Are You Remotely Controlled: Social Media?


Are you remotely controlled? Of course not! You decide what you read and what you click on. You limit your kids to two hours of internet time after they finish their homework. You’re in control.

Or are you?  Maybe there are two sides to the social media dilemma.

Two Sides_ to the Social Media Dilemma
Two Sides to the Social Media Dilemma!


Do you think companies like Facebook feed all of the right data to you at just the right time? That you’re hooked like a fish?Or are you of the opinion that they are helping us to widen our family circle, to connect with long lost friends and stay in touch?  

Maybe it’s both?

Are You Hooked Like A Fish by Social Media
Pretty Fish Hooked by Social Media.

Everyone must agree this constant clicking, swiping, and liking HAS impacted our lives.

Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Tik Tok and your favorite search engine all want your attention: they use advanced algorithms to steer our minds,  maneuver our thoughts and, in turn, direct our actions.

Enter: Surveillance Capitalism.

Someone is watching you : eye
Is someone watching you?


What is surveillance capitalism?

A term coined by Dr. Shoshana Zuboff, social psychologist and Harvard University professor emerita

Survellance Capiltalism is big business

A market driven process where the commodity for sale is your personal data, and the capture and production of this data relies on mass surveillance of the internet.

More on Dr. Shoshan here

For the first fifty years of Silicon Valley the industry made products such as hardware and software and sold them to customers. Nice and Simple.

This has changed. Now the biggest companies in Silicon Valley –allegedly– have been in the business of selling their users.

Every user’s ads are personalized. For example, my son’s ads ranged from basketball shoes to jerseys, while mine were completely different.


My son's ads focused on athletic attire
How did they know?
Previous slide
Next slide

Data is collected from each individual’s browsing activities. The algorithms, developed by computer scientists in Silicon Valley, create different user profiles. This is intentional data collection.

USERS. That’s an interesting term.

What other activity coins the term ‘users?’

People who use illegal drugs!

And sadly, they often develop a dependency.


“Social media isn’t a tool that’s just waiting to be used,” says ethicist Tristan Harris. “It has its own goals and it has its own means of pursuing them by using your own psychology against you.”

Algorithms mine your ‘likes.’ Ads and Youtube videos you click on give you more of the same.

Harris continues, “In other words: The tool is alive. It knows you. It’s feeding you information you think you want and need but in reality, is eliciting action and clicks as a way to fuel advertising.”

For example, a major US retail network used customer shopping records to predict pregnancies of its female customers, sending them well-timed ads and well-targeted offers. (For the article, email me)

Are you safe on social media? 

Targeting Ads

Recently, Facebook was under fire for taking insufficient measures to protect data privacy of its users.(there’s that term again…


The Facebook Privacy Scandal centered around the collection of personally identifiable information from 87 million people.

And Facebook allegedly sold our data.

Cookies = Data



Cookies are the data that our computer stores while we’re using it, to remember specific information for your browsing activity. Cookies are advantageous for ease of access to research and surf the web.

Yet, it also is helpful for companies trying to sell you something. Our private information is like gold. 

In fact, Tech Republic states that on average, every citizen in the United States had their data stolen four times in 2019.

Hooked Like A fish (courtesy MMA)
Social Media Dilemma
Data breech


Have you ever taken one of those quizzes? Sometimes you just have to know which animal you are or which Hogwarts House you belong to. (For the record, I’m in Gryffindor.)

Companies have actually extrapolated and mined data from our responses!

Hogwarts Houses
Yes, I'm a fan.

In 2019, The Federal Trade Commision (FCC) sued a political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, accusing them of harvesting personally identifiable information through a personality quiz app. Just adding the app to your Facebook profile gave the company—and others— access to your profile information, as well as access to all your friends.

A study done by UC-Berkeley researchers showed that “easily accessible digital records of behavior, Facebook Likes, can be used to automatically and accurately predict a range of highly sensitive personal attributes including: sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious and political views, personality traits, intelligence, happiness, use of addictive substances, parental separation, age, and gender.”


