With this week's content focusing on Web 1.0 and 2.0, it was very interesting to explore how our use of the internet and technology has evolved. While Web 1.0 was primarily utilized to access and read information, Web 2.0 was designed as a place for people to communicate, create and share. At the time this was viewed as a largely positive step forward and something that would set off a chain event of innovation and creation within the technology world. However, as it was highlighted in the documentary, "The Social Dilemma" - many of these Web 2.0 technologies started out with admirable and positive attributes, but over time eroded and were replaced by capitalist goals that consumed them. Unfortunately, this has had a direct impact on their use (and reliance) within our society and leaves us wondering if we were better off without them.
While I was warned by others about the effect "The Social Dilemma" would have on my technology perspective, I decided to view it anyway as I was quite intrigued by the buzz around the film. Initially, I thought people were overreacting when they explained that after the film they disconnected from many of their social media accounts, however, as I sit here a few days removed - I definitely get it. Although there were certain aspects of the film I wasn't entirely sold on, it was eye-opening to learn about some of the ethical and moral issues surrounding my favourite apps from previous leaders in the Technology Industry. Even though I've heard about so many of these issues before (like the Facebook-FTC Settlement), I never put much effort into learning more about them - most likely because I would have rather kept my head in the sand and continue to blindly enjoy the technology. However, now that I have taken (if only a little time) to learn more about this issue, I wonder if the positives outweigh the negative implications in our society.
Positive Implications of Web 2.0
If we were to look back to the inception of many Web 2.0 technologies, this would have certainly been the driving force behind them. The notion that technology would provide a way to connect humans in ways that were previously impossible was amazing. To this day, many of these technologies continue to do just that and have become an integral part of our society. If one were to look at the positive outcomes from Web 2.0, there is no better example than the COVID-19 Pandemic. During the onset of the virus, the entire world essentially went into lockdown and people were no longer able to gather and communicate with one another in person. However, due to the advancement of Web 2.0 technologies, people were able to communicate and socialize with one another - even if it wasn't face-to-face. I think back to my own experience during the lockdown and while I certainly missed seeing friends and family, I was still able to connect with them through technology. We used apps like Houseparty to play games together, Facetime and Zoom for family suppers, Poker Stars and Zoom for poker nights, just to name a few. While the social aspect was important during the pandemic, it is also important to note the vital role that Web 2.0 technologies played in education as well. If this pandemic would have hit 20 years prior, it would have been incredibly difficult to continue educating our students while they were at home. However, with so many useful tools at our fingertips, educators were able to continue delivering lessons through distance learning. Utilizing technologies like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Classroom, SeeSaw and OneNote (to name a few) had a positive impact on the ability to educate our students during the onset of the pandemic and continue to do so today.
While I mentioned above the impact that Web 2.0 had on education during the pandemic, it's also important to note the implications it's had on the education of our society as a whole. With information so easily available online, people from all around the world can learn about important events occurring in places outside their communities at the click of a button. Although there is certainly lots of false and biased information out there, I would argue that these tools have helped spread awareness about crucial issues that we may not have heard about 20 years ago. Just think to the impact that the social media has had on providing awareness to important issues in our world: the Black Lives Matter Movement, the role a Tik Tok creator played in informing the world about the Muslim camps in China, or even closer to home with an Indigenous Edmonton man utilizing Tik Tok to educate people on Indigenous culture. While there is certainly a flip side with all the misinformation out there, it is definitely important to acknowledge that there are still many positive educational opportunities afforded with Web 2.0 technology.
Negative Implications of Web 2.0
Driving Force Behind the Technology
As was mentioned in the opening paragraph, at the onset of Web 2.0, many of the technologies that were being created were designed to positively impact humans around the world. Unfortunately, as time has progressed, it has become less about positively impacting users and more about making money - which was a focal point of The Social Dilemma, as they explained, "If you're not paying for the product, then you're the product." This is something that I've heard about for a long time but really didn't question - probably because I didn't want to know the answer. Learning about the algorithms used by many social media companies to control users with targeted advertisements as well as the amount of information they have is incredibly scary.
Initially I hadn't thought much about why I was seeing certain posts, why certain notifications would pop up or why it was recommending various videos for me to watch. However, now that I have a little insight into this world, it's not only scary but downright terrifying. Shortly after viewing the video, I wanted to test this out and take a look at what would pop up in my Facebook feed and I was horrified to see that what I hadn't noticed before. Out of the first 20 posts to pop up on my wall, 4 were targeted advertisements and videos - 20% of what I'm consuming on what is supposed to be a social networking platform are advertisements that I'm unknowingly viewing, which is generating even more revenue for Facebook. This is certainly scary - and what's scarier is how specific the videos and advertisements are to my interests, likes and conversations I've had with friends. This really made me think about my privacy and how much of what I do and say online is no longer private, and instead of being used against me for the financial gain of a billion-dollar company.
The Echo Chamber Effect
While privacy concerns and the monetization of the software are certainly an unsettling issue, perhaps even worse than these are the algorithms used to deliver information. As the documentary pointed out when people get upset and others for spreading fake news, propaganda and conspiracy theories online, the typical response is "they should know better!". Unfortunately, what these people are failing to realize, is that they probably don't know any better due to the types of information that are being pushed out or recommended to them online. With these online algorithms, when something is searched or liked, Facebook (and other software) will try to find similar videos, groups and posts to recommend to users. Unfortunately, this essentially creates an echo chamber online where people are continually being fed information that ties into their current beliefs and makes it next to impossible for these types of people to see both sides of an issue - or even the truth in many cases. An example highlighted in the film was the Pizzagate conspiracy theory that spread like wildfire online and convinced many people that there was a human trafficking ring tied to pizza restaurants, some to the point that they armed themselves and tried to liberate the fictitious victims and were ultimately arrested.
If Pizzagate wasn't a strong enough example of this, we need to look no further than 2020 and the more recent conspiracy theories online about QAnon and how Facebook was forced to change its algorithms to limit the theories spread. Or even closer to home with the No Mask Movement here in our home province of Saskatchewan. Many of us question how people could refute Science (and common sense) when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic and blatantly disregard their safety and the safety of others. However, one peak in the No Mask Saskatchewan Facebook group paints a pretty clear picture as the amount of fake news and conspiracy theories posted by the 4.5k users is astounding. With the combination of this group and numerous`videos and posts recommended for them online - it's not hard to see where these steadfast beliefs come from.
Ultimately, when looking at the issues surrounding Web 2.0 technologies it's easy to look at these negative consequences and decide to write them off as many people have after viewing The Social Dilemma. While I agree there is a lot wrong with so many of the social media applications that we use today - especially the two areas highlighted in this blog post. I do, however, believe that we still need to focus on the benefits that these technologies have had on our lives, especially during the hard times of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the end, the answer to this argument could be summarized by Neil Postman when explained that "for every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage". As the consumers of these technologies, we need to ensure that advantages still outweigh the disadvantages because if they don't, and we continue using them - we have no one to blame but ourselves.