BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon (The Freeman) - March 9, 2019 - 12:00am

I know two friends from high school (that means they’re my age) who do not have social media accounts. At first I thought that by shunning online social networking platforms, Francis and Rhodessa are missing out on something better that’s going on in the world right now. It turned out they probably knew better than most of us.


I am not yet deactivating my social media account. I think it is still necessary in the work I do. But I’ve been weaning myself off from using my smartphone to habitually browse social media platforms and internet sites.

It’s not an easy thing to do, but something that had to be done. This after I watched a couple of Netflix shows that mention the dangers of the virtual world, including the many abuses that occur online from trolls and harbingers of fake news. I think the appropriate term for what I am trying to do is “detox”.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and chief executive, for sure is aware about the undesirable consequences of his creation. He has, in fact, repeatedly promised to reign in fake news by hiring more fact checkers and by tweaking algorithms to minimize toxic content and disinformation spread by trolls, propagandists, and the gullible majority.

On Wednesday, Zuckerberg announced plans to start shifting Facebook users toward private conversations and away from public broadcasting. He plans to do this initially by integrating Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger, all of which he also owns.

In a New York Times report, Zuckerberg said that instead of encouraging public posts, Facebook would focus on private and encrypted communications, “in which users message mostly smaller groups of people they know.” The idea, he said, is to change Facebook from being a digital town square to creating a type of “digital living room.”

No one is sure how this will pan out, but any change is welcome at this point when we are being constantly bombarded by virtual stimulants streaming out of the glow of blue from our electronic gadgets.  Poynter Institute, a non-profit school for Journalism, has recently warned about another kind of viral hoax which it says is more dangerous than fake news stories and videos: false text posts.

Poynter says this started when Facebook let users post text on top of colored backgrounds in 2016. “It seemed like a fairly benign way to get people to share more personal thoughts on the platform,” Poynter says. But like other formats on Facebook, the text post feature has been weaponized into an effective way to spread misinformation on the platform which often originate from regular Facebook users instead of Pages or Groups.

Poynter identified some factors that explain why text posts get massive engagement on Facebook. Foremost among them is the visual element (colored background) that can attract more readers and shares. And when such text posts are shared by friends, or people whom we know and trust, we are more likely to believe these posts without much fact checking.

Engaging in today’s technological and networking platforms is like riding on an ocean wave that is fun and exhilarating as it carries you up and, if you’re not careful and alert, plunges you straight into a debilitating cycle of addiction and meaningless screen scrolling.

The following signs are commonplace among smartphone users: preoccupation, craving to check your phone to see if you have a new message, email, or notification, loss of productivity, and feeling of anxiety and loss when you leave your phone behind.

One night when I was about to sleep I found myself wanting to check my phone. I knew something was wrong because when I refused to give in, I felt anxious and jittery. There’s a term to describe that feeling: nomophobia. It describes the feeling of panic or stress some people experience when they cannot access their smartphone or when they purposely wean off from it.

In a 2015 study published in the scientific journal “Computers in Human Behavior”, researchers van Deursen, Bolle, Hegner, and Kommers concluded that people who extensively use their smartphones for social purposes develop smartphone habits faster, which in turn might lead to addictive smartphone behavior. 

The same study found that anybody, regardless of the level of emotional intelligence, can develop habitual or addictive smartphone behavior, especially when they are exposed to social stress or fail at the outset to regulate their use of the device.

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