The price to be paid for mild voyeurism

I remember long ago in the mists of time, being stuck in a marketing class and being told about the power of subliminal advertising. How the ad with the sound of a can of cola being opened was sending a message to the brain to tell us that we wanted to quench our thirst there and then. How the colours in certain global brands stirred some desire in us, a desire undetected until it was pointed out.

And so the power of subliminal advertising has grown — from the hidden arrow in the Fedex logo; to the A to Z smily face in the Amazon logo, every day we are being assailed with images that are telling us things that we had not quite signed up for. And every day, we give more and more of ourselves to the world in the mistaken belief that it amounts to some sort of new era global credit.

Snapping pictures of cups of coffee, speaking our thoughts out loud to the world — the virtual equivalent of "does my bum look big in this." is there any surprise that it has come back to bite us on the arse, with the realisation that they were playing us all along, flogging out behavioural patterns to allow us to be manipulated on a grand scale?

The world is agog this week at the thought that Facebook may have been unwittingly or witting complicit in allowing our data to be shared with the world. This should not have come as a shock to many of us. If you run down the street, meet a stranger, tell them that you like them and wouldn't mind poking them, show them a photo of your dinner, then pull ridiculous pouts that show your face as chiselled and perfectly symmetrical, you would probably be locked up, but this is what we have all been doing in one sense for the last decade or so, since Facebook took over the art of conversation.

Information shared on facebook is like sweet nothings shared between lovers. They are things you share in the chat of the moment. Where once we thought Facebook was an innocent tool for drunkenly texting your ex at four in the morning to say the equivalent of 'jaysus Bridie I still have the hots for real bad so I do." Or the pearls of knowledge such as the realisation that you can put any saying at all at all inside a picture frame and it will look like wisdom.

From those who wish to live their lives in a shop window to those who need proverbs of optimism to get out of bed in the morning, Facebook had something for us all, and we gave of ourselves to it.

None of us can plead innocent to any of this. I remember too being caught up in all of this, stupidly trying to maxmise the number of likes as if they really mattered a damn. They won't put any butter on the bread.

Facebook and social media has done that to us. It has lulled us into a false sense of security, stolen our secrets by effectively tickling us, and then sold them to the world, knowing what buttons they need to press to influence our behaviour. And to allow extremist beliefs to be seen as normal.

This might all be laughable if it wasn't so serious. History has shown that people just need to believe that they are part of a mass movement in order to verbalise their extremist thoughts. We would all hate the colour yellow in the morning, if we thought everyone in the street did so. The sheep mentality that dictates the behaviour of many in society will always allow for manipulation. But will people desert social media after this? I don't think so, but never forget that while we are enjoying it, there is a price to be paid for the mild voyeurism that attracts us all to it.

And this price may not be paid by us, but by those who come after us. We have a responsibility to ensure that the wonders of social media are not offset by the dangers.

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