about, instead of ranting about the audacity of those who have, once again, not honored the immense gift we have entrusted them with, like drunken sailors lying on the pub floor, briefly raising our heads to yell “Fuck You!” at some random stranger before falling back into an inebriated stupor, ultimately changing nothing, we actually flip the script once and for all? How about we change the damn debate? What if we stopped trying to get others to manipulate us better, we simply stopped allowing them to manipulate us at all? What if we challenged every assumption and opinion? What if we stopped allowing magazines to tell us how to feel about ourselves? What if we didn’t buy anything simply because we were told to like it? What if we actually (gasp!) thought for ourselves, gathered information and formed informed opinions with the ability to evolve them?
What if, instead of having the same argument over and over again, we just walked away?
What if we stopped giving ratings to TV shows that perpetuate damaging stereotypes? What if we didn’t vote for misogynistic politicians just because they have nice hair? What if we decided not to listen to the opinions about others, but got to know people ourselves before jumping to conclusions? What if we simply withdrew our support from those who send a message of hatred, prejudice and intolerance?
What if you took a look at all of your opinions and asked yourself how many of them are actually yours? How much of what you believe is the result of careful consideration on your part? You might be surprised at just how much of what you live every day is governed by what others have told you. You might be shocked, in fact, to discover that almost none of the rules you live your life by are your own. You might even be embarrassed to realize that you’ve even argued vehemently in defense of a position that isn’t yours (we all have, let yourself off the hook). Keep in mind that the angrier you get when someone disagrees with you, the less sure you are of your own position. This starts to shed a whole new light on fundamentalism, doesn’t it?
People are waking up
You may have noticed that this Facebook debacle is just one more fight in a long string of ugly debates that are coming to the surface lately. People are either screaming at each other in mindless defense of positions they are actually quite insecure about, or, and this is the beautiful part, stopping in their tracks and walking groggily into the dawning realization that all is not as it seems. Something that they’ve just assumed is dead wrong, turns out not to be. Someone they just knew was the villain, turns out to be the victim. And the responsibility for how we feel and think and live our lives cannot lie in the hands of others. It has to lie with ourselves.
Nope, I’m not here to argue in favor or against what Facebook did. I’m here to tell you that I don’t care and neither should you. I’m here to change the debate. It doesn’t matter what images are thrown at you if you exercise your ability to think for yourself, choose what you give your focus to and form your own, educated opinions. It doesn’t matter what some company does as long as you remember that you don’t have to buy their products. It doesn’t matter what the TV shows you as long as you remember that you have the power to change the channel and turn it off. And if you don’t like the content that’s being distributed, make your own. It’s never been easier to voice your opinion. It’s also never been easier to research all sides of any topic. There really is no excuse to live mindlessly anymore. There really is no excuse for handing that much power, the power over your own experience in this physical reality, over to others. But if you do, you really have no right to complain.
You may or may not agree with what I’ve written here (and I’m actually arguing for your ability to do either!), but I sincerely hope that you’ll at least think about the point I’ve raised. Sure, it’s easier to go and blame others for not giving you something better to focus on, but that’s missing the fact that you have the ability to choose. You can choose what to give your attention to. You can choose what to think and believe and feel. That is your power. Isn’t it time you stopped arguing with those who shouldn’t even be part of the debate and took that power back?