Surveillance capitalists regard us as a free commodity. We search Google, but now we understand that Google searches us. We were using social media to connect but learned that our connections are how social media uses us. Surveillance capitalism stinks!

Desk Set Up
Gorgeous set up...yes, I like technology!

We know we’re clicking too much. We know it’s captivating.  But what is it doing to us?

Are you remotely controlled___Social media trap
Social Media Trap
Two Sides to the Social Media Dilemma___Fish on a Plate
courtesy MMA

These giants are just getting bigger. 

Google owns YouTube and Waze, and is in the process of purchasing FitBit for 2.1 billion dollars. Gmail, owned by google is free. How did they get billions of dollars? 

Facebook owns the social platforms Instagram and Whatsapp. Facebook is ‘free’ for its users, too. Yet it was able to purchase Instagram in 2012 for 1 billion dollars. 


Our data isn’t just used to sell shoes. Let’s look at political issues. 

These algorithms can gather information gleaned from voter rolls, such as political affiliation, and reach out to the people they choose. They can narrow their target audience to those who have shown interest in guns, abortion, or immigration, based on what the user has read or talked about on social media sites, who they follow or  what they’ve tweeted or posted about.

The algorithms then show one ad to young women interested in both school choice and climate change, and a different ad to everyone else.

Magnet and polarity

Psychologically, when we read something we agree with, we stay online longer. This gives advertisers more time to sell us the items we clicked on or ‘liked.’


But what this also does is increase polarity. Again and again, we see the same opinions come at us. We eventually wonder how anyone could think otherwise because there is no other way to think.

Magnet polarity
A polarized mess

What about ‘likes?’ Or those heart icons on Instagram? Retweets? Follows? 

Not getting enough of them, or comparing oneself to a friend can have a devastating effect on self-esteem.

Ethicist Tristan Harris notes that we were not really meant to receive feedback on what we do and say every five minutes.

Comparison is the thief of joy and these sites almost force it on us.

Flip the coin again. Getting ‘likes’ is giving us a hit of dopamine via positive intermittent reinforcement. Which means that we’ll be back for more.


This is a science blog, so I must give you a quick summary about dopamine.

Dopamine is important for many functions such as motor control, motivation, reward, cognitive function, maternal, and reproductive behaviors.
Dopamine is crucial to the maintenance of physiological processes.
Has a role in blood pressure, heart rate, kidney function, lactation, to name a few.
Unbalanced activity may lead to dysfunctions that are related to neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson's.
Previous slide
Next slide


There is great value in using these apps. Connecting with family out of state, and friends out of the country. Posting articles or new blog posts (hand raising!)

How can we fight back? Protect our kids from surveillance capitalism? Protect ourselves from social media’s influence?

Louie on his ipad
Just five more minutes, please?


If we make more conscious choices, we can take control.

Lock sign
Take control

Don’t just default, rewire your experience.

Cal Newport, a professor of computer science at Georgetown University  is highly critical of social media abuses. He has suggested that we should use the apps more like professional schedulers and marketing people. Which means using them in a predetermined way with set parameters.


Social media profits from hate and anger because strong emotions generate more engagement. 

Remember there is a real person behind the screen. Don’t be so quick to unfollow or publicly argue with someone who posts something you disagree with.

Take care with your comments. You could inadvertently hurt others. 


Get outside and look at the view. 

Train your dog to do something important.

Make dinner….or just skip to dessert!

The social media dilemma isn’t going away any time soon. With conscious effort, we can stop being remotely controlled!

And I can try to match my photo sizes!



It will be interesting to see whether or not Facebook and Twitter allow me to post this article… (Facebook said that my article about soap had controversial content and refused to let me post it. Soap?)

What’s your prediction?


Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
October 4, 2020 11:41 am

I absolutely agree the points you have made here. A great thought-provoking post.

