The Social Media Revolution – Artificial Intelligence

Love it or hate it, social media is infiltrating our world more and more – from monitoring the lives of friends and celebrities, to professional networking and job opportunities. It’s now the fastest source of global news and the quickest way to share our views.

It has been credited with rallying troops for good causes and criticised for cyber bullying and over sharing. It’s fun, addictive, intrusive, annoying – whatever we think, it’s impossible to ignore social media!

In a 3 part series, Lauren (recent Reading graduate) looks at some of the intriguing developments in social media and whether it’s helping to solve problems, or creating problems of its own.



Artificial Intelligence – Helpful Intervention or Privacy Invasion?

Social Media Icons
Large corporations are increasingly using AI to monitor our behaviour and transform our lives, possibly for altruistic reasons, and probably in most cases to exploit commercial opportunities. I wanted to explore recent developments, and particularly the question of balance between benefits and intrusion.


Facebook has already started its goal to improve its product and help users. Since November, Facebook has been using AI to monitor people’s online behaviour for patterns indicating depression, and to reach out to try to prevent suicide. AI monitors Facebook and Instagram posts, using algorithms to monitor what time people are posting, even looking at the colours used in images. If worrying behaviour is highlighted, Facebook plans on reaching out to users, to try and ensure their safety. Their AI is said to predict suicide (or potential harm) up to two years in advance. This clearly has great potential. If we can use platforms (which already exist) to not only create a safer space online, but also make offline lives equally healthy, then I think this is a goal worth pursuing!


Facebook’s AI behaviour monitoring is currently on-going, it has been a pretty discreet project (meaning there is minimal data available), so we can only hope the algorithms can find the appropriate groups of people, and that the task at hand will be successful. And, whilst it’s refreshing to see something being done, the cynic in me wonders if the primary motivation is to protect their reputation – their ubiquitous influence has radically changed social interaction, resulted in ‘over sharing’, and has arguably contributed to privacy issues and social problems e.g. cyber bullying, fake news, identity theft etc.


Support groups, forums and event pages on social media could also provide a new way for companies to find their target groups for studies and research. For example, an app called mPower studies Parkinson’s disease by getting iPhone users to perform tasks, measuring the tremors in their hands, through the phone’s internal accelerometer. With apps and innovation, social media could provide further support for other platforms. Wouldn’t it be great if social media could go beyond raising awareness for apps by actually connecting the correct people with the appropriate company that could help them – at the user’s discretion of course!


privacy concerns

Privacy Concerns

Privacy, or lack of it (!), is becoming a huge issue. As a private person, I find it unsettling to see how much information about me is obtained from my relatively low online use. Whenever information about us is posted, we become vulnerable. We have no control over what then happens to that information. Simply by using social media platforms we are willingly disclosing our data, which is then sold on to other companies and used to produce targeted advertisements, based on our activity. I’m sure we can all relate to how annoying those adverts are! While the adverts may work as click bait for some, showing me those revolting trainers that I purposely haven’t bought will simply drive me away from your site! As a cynic, it makes me wonder what assumptions companies make, based on the information that people post, the sites they visit, the videos they watch – it’s all rather disconcerting!


As of May 2018, new European data protection rules (GDPR) will disrupt many websites including Facebook and Google. Businesses will no longer be able to use vague or non-specific reasons for collecting data. Depending on what the business is looking for, users will have options to opt-in or opt-out, before data is gathered. We will be in a position to not only have more control over what data should be permitted, but also to hold companies responsible for their actions. With the Brexit deadline looming, I really hope the government will implement this into UK law.

social media privacy

The big question is whether this is a trade-off worth taking. Privacy involves a constant battle between security and freedom. At its very core, gathering data without permission is exploitation, but if we take Facebook’s recent AI activity, this could potentially be an exploitation of people’s privacy. Whilst improving mental health and preventing suicide are admirable motives, companies will know factors concerning your health before you do. Is this an innovative venture for social media, or an uncomfortable intrusion into our private lives? We certainly wouldn’t want this data falling into the wrong hands – e.g. prospective employers or medical insurance companies. Either way, for those who are comfortable sharing personal information online, it is remarkable that social media can be used in this way.


To be continued…


Lauren Atwell-Thomas


Lauren Atwell-Thomas


Studied Philosophy at the University of Reading
Loves American Football, travelling and buffalo wings!


Currently working towards a career in the civil service, specifically a future in public policy.