Social media may programme the human mind gradually

Social media or its audience is becoming the default source of information on almost anything. [iStockphoto]

About three years ago, Kenya established the Data Protection Act 2019 which came into force on 25th November 2019.

This Act became the primary statute on data protection in Kenya. Consequently, the Data Protection Regulations were crafted in 2021 to expound in more detail - the rights of data subjects, restrictions on commercial use of personal data, duties and obligations of data controllers and data processors.

Furthermore, the regulations gave guidance on elements of implementing data protection by design or default, notification of personal data breaches, transfer of personal data outside Kenya, conduct of data protection impact assessment and other general provisions.

There is no doubt that the enactment of this law was greatly welcomed and celebrated since there was a perceived serious breach of personal data by various players. However, questions are being raised as to whether the Act may have fallen short in its protection of informal personal information, and systematic psychosocial intrusion especially on the social media platforms.

The growing compulsion to constantly view social media even while engaging in activities that require complete attention and focus - like crossing the road or watching boiling milk - is becoming a growing menace in our society today. We are watching an addicted generation grow - slowly but surely replacing physical interaction with online socialisation. Social media or its audience is becoming the default source of information on almost anything.

On these platforms, media tools provide an efficient feedback loop constantly updating you on any likes, tags, sharing, comments, or mentions on your online address. Though some features of these social media tools are being tweaked to feel real, online connections can never replace physical socialization.

Questions are being raised as to whether, through this capture, the human mind is slowly and gradually being programmed through social media, and whether the operators adhere to ethical design and development. Whereas in programming, logic is used to facilitate desired functionality and operations, pundits argue that in human programming, people interact with instruments or tools that catalyze and precipitate a specific and anticipated reaction.

But who really is the beneficiary of this addiction? The answer is obvious - the inventor. How would the inventor benefit from getting you hooked to social media - even when its usage becomes inappropriate? Because everything you do on social media is used by the inventor for the benefit of the business.

Experts explain that all social media tools are owned by businesses seeking to drive monetization and generate revenue. Therefore, any data you provide on these channels enables their engineered artificial intelligence software to predict the kind of products or services you would be most inclined to use.

In fact, even the time you spend on a particular post is monitored and interpreted as a desire. So, a bot will readily surface a product or service appropriate to your current need and effortlessly convert you into an active user of that product or service.

The implication is that social media might not be as free as it seems. Instead, it is a tool freely benefitting from mining data and converting it for a particular use. Indeed, social media has been used to manipulate and shift thought patterns to enable individuals to think or react in a desired way. With the kind of data that social media channels have been able to mine, nothing seems impossible.

The tough reality is that the ability to serve as a bridge between consumers and products or services, has placed social media on a pedestal. But this comes with a trickling down conversion of the data and information into belief systems, attitudes, and cultures.

Thus, the world is being programmed by dial buttons and infinite conversion of every data received in an office somewhere. But who really is drawing the boundary lines of these artificial intelligence software? Who should be the watchdog or the gatekeeper - the Government, the guardians, or individuals? Does such legislation as the Data Protection Act 2019 provide any reprieve to unsuspecting users?