Anika May
Anika May
October 4, 2020 11:57 am

Great post! I definitely agree that it’s important to step back from social media or take a break every so often. Helps put things into perspective for sure!

Anika |

Michelle (Boomer Eco Crusader)
October 4, 2020 12:16 pm

Thanks for a very thought-provoking post. As users, I think we all need to be very aware and vigilant of the data we provide, and understand the trade-offs we make for convenience. It’s a little scary.

October 4, 2020 12:19 pm

This is a pretty interesting topic. I am at the point where I expect zero privacy, even when I go out and don’t use the technology myself. There is always data collected about you, such as your credit card usage. I think we need to not let social media affect our behavior. People don’t show their full selves on social media (which is OK), but can lead others to think they live a certain perfect lifestyle.

Nancy ✨

Unwanted Life
October 4, 2020 12:49 pm

It would be nice to have more control over our private data and cookies, but often you have the two choices, accept them or not use the website or app. But what can you really do about it?

October 4, 2020 12:50 pm

Some awesome points here. I don’t do social media “personally,” just for my blog and even that I fought for the first 2 years! I still try and take frequent breaks. Speaking of, I love your dog! Your video made me smile 💚

October 4, 2020 2:05 pm

It’s really important to take a step back and recognize the impact that social media has in our lives. One of the great choices that I made was to install the ‘Kill News Feed’ Chrome extension. That way, when I visit Facebook, I have to choose to visit a person’s profile, group or page. I’m not just getting whatever their algorithm says to put in front of me in the newsfeed. When I go to someone’s page, it’s normal, but my newsfeed is blank.

Eva Apelqvist
Eva Apelqvist
October 4, 2020 2:48 pm

I have loved all your posts, but this one is over and beyond good. It should be a book. Everybody should read it. Great research about social media, collected in one easy palatable fun-to-read format. Excellent post. Thank you.

Mark Crone
October 4, 2020 2:52 pm

You’ve provided a lot to think about. Social media is a dilemma for sure. I try to stick to business and blog promotion only. And beware of personal information and data mining. Take a break fro time to time and don’t let it dictate any part of your life. Thanks for sharing,

Alexis Farmer
Alexis Farmer
October 4, 2020 3:00 pm

Awesome read! I definitely make a point to pull myself away from social media at times. Some of this social media stuff is pretty unsettling.

October 4, 2020 3:18 pm

This is such an interesting post. I am also an Instagram influencer so I am very aware of how easy it is to “swipe up” to buy something, and then see ads all over other social channels from that same company. It is kinda eerie in a way that technology seems to track your every move!

Jaya Avendel
October 4, 2020 3:24 pm

At the end of the day, I think what we all need to do is be aware of what social media and takes away. As long as we use it responsibility, we are coming out ahead, even in a small way.

October 4, 2020 3:24 pm

Well said, Sue. We need a balance between social media and the rest of life. I’m all for getting outside and enjoying nature.

October 4, 2020 4:56 pm

This was a really interesting read – in terms of technology I feel like it is in some ways remotely controlling us with regards to social media being the first thing we click on in the morning to scroll through like the morning paper. And data collection of our browsing time then coming back to us in the form of advertisement on social media platforms.

Personally – this is why I am more intentional on what I choose to post online whether that be for my blog or social media because I know that that data will be mined in some out of way to create whatever is my user profile which will then be used to show me targeted advertisements.

In terms of social media affecting our behavior I would say that’s pretty accurate, with regards to amount of likes for a photo / amount of retweets on twitter, the first step really is to not place your potential mood based on interaction/lack of interaction on things. This is where I think taking a step back from the screen to go for a walk or run really helps to ground you on life outside of an algorithmically near perfect world online. The amount of countless hours I’ve spent scrolling rather than doing XYZ has decreased a bit but I am always trying to improve on that! Social media was designed to keep us hooked, it’s all about recognizing that and trying to break the hook that it has on us.

Great post!


