In this paper, I will demonstrate the many faces of social networks and their impact on our daily lives and on society. In the last two decades, the popularity of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tik-Tok has grown exponentially. Some studies have been made on problems like addiction, bullying, political mingling, and terrorism. Others have shown that the networks have built algorithms to influence the way we surf the many web platforms and possibly create loopholes of information. Who holds these giant companies accountable. Where do we trace the line on access to our data?
The Social Network
Facebook is in hot water again because of a whistleblower. Frances Haugen, a Facebook
product manager who left the company in May, revealed that she had provided internal documents to journalists and others. She had access to more than 10 000 pages of information and went under legal protection to go forward in her revelations. It has been said that the company opts in the financial interests of the company before the impact on society. These allegations have been since refuted by Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. We can relate to these findings after watching the documentary The Social Dilemma that explains clearly how the algorithms are used by many social media platforms. They are created to keep our attention and offer us products that we previously researched. It has also been brought forward that our cellphones listen to our conversation and have ways that will offer us content based on keywords picked by our microphone.
We have no privacy, and our information is sold to third parties and affects our choices directly from our devices. The same algorithms are used to send you political material about everything you are interested in. At first glance, we could appreciate this customized experience. The reality is a bit darker. Most found themselves caught in a loophole of disinformation and some form of AI that keeps you interested in the same content has long has possible.
On a more personal level, we all know someone who cannot take is eyes of the cellphone.
I for one spend way too much time on social networks. Most of the reasons are boredom, entertainment, or addiction. In some cases, the problematics go further. It has been shown that it is linked to depression and negative behavior. A study from Nottingham Trent University concluded: “it may be plausible to speak specifically of ‘Facebook Addiction Disorder’…because addiction criteria, such as neglect of personal life, mental preoccupation, escapism, mood modifying experiences, tolerance and concealing the addictive behavior, appear to be present in some people who use [social networks] excessively.” They also found that the motivation for people’s excessive use of social networks differs depending on certain traits—introverts and extroverts use it for different reasons, as do people with narcissistic traits. But that deserves a piece of its own.) Furthermore, some studies identified a trend in people who stopped using the internet altogether. Symptoms of withdrawal and physiological changes may occur as well. Study author Phil Reed said, “We have known for some time that people who are over-dependent on digital devices report feelings of anxiety when they are stopped from using them, but now we can see that these psychological effects are accompanied by actual physiological changes.” A lot of
experts agree that more research needs to be done on the matter but most evidence leads toward
unhealthy behavior regarding social media usage.
Civil Unrest 2.0
Many witnessed the attack on the capitol during the latest elections in the US. Donald
Trump did not want a peaceful transition of power. Trump believed that the polling process was flawed and that it could cost him the election. He used the social media platform to create civil unrest amongst voters. Many investigations debunked the claims of a fraudulent system the Trump clan was affirming. He ultimately was banned from Twitter because of his dangerous tweets. A bunch of protesters stormed the Capitol, and a woman was killed. This happened in part because Donald Trump Junior called on Trump supporters to protect the election and use violence to intimidate voters. Some would call it a call to arms. A lot of protests happened at the voting centers. Democracy was under attack. It has been brought to attention that some Facebook employees have been disgruntled by the company’s position in the many leaks of information on user profiles around that time. In 2018, Christopher Wylie, a former employee of the consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, set the stage for those leaks. Mr. Wylie spoke with The New York Times, The Observer of London, and The Guardian to reveal that Cambridge Analytica had improperly harvested Facebook data to build voter profiles without users’ consent. The same year many Facebook employees stood up and provided memos to news outlets regarding the issue.
“I think over the last year, there’ve been more leaks than I think all of us would have
wanted,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, responded in a meeting with employees
in June 2020.
The reaction from the high command of Facebook has been very aggressive and dismissive
of the reality brought forward. In court, they are well accompanied by an army of elite lawmen. In their books, this is free content for users and do not want to interfere with this concept. The reality is they have no choice to find a way to regulate this monster.
“The social media services that I and others have built over the past 15 years have served
to tear people apart with alarming speed and intensity. At the very least, we have eroded our collective understanding – at worst, I fear we are pushing ourselves to the brink of a civil war.” (Kendall, via Ars Technica)
The concern is real, and the data is present to make us understand the problems of social
networks in our everyday lives. Many experts agree on the negative impact of these platforms on democracy. They also agree that more studies should be made to understand the full extent of the issue. The last 2 decades have been filled with controversy originating from the internet. Mass social networks have an enormous impact on our lives and the fact that it is growing exponentially in just a small amount of time is a good reason for concern. Ultimately, for the moment, it is the choice of the user to stay logged in or pull the plug.
Online Social Networking and Addiction—A Review of the Psychological Literature
by Daria J. Kuss *ORCID andMark D. GriffithsORCID