This means that social media companies are always stressed that their platforms will earn more users and revenue if they provoke stronger reactions, which often arise from ina factic content.
“This is a well-designed machine, with certain goals that it needs to optimize,” Aral said. “The business models that operate social media have a huge impact on the consequences we’re seeing – this is an attention-based economy, and businesses want you to interact. So how do I engage? Simply put, these businesses will give you ‘strong doses’ of dopamine, making you feel frustrated. That’s why I call this machine an inflatable machine – strong emotions that make us interact, and so businesses will prioritize content that inflates feelings of anger and frustration in people.”
From Russia to marketing
“The Hype Machine” will delve into both the political and economic aspects of social media. First of all, it should be affirmed that social media is an ideal area for campaigns to spread misinformation. Previously, when the 2016 US Presidential election was conducted, Russia carried out the spread of misinformation to at least 126 million Facebook users, 20 million Instagram users (now facebook), and stimulated more than 10 million Twitter posts. In the final weeks of the campaign, 44% of American adults encountered at least one false source.
“I think we need to become more cynical than before,” Aral said.
According to Aral, although it is impossible to know whether the 2016 election results were influenced by the Russian campaign, this is still a relatively successful move. In addition, it is not clear whether we can make the same comment about the campaigns of American businesses.
Aral’s test shows that advertising on major U.S. online platforms is often ineffective on consumer behavior, and there are also many other academics that prove that these effects are often over-done hundreds of times more than they actually are. We can’t see advertising as a success just because it’s got a lot of views. Instead, positioning new ad objectives is the main success factor. Therefore, it can be said that there exists a line between effective marketing and rampant social media campaigns.
“The two questions that I get the most are, firstly, has Russia succeeded in interfering in American democracy? And secondly, how do I calculate the ROI (rate of payback) of marketing investments? Interestingly, in the process of drafting the book, I realized that every two questions have the same answer,” Aral said.
“The Hype Machine” received a lot of positive feedback. Foster Provost, a professor at The Stern School of Business at New York University, wrote that the book is a “smooth combination of science, economics, law, and policy.” Duncan Watts, a professor at Pennsylvanie University, also asserted that this is “a must-read book for those who want to understand the human journey to the present, as well as steps to improve this reality.”
“The Hype Machine” outlined some detailed suggestions aimed at improving social media. In particular, Aral argues that we should prioritize the use of automated fake news labeling technology or through users, as well as limit revenue from misleading content. In addition, he urged businesses to join hands to support the study of interference in election results.
Aral believes that security policies from the government are useful, if we can learn from the pros and cons of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, as well as a new ordinance in California, allowing users to block certain data sharing channels , as well as knowing what information businesses have collected about them. Aral argues that we shouldn’t get rid of platforms like Facebook, but instead the social media economy needs to be restructured. Specifically, he called for improved data flexibility and interactability, in order to help “users control their own identity and freely change the social networks they use.” He also affirmed that, without these necessary changes, new platforms will be constantly appearing to replace the old ones, which arise from the core network effects of the social network economy.
“One arrow is not enough to shoot ‘this bird’,” Aral said, while stressing that, only by changing all four sectors – currency, code, standards, and law – can we really navigate the social media industry.
And if things continue as they are now, then Facebook and other major platforms will soon receive a backlash from society, as well as the loss of users.
“If you make me angry and angry, then I will interact more in the short term, but I can also quickly become tired and uncomfortable about the negative effects of social media, and then stop taking it completely. That’s why there’s the Facebook Delete movement and the Stop Hate for Profit movement. People are struggling against short-term vision, and I believe that a long-term vision is needed to bring about a healthier communication ecosystem,” Aral said.
Changing major social networks may sound difficult, however, Aral insists that dominance does not necessarily belong to these platforms.
“I don’t think any technology is really decisive,” Aral said. “I want us to go back to a more practical vision, that is, technology is man-made, and we need to strip them of their power to secure values and eliminate the dark sides of technology. That’s the same goal I want to present in my book.”