Lisa M. Alioto
Lisa M. Alioto
October 4, 2020 7:00 pm

Very intriguing post – got me thinking….

October 5, 2020 4:08 am

This was really interesting. I think at this point we should all be mindful of the fact that we have zero privacy unless we’re in a vacuum with no tech or devices at all. It often works the opposite way for me. The majority of my searching is for either blog collabs I’ve been offered or for products I’ve been sent so the vast majority of the targeted ads I get are for products I already own. And I’m far more cautious about the things I post online, because I’m aware that data is going somewhere. And if I see an article on social media, I search and try to research the subject myself (& I read all of my articles in full whether I like them or not so the argument is balanced in my head). It’s important to be mindful, especially if you use social media a lot! x


Fadima Mooneira
October 5, 2020 10:24 am

So true. These are the dilemma of socmed. Thank you for sharing.

Ashleigh's Moments
Ashleigh's Moments
October 5, 2020 12:06 pm

I think you’ve made some really important points in this post. I’m ashamed to say that I’m not in control even though I try to be. Social media truly has taken over the world.

Ming Qian
Ming Qian
October 5, 2020 6:24 pm

Hey Sue, thanks for this excellent blog post on dealing with social media! I watched Social Media Dilemma on Netflix as well, and it just shocked me how I knew all of that and still participated in social media anyway. I believe many of us are aware that the algorithms are doing all sorts of manipulations in the background, but the horrifying part is that we allow ourselves to continue to be on those platforms. Anyway, I deleted Instagram 2.5 weeks ago, and my screen time dipped on an average of close to an hour! I don’t think I’ve left for good though…

Nicola Dale Training
Nicola Dale Training
October 6, 2020 1:56 am

This is so interesting, I like that you’ve looked at both sides and you’ve wrote about it really well. This is the first time I’ve come accross your blog and I love it!

Lisa's Notebook
October 6, 2020 2:49 am

Such an interesting post, Sue. I definitely have a love hate relationship with social media and Google in particular. I find it alarming how ads are served to me when I haven’t even clicked on anything, for example. My job is social media so it’s not possible to go off grid but it is very tempting sometimes!

Diffusing the Tension
Diffusing the Tension
October 6, 2020 5:14 am

It really is such a weird time to be alive! I haven’t see The Social Dilemma yet but I fully believe all of this is happening. One time I was in the car with my sister and was talking out loud about a kind of niche-y thing we wanted to get our dad for christmas, and the next time I went on facebook, I saw an ad for it. Weird!!

October 6, 2020 6:40 am

Great post !!! 🙂

October 6, 2020 6:50 am

What a very thought provoking post! You’re right – ads are very targeted and personalized these days because of data! I try to be more conscious these days of my clicking habit so I don’t spend hours, specially at night just mindlessly scrolling.

Ruth graham
Ruth graham
October 6, 2020 7:18 am

Amazing post. Marketing is such big business. All the platforms want people on them as much as possible. Re-marketing is very real, we are all being stalked by technology.

October 6, 2020 9:25 am

Everyone should read this post. Makes you think and is very true

October 6, 2020 11:40 am

A documentary about Social Dilemma is on Netflix and the big guys who are at this during the conception of social apps are now in dilemma. We are easily hooked with these apps! Likes and hearts must be in numbers. I really feel this needs a serious evaluation to our personal lives and to the young gen. Just too much info in one click, but are they accurate? We can make a Conscious
Decision about this. I have started my media detox and focus on important goals or just do something else! I’m happy I managed to achieve a lesser screen time!

October 6, 2020 12:43 pm

This was fantastic! I walk away from reading it feeling much more informed and possibly even able to ‘wriggle off the hook’ of social media and swim free (or freer) than before 🙂

Kelly Diane
October 6, 2020 1:47 pm

This was a really interesting post to read. I’ve learnt in recent weeks that its OK to take a step back from social media. I found i was constantly refreshing it and not doing much else.

