Current social media and content recommending platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube have the goal of keeping you on the site and engaged for as long as possible so they can show you as many ads as possible, which generates maximum revenue for the social media company.
To keep you logged on and engaged, they play off the emotional centers of your brain, showing you content that is shocking, hyper-stimulating, bias confirming and group-identity oriented. They draw from a deep knowledge of your individual psychological profile which they accumulated by tracking your behavior patterns and those of other users with similar profiles. Based on this precise profiling of you, their artificial intelligence algorithms then feed you the exact content which will produce the emotional states that keep you most engaged and addicted.
Not only do current media-recommending algorithms cause habit formation in individuals, worsening the mental health crisis, but they are a major cause of the social polarization that is dividing the political arena in the United States and in countries across the world, which are experiencing similar effects.
Current online media consumption on social sites is a ripe breeding ground for toxic beliefs, conspiracy theories, confusion and fear.
As people internalize these toxic beliefs, build an identity and then a sense of purpose around them, we begin to see horrific manifestations of this in political violence, mass shootings, hate crimes, fear mongering, culture wars, and increasing threats around real wars.
A sense of purpose and feeling of groundedness in something real and important is a psychological need. If people are unable to find positive, truthful and beneficial beliefs and purpose to ground themselves in, they tend to become psychologically unwell and potentially depressed. They are then in a vulnerable position to being exposed to wrong ideologies and conspiracies which, even though wrong and toxic, at least give them a sense of purpose and foundation. Since their new low-grade beliefs fill the void of purpose, their mind will shut down to any counter evidence to these ideologies and cling to them dearly. In this way they are closed off to the truth and will go deeper and deeper into their new source of meaning, likely accelerated by alternative media sources, potentially to the point where they commit acts of violence out of a sense of righteousness, which in their mind actually seems like doing the right thing, acting out of duty to their purpose.
Alongside decreasing people’s exposure to divisive and toxic ideologies, a major solution to this problem is to help people gain a positive and beneficent sense of purpose, based in reality, that fulfills their valid psychological need for a sense of purpose and grounding in something important.
Giving other people, our children, or ourselves logical reasons to drop our addictions to things like social media does not work. Telling people how bad their addictions are for them is not helpful. Logical reasons are not what the mind bases its decisions on. There must be a real alternative that is engaging and exciting, and more supportive of the individual’s wellbeing than the addiction and is clear to them as an option that makes them feel better long-term when they choose it. This is something the mind can anchor onto as it has emotional weight and thus the power to change behavior. This is why passion can be a practical antidote to addictive behavior.
Beyond solving addiction, the planet deserves the passionate sharing of our talents, especially as we head into the most crucial time for us as a species, and by extension, for all species we share the planet with.
My passion for creating ideas has led me to think up one possible direction toward a brighter future for our media consumption.
I am sharing it with you so you can see how passion manifests as sharing, like I mentioned in my previous post, and if you like direction of the idea, you can help by improving it, or simply use it as inspiration for your own creations.
Knowing the value of having as many individuals as possible acting consistently on their passions, as well as how poorly our society and its passion is served by current social media and their featured algorithms, I imagine a content-recommending site based more on leading people to their passions rather than leading them down useless or even toxic rabbit-holes.
It could be a video-recommending platform like YouTube, where upon signing up on the site, users are asked to choose topics they are passionate about. The content-recommending algorithm is then initiated to recommend them, in this case videos, on these topics with little variance. The user is encouraged to rate each video they consume on how aligned it is with their passion. This rating is then used by the algorithm to generate future recommendations which are relevant to the user’s passions.
It will be explained clearly on the site that passion is akin to the feeling of inspiration, feels light, empowering, and engaging, as opposed to other feelings like shock, nervousness, contempt, self-righteousness, winning, mindlessness, relaxation, etc.
This minimizes distracting content that is useless to one’s passion and discovery, education or inspiration around their passions. This safeguard avoids repetition of negative and conspiratorial videos leading users down rabbit holes, instead promoting content that encourages users toward a passionate mindset, which leads to passionate actions.
Click-bate videos will be recommended less because they will have been given low ratings for inspiring passion by other users. The primary user’s ratings of similar videos will also lower the probability that the user will be recommended click-bate videos.
There would still be a search function for when the user wants to learn something specific or view a specific video for any reason, but neither the search query, nor videos viewed based on search results will affect the recommendations the user receives unless the user rates the video based on how aligned with his/her passions it is.
Through rating videos the user is consciously and continuously crafting what information is input into their profile for the algorithm, and can also ideally view what information is in there and edit it if they choose. This puts more power into the user’s hand and allows them to steer their own journey.
Use of this site will be a conscious choice for adults and may be used by youth with guidance of adults as well. Users make this choice because they want the healthy benefits of media sites without the negative effects of the media recommending algorithms.
There are a few general paths I see for making this site a reality.
One option is to pitch to existing media or search engine companies to sponsor a project like this which would not be part of their main site but under a its own sub-brand. The reason they would sponsor it would be out of a sense of social responsibility, being aware of the corrupting influence of the media space. It would be a safe bet for them knowing the idea of passion media would not be a competition threat to their main site any time soon, and if it slowly does become the way society moves, this would only make them first movers on it. One major potential benefit of this approach is that an existing media company will have a content library and powerful search capabilities, and likely an existing infrastructure of servers, as well as capital. This would take major time and work off the implementation process compared to a startup group. To the extent possible, it should be assured that the sponsoring media company does not insert corrupting influence over the core algorithm and mode of recommendation with profit motives.
It is conceivable for a startup group to pursue this idea. They would need to build the algorithm and decide about the media library, which could be procured from elsewhere, or through users posting videos from other sites. Facebook and YouTube share such a relationship as Facebook users post YouTube videos to Facebook which are then searchable on Facebook. Another way is through users organically creating new content and posting it directly to the site. The startup group would also need to engineer the site, gain funding and make expansion and infrastructure plans.
Unless the startup were non-profit, the profit structure would need to be worked out in a way that does not interfere with the core benefits of such a site. That is, the algorithm and mode of recommendation are not influenced by advertising and profit incentives at all. Targeted advertising would be an option, though it does in principle impose negative or biased influence over user’s ideas. This would need to be weighed against potentially healthier options by the company. Any company in this space should keep in mind that in the long-term future, as users become ever-more conscious about their media consumption, companies which use healthier advertising tactics will gain and retain more users.
I imagine a site like this could reach many people across the world and nudge them, as best as any section of the global population could be nudged, in the direction of engaging and beginning to act on their passions.
What I find inspiring about this possibility is that any attention we give to our passions builds on itself because it motivates the actions which both grow it, and create more time and potential for it, which also allows us to grow ever greater ability in the particular area. This is not only fulfilling but also gives us the greatest chance at a successful career as our abilities let us provide more valuable service to society. This equates to less fragility both financially and psychologically as we move into less certain and less abundant times with the changes coming in this decade and beyond.
I encourage you to explore how the things you love doing can lift others higher, to share them, invite others to build on them and build on the ideas and gifts of others as well.
If you like this idea, in invite you to engage through the comments or to contact me about it. The more we talk and share our thoughts, the more we can create.
If you are entrepreneurially minded and interested in this space, I’d love to hear from you as well. My ideas are your ideas, and you will have my support in whatever way you’d like it.