Facebook and its contemporaries have come under increased scrutiny from government and the general public due to their questionable practices and frequent information breaches.
It comes after early October when a whistleblower, Frances Haugen, testified before Congress on harm at work caused by Facebook’s alleged lackluster attempts to self-regulate. Haugen explicitly cited its effects on anti-vaccine misinformation and harm to children.
Spinnaker reached out to communications professor Dr Margaret Stewart who has researched social media platforms and their uses for over a decade for her thoughts on these events.
“I am always surprised to see how [the public] that’s when these kinds of events happen, ”she opened.
Dr Stewart explained how we as a society have a responsibility to understand what we are participating in when using these social media platforms, and how much information we allow them to take.
“We are data agents,” she commented.
Dr Stewart explained that when we give information to these companies, we must remain vigilant as to how it is used. She also pointed out that at the end of the day, these companies are always trying to make a profit. Their overall goal is to make money at the expense of consumers.
“The goal is no more and no less than that of any private business, which is to keep the consumer captive and bring them back for more,” she said.
Dr Stewart then went on to explain how the statements made by the whistleblower were not entirely new and what made this one different. She clarified how the claims do nothing to deter individual users, and Facebook usage continues to grow despite the claims.
“That’s another warning, but it looks like these warnings don’t mean enough to stop the user right now.”
People always come to terms and deals and sign up for these platforms, so Dr Stewart thinks it hardly works as a deterrent.
According to Dr. Stewart, society has developed an intense need for these interactions with social media. It is much easier to interact with people online rather than in person. Staying in touch with people instantly was not possible decades ago. We now know the updates to the lives of our friends and relatives as they occur.
“The mobility of these platforms has allowed us to interact very easily not only with each other, but with people of influence,” she said.
Social media allows us to interact with people, organizations, politicians and more in ways we haven’t been able to do before. Social media is becoming incredibly satisfying for people looking for information.
However, the impacts of these social networks are not always negative. One of the main ways they allow constructive help to people is by allowing you to contact like-minded people who may not be available to you in your immediate vicinity.
Dr Stewart briefly explained how social media is growing at an incredible rate and how difficult it is to comply with regulations. She insisted, however, that she was not a political analyst, so knowing how it worked from a government regulatory perspective was not her expertise.
As for how to best use social media, she ended with this:
“As soon as we commit to being an active user in a space, we need to understand the consequences and potential implications of what we are engaging in.”
Dr Stewart advocates staying as vigilant and aware as possible as these social media platforms continue to develop. She cited people who have actively left social media as a prime example. Another positive way is to use these platforms to observe, not to interact, or to maintain a professional presence that potential employers can see.
It’s important for all of us to be incredibly aware of how we live our lives on and off social media. Our mental well-being depends on us to make sure that we are in control of how it affects our lives and that we recognize when and if we can cut ourselves off.
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