Mrs. P&P
Mrs. P&P
October 6, 2020 4:56 pm

You’ve made a lot of really thoughtful points here. Social media can be a blessing, but it definitely comes at a cost. I know I’m always a little freaked out when it’s obvious that my data had been used to cater an ad toward me.

Carolyn Holton
Carolyn Holton
October 6, 2020 7:34 pm

Great post. Someone recently said to me that ” comparison is the thief of joy”. it’s true……

Becca @ The LDN Lifestyle
October 7, 2020 4:31 pm

Super interesting and definitely thought provoking. It’s definitely one of those things where if you think about it too much, it definitely creeps you out. But again, I’m still on social media so it can’t freak me out that much! Becca x

Retirestyle Travel
Retirestyle Travel
October 7, 2020 4:45 pm

People need to read this to understand their social media use and its cost. I just saw that Netflix documentary too and it freaked me out

W. D. Herstun
W. D. Herstun
October 7, 2020 9:32 pm

I think you are taking the first steps by being aware and informing us! I’m incredibly concerned about the turn big data and technology has taken and particularly its impact on special interest groups like the youth, impoverished, and minorities. It feels like we are all becoming robots for the wealthy.
I enjoyed this! Can’t wait to follow for more.

Transylvania castles
October 15, 2020 9:43 am

You are perfectly right! A very good article which points perfectly the real problems of today’s life. All these social platforms are trying to transform us in little robots and play with our heads!

Travel for a while
October 19, 2020 12:10 am

Good points here! I know that our privacy level is close to zero these days even if I’m not one of the social media addicts. I think it’s important to understand and educate the young about the differences between reality and social media or youtube. Also, remembering to take breaks and that life happens elsewhere, not online.

October 20, 2020 5:09 am

I absolutely agree that social media can be addicting and that it knows a TON about us. I also think that it can really impact people’s attentions spans, behaviors, and mental health. We need to be mindful of how, and maybe more importantly how often, we use it.

Jirah Merizz
Jirah Merizz
October 21, 2020 8:02 am

This is such a great post, thank you so much for sharing your insights!

Amber Page
Amber Page
October 26, 2020 4:47 am

A great read! I completely agree with you, social media can be so addicting. It has such a massive impact on our lives.

Amber | The Unpredicted Page

November 1, 2020 4:01 am

I absolutely adore this blog post and I actually enjoyed the documentary, most of it I’ve known being a fan of social media for so long I’ve started to work it out.

xoxo Ana

Sandra Ans
November 7, 2020 2:15 pm

As I am studying now about social media and marketing, this is a very interesting topic for me! It’s unbelievable what hides behind Facebook, google etc. and I know very good that we can’t stop the social media process… but as you said – we CAN control ourselfs and what WE are seeing / following to!

Constance Foland
Constance Foland
November 29, 2020 8:03 am

Wow! Great food for thought! Thanks for taking the time to write this!

Ruth Sunday
Ruth Sunday
November 30, 2020 9:54 am

Great post! Social media has a great impact on our lives and it can be very addicting too but I feel the effect social media would have on someone is based on how much importance that person gives to it. This is such a great reminder that we should not get too carried away by social media 💖

Susan Berk Koch author

My New Book!

Be the best-informed reader!

Make Sense of Science is my email newsletter where I share information about future science, new tech developments, as well as tools and resources for STEM at home. It arrives every two weeks and you’ll only hear from me. (And Louie)


Be the smartest person on your block!

Enter your email & I’ll share news about future science, STEM activities, and the best books.

And more Louie!

Louie says please subscribe to our science blog

Be the Best Informed!

I’ll make sense of science, share news about new tech, science advancements, and more. You’ll only hear from me and only twice a month. 

Louie loves STEM at home activities

Be the smartest person!

I’ll share news about future science, new species, show you how to do science at home with your kids, find the best books and more. You’ll only hear from me and only twice a month, tops.

Louie will be so happy!

Don’t miss out on More Cool Science! Subscribe for twice monthly articles. Thanks so much.