When the story of social media is told, one of the undeniable goods will be the way it changed protest action. Thanks to social media, everything from abusive CEOs to actual dictators have been toppled. Back in 2011-12, citizens in a dozen Middle Eastern countries used particularly Facebook and Twitter to organize massive protest and resistance actions. They resulted in regime changes in five different countries.
That’s an incredible amount of power for a social media platform. They can make or break movies, can turn a stinking stock into a Wall St powerhouse and even topple an evil dictator.
So there’s a lot of power in social media.
But as we’ve seen throughout this series, it’s both good and bad. Facebook, which facilitated the Arab Spring, has proven to be detrimental to US culture and threatened our democracy. Twitter, which has always proven dangerous to minorities, has become a haven for White Supremacists and contributed to the rise of antisemitism in the last couple of years.
When we step back to consider the hardware, the problems get more complex. In their annual sustainability report, Microsoft reported that their water usage increased by more than ?, largely because of generative AI (think ChatGPT). We call the internet “the cloud”, which makes us think it’s all up in the sky. But it’s not. It’s in huge data centers that use a ton of natural resources for energy – including water to cool them. Just using AI to search (instead of the more traditional search algorithms) uses significantly more power — and more natural resources.
We know our devices are made in countries with, let’s call them ‘very lax’ labor laws, including child labor. And with rare earth minerals mined under unethical conditions. It’s nearly impossible to buy a device – a cell phone, a laptop, basically everything our culture is built on.
No wonder The Good Place argued there’s no such thing as ethical consumption in our modern world.