I’m not a road trip enthusiast, but now and again I find myself enjoying drives through the amazingly beautiful deserts of New Mexico. Yesterday, I had a three hour drive to Farmington, and decided to listen to a few podcasts while admiring the scenery. In my que were two episodes from Brené Brown.

The first episode was something I felt compelled to listen to because of my work in the anti-human trafficking space. The episode was entitled “A Marketplace of Girl Influencers Managed by Moms and Stalked by Men.” As you can imagine, it was a deeply disturbing podcast discussing an investigative report on Instagram accounts that featured images of young girls in tight and/or provocative apparel (dance, cheer, gymnastics, fashion, etc.). These accounts were all labeled as “parent managed”. The discussion revolved around the disturbing number of followers that these accounts had, with the majority being adult males, who were “hearting” images, posting comments, and even having online discussion boards about these accounts.

I co-host my own podcast called “Curiosity not Judgement” and I will say, I was having a really difficult time not jumping to judgement on this one! I’ve long been both fascinated and disturbed by “influencer culture”, and the fact that we now have 9 and 10-year-old “influencers” is a mind-boggling reality.

The second episode I heard was called “Why AI’s Potential to Combat or Scale Systemic Injustice Still Comes Down to Humans,” featuring Dr. S. Craig Watkins. I was riveted by this conversation, thinking about my own experiences with AI and algorithms, and I started wondering if the 2002 film Minority Report was prophetic.

I want to tell a side story to help paint the picture of why these subjects have become a personal battle for me. I’m 46 years old. I’m somewhere in the stages of peri-menopause. A few years ago, I started gaining weight. Nothing in my habits changed, yet the weight started piling up. I tried keto and intermittent fasting. I tried cutting out sugar, caffeine, and carbs. Nothing made a difference.

I found myself hovering just a little too long over Instagram adds that featured wall Pilates apps or “5 ingredients that will kick start your metabolism.” The algorithms (AI) learn that this is a pain point for me, and the next thing I know, 90% of all adds I see on both Facebook and Instagram target weight loss products or plans. Now, body image is no longer an occasionally distressing thought, it’s a frequent top-of-mind subject.

You might say, “Stay off of social media!” There might be a time for that. The ugly reality is, business has become integrated into social media. Do you have an upcoming event that you want people to attend? You promote it on social media. Do you have a program or product that you want the community to know about? Social media is where you turn. Do you write articles that you want people to read? Well, you get the point.

Me being the highly relational person that I am, I also find great joy in being able to see the photos of friends and family who travel and have milestone events. I look for daily encouragements that I in turn send to a friend who is struggling. There are lots of positive aspects to social media.

Back to the podcasts. One of the closing lines that Brown delivers in the AI episode is, “We got to figure out if we’re building the world we want to live in.” This statement hit me between the eyes. Am I helping to build the world I want to live in? I hope so. I want to prioritize relationships. I aim to develop content that is thought provoking and enriching. I want to live in peace and be a conduit of peace for others.

If my attention is frequently distracted by an unhappiness about my physical form, I’m certainly not living in peace. How then, do I navigate a world in which social media is a real part of life and business, while not allowing AI to dictate how I think? It starts with awareness. That should then lead me into intentionality. I must be aware and intentional to bring my thoughts into alignment with my stated goals.

Beyond personal responsibility, there is a corporate one as well. Not many will have an opportunity to speak up and into the creation of algorithms and other AI applications. However, if you can be a voice of influence in those discussions, by all means, do!

Ironically, as I bring this article to a close, I notice a little lightning bolt icon in my tool bar. Hovering over it, I see that it’s an AI application. Should I press it and see what happens?

I will let Brené Brown lead us out in her own words, from the close of her AI podcast. Please forgive the language, but I think her response is important. “Okay, I don’t want to close this thing with the word “scary” again, but, holy s**t. Let me tell you what helps me sleep better at night, knowing that Dr. Watkins is on the case, along with some other really talented computational people that are deeply, deeply tethered to ethics and social justice. It’s the whole series. What’s the potential? The potential is so great. And what are the costs? High, if we don’t get ahead of intention policies and having the right people like he mentioned at the table.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.