Social networks have become for many an essential part of daily life, they allow us to communicate, inform ourselves, entertain ourselves, express ourselves and relate to people from all over the world. However, are we really aware of what using these platforms entails? What benefits and risks do they entail for us as individuals and as a society? Are we really consumers or products of social networks?
From a positive perspective, we could consider ourselves consumers of social networks. That is, users who enjoy the free services that the vast majority of these platforms offer, such as creating profiles, sharing content, interacting with other users, accessing information, etc. These services provide us with value and satisfy some of our needs and desires, such as communication, information, leisure, identity and belonging.
Additionally, as consumers, we have some power and freedom to choose which social networks we use, how we use them, who we engage with, and what information we share or receive. We can personalize our experience and express our opinion. We can also benefit from the opportunities that social networks provide us, such as learning, creativity, collaboration, participation, mobilization and innovation.
However, from a critical perspective, we could consider ourselves products of social networks. That is, users who generate data for the companies that control these platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, etc. These companies use our data for economic, political and social benefits. For example, they may sell our data to third parties (such as advertisers, governments or researchers) who use it to influence our behavior, decisions and opinions.
Additionally, as products, we have certain limitations and risks to using these platforms. We are subject to the conditions, rules and algorithms that these companies impose. We can be manipulated, monitored, censored or excluded. We may also suffer negative consequences for our mental health, privacy, security, freedom and democracy.
Note: Other articles related to the topic: The Algorithm Empire (Part # 1), The Algorithm Empire, some examples of algorithms that manipulate users (Part # 2).
It is almost possible to categorically state that in the current era the user of social networks is not only a consumer or a product, but both at the same time. That is, we are consumers when we enjoy the free services that these platforms offer us and we are products when we generate data for the companies that control these platforms.
Therefore, we need to become aware and responsible of what it means to use these platforms, be critical and reflective about the information we share and receive. We have to protect our privacy and security, demand our rights and respect those of others. We must take advantage of the opportunities and avoid the risks, using social networks ethically and consciously.
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