• tracy johnson

"I'm Feeling Lucky" - Escaping the Cult of the Algorithm

Janie Mcmillin, a member of the LOG OFF Writers Group, likens the addictive and exploitative methods used by social media platforms to keep their users coming back to cult-like practices in this opinion piece about the harm social media can inflict on young minds.


On average, it takes 3 to 4 days to deprogram a healthy, knowledgeable human inside a cult. Your identity is stripped, leaving a blueprint idea of a person. You are forced to listen to the same songs, consume the same information, and have the same “family”--discarding any outside influences. Sound familiar? We are all living under the influence of the cult that is social media. The similarity is uncanny.


Our society deems misinformation is the new information, the new source of intellect. We are unable to diagnose this daunting reality because we cannot begin to recognize it. All of our “original” opinions are being altered to further divide a divided nation. Our joints have what is called a synovial membrane, which secretes synovial fluid. This fluid serves as a lubricant and makes them able to move freely around. Social media, alongside cults, can be seen as this fluid. It has control over our joints (or in this scenario, our minds.). We think we are moving them about freely, but in reality, we are rotating them exactly how we are programmed to.

Part of this program, or algorithm, is to deceive- we do not know we have fallen prey to the algorithm because it is designed to make us unaware that it even exists. We are like babies being bottle fed, fed until weaned off of our bottles, already having a certain way of order distilled in us. We are bottle fed off of social media, and by the time we are weaned off, all that is left is addiction and distorted beliefs. The 21st century revolves around the internet, whether that be scrolling through pre-intended feeds, checking numerous inboxes, skimming over headlines, or watching ads; we have become dependent on it. Our society is sculpted around small portals into an inescapable wormhole. Thinking has been hijacked by an unbeatable algorithm that serves only to warp, but how? An article by Katy Steinmetz from the Times asks: “why are even the smartest among us so bad at making judgments about what to trust on the web? And how can we get better?”


We can begin to identify the parallels between social media addiction and cults. How do we escape a cult and how do we escape social media and interchangeable queries? Cult Watch, Cult Education, and The New York Times, all recommend the “golden rule,” which is attempting to keep a line of communication open--making sure the person you are trying to reach can also reach you. Face-to-face contact and conversations ignite a small remembrance that there is a world outside of your bubble, or screen--a world outside of that crippling “ding,” that sucks you back into the system. The internet's obsession of making money off of humans (more clicks means more revenue) has compromised our social skills, deteriorated our mental health, and cursed us with the inability to decipher truth from lies. A popular game among children, Subway Surfers, with 2.7 billion downloads, has numerous advertisements, no different than any other game. Having younger siblings, I happen to observe some of the information they are exposed to. Recently, I took notice of an ad that played for my younger sister during Subway Surfers. A game called “Pocket Sniper” popped up on the screen, and displayed itself as an app where you try to snipe to kill people, and get extra points for headshots. Common Sense Media declares that parents' stance on subway surfers is that it should be a game for 12+, not because of the games content, but the content of the advertisements. Kids say that it should be for ages 7+.

The younger generations are growing up with these influences, these games, that persuade them to click that big download button, and maybe one day try it for themselves. The book But Mom, It’s Just a Game! by Julia Child addresses video game addiction, which can be likened to social media addiction amongst youth. Since children have the most impressionable minds, social media loves them. Being able to sculpt their opinions from day one, and make them foot soldiers controlled by the everlasting algorithm is a dream come true for major technology companies.


Keeping children away from technology in general is vital for their progression, and mental health. Our traits that make us human, our giveaways, and our vulnerability, are already being swept away. We think we are beating the system and defying the laws of the algorithm, but, in reality, the chips have fallen exactly where they were programmed to. Since the average American spends 24 hours each week online, we are, by default, social animals. When we try to step away from social media, it lures us back with emails, notifications and updates, just as cults do with their chosen method of showering questioning members with love. The desire for recognition can supersede the instinct of manipulation.


This algorithm looms over us, reprogramming us in every way possible. We feel mentally incapable of parting from its grasp. Will we stay loyal to our leader until the end?




References -


“A Netflix Original Documentary.” The Social Dilemma, 2 Nov. 2020, www.thesocialdilemma.com/


Steinmetz, Katy. “How Your Brain Tricks You Into Believing Fake News.” Time, Time, 9 Aug. 2018, https://time.com/5362183/the-real-fake-news-crisis/ .


Wollan, Malia. “How to Get Someone Out of a Cult.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 26 Sept. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/09/26/magazine/how-to-get-someone-out-of-a-cult.html .


“How to Help Friends and Family.” One of the Web's First Cult Information Sites. Where Most Start When Researching Cults and Mind Control. Often Featured in Media around the World. Secrets the Cults Don't Want You to Know., 12 Aug. 2012, www.cultwatch.com/how-to-help-friends-family.html .


User, Super. Coping with Cult Members, https://culteducation.com/coping.html .


Morris, Chris. “Parent Reviews for Subway Surfers: Common Sense Media.” Common Sense Media: Ratings, Reviews, and Advice, Common Sense Media, 19 Mar. 2013, www.commonsensemedia.org/app-reviews/subway-surfers/user-reviews/adult .


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