Think Before You Like by Guy P. Harrison (book review).

Guy P. Harrison’s book, ‘Think Before You Like’, makes more sense from the very long sub-title, ‘Social Media’s Effect On The Brain And The Tools You Need To Navigate Your Newsfeed’. In other words, he’s investigating social media and as someone who doesn’t really use it, it’ll be interesting to see if he can convince me otherwise. Except, he isn’t. Harrison points out that just because you have so many followers doesn’t mean they are really your ‘friends’ who will come to your aid should you be in trouble. It’s just a tool for communication and most of them haven’t even been around for 25 years yet. Seeing his date chart and you realise just how much things have been moving along in recent years and not all of it is good.

I’m in agreement with him in that I have to wonder at the level of boredom that gets people doing this once they get beyond some basic use for computers like checking bank balances and shopping. My own analysis on social media is that once people go beyond immediate family and friends, they start looking at what other interests they have with other people and things just escalate and the herd instinct kicks in. Then again, I’ve never been much of an obsessive or a ‘herd follower’. Even if you’re as geeky as me and have, social media can be the means to an end not necessarily an obsession to be done every minute of the day.

There is a correlation between lack of personal physical contact and more Internet contact. Are people getting so turned off by the former? Another info section reveals less than half of the world’s population use social media and half of the users are from the third world so figures aren’t quite so widespread. However, this is less than ten years so it’s early days. Even so, as Harrison points out that there’s a lot of useless information getting out there as well and you have to wonder how many can’t tell the difference?

If ever there was a need for regulation is the need for honest news or at least a verification check as to how trusted the news that is displayed in social media. Discovering that people between the ages of 18-29 only use social media for their news source is worrying although I do have to wonder if it’s their choice of home page or if laziness is involved. When you consider that ISIS, other terrorist groups are out there, use the same medium to recruit with controlled news, then there has to be a pattern there that people are just not using these websites properly and making themselves vulnerable. It certainly indicates there needs to be better education in Internet usage in schools.

Don’t think search engines like Google aren’t immune in all of this. When you word search, their algorithms are based on where people go the most than data accuracy and that can be jumped to the top of the queue if you pay a fee to get to the top of the list. I think a lot of us here know this but the framework they work to really does need some work to be fairer and at least, where news is concerned, at least present less than a bias viewpoint and wouldn’t be that difficult to program in when you consider the info links on the left side of the screen when looking something up. Harrison says for an experiment, he adjusted his filters so he was only given science information all the time and how it impacted his life because after a while he found himself isolated because few people were as intent as him. I have to confess that I’ve never found such filters, let alone use them although I know some severs who do without telling you on some American servers which is worrying because it also means you don’t have full access to the Internet or even my side of the pond.

It’s obvious that ‘fake news’ has to be covered. One thing the written word has problems with is sarcasm because you’re never sure if you write something whether all the readers will get what you mean about a particular subject. A lot of this isn’t helped by the reduced trust in the regular news media. As this is an American book, this is obviously focusing on their news. I suspect we have stronger regulations in the UK, like ‘the right to reply’ law so those who are being criticised can voice their reply rather than letting any biasness persuade you otherwise. Should they not make a reply or be interviewed then it tends to speak for itself. With a lack of trust in national news, it is rather scary when people switch to even less reliable resources where they don’t know where it’s coming from. Harrison’s definition on page 82 that ‘fake news’ is dishonest news should sink home but it really does need something showing what it is with warning signs and bells. Surely it can’t be that difficult to create an algorithm to compare news sources and call suspect when any ‘news’ is only duplicated and pasted from website to website as one source and look for what else is said or even query the people involved. Semi-AI is getting that way but no one has gone this way yet.

We’ve come across and been asked whether we would use ‘sponsored editorial content’ here at SFC which Harrison discusses here. What we find scary is we’re not even told what the subject is so we always slam the door on such people. If it was really that honest, wouldn’t they be more open about the product or views they are representing? It does make me wonder how many other sites don’t just for a fee they might offer.

The advice on recognising ‘fake news’ should be embedded on every wall. Essentially, think before you believe anything and check the source. The fact that so many people can be strung along with such information in the real world shows the results we currently have and how it’s exploited.

When Harrison moves on to comparing to addictive gambling then there’s cause for concern, especially when you read the statistics of how many people keep checking in on the social media sites. I might also draw a comparison to how when you have a gathering of people and all reluctant to leave in case they miss something. When you consider some of these Internet gatherings are across the world in different time zones, no one is going to be on all the time. Then again, some obsessives wake up during the night to do just that. Even so, no wonder people are becoming sleep deprived and are fretting over something that they wouldn’t have heard of a couple decades ago.

As I don’t use Apps, I found it scary how many people depend on them to run their lives and don’t see how much money it makes for their manufacturers. I suspect this chapter will really make you think.

The problems with passwords are covered but still comes back to how you remember them and store them. Something Harrison doesn’t cover is if you only use W10’s option to save passwords, you need to delete the directory it’s stored in if you’re selling your computer because it is easy to find and you’re practically giving away your access. Hands up those who now have shivers down their spine.

Harrison goes to great lengths showing how the information you give to social media sites are used to target you and, frankly, if I was on any of them I would be cautious to give them all the info that ask for, more so as some, like education, are also used by banks for identity verification. I do suspect that some will also put in fake info to avoid this. Now, when you consider that many employers look at social media sites to check you out before offering you a job and are wary of those who don’t use them, you have to wonder how dangerous that becomes when they get misinformation that makes you the perfect looking recruit but isn’t would bother me. The fact that social media sites use your info to barter for advertising specifically at you, irrespective of whether you read them or not does come across as breaking a trust when you use these sites. Even more worrying is that people don’t see this. It’s enough to make me want to see warning signs in big print as to what you are signing up for on these sites than just breeze through and ignoring most of it thinking the text is all the same. I doubt if we’ll ever get really private social media websites but there really should be some curbs on what they do with your information, even if it comes from a fee to belong. Sometimes being ‘free’ shows it’s anything but. Prepare to be really angry reading this book.

As you can tell from the length of my review and comment, this is a really important book and if you’re involved in social media should be at the top of your list to read. If you’re not involved, like me, then this book will affirm all your fears. It’s interesting in the finale that Harrison points out that social media might be a phase before something else comes along.

I do have to wonder if the people who should be reading this book will pick it up, mostly because they are likely to be too involved in social media to care. If you want your worse fears about social media confirmed, then read this book and be careful to how much you put on-line about yourself. For myself, I’m glad I let my instincts take hold.

GF Willmetts

October 2017

(pub: Prometheus Books. 300 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $18.00 (US), $19.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-63388-351-2. Ebook: Price: $11.99 (US), $13.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-63388-352-9)

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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