Facebook is in the news again after a company whistle-blower came out with some shocking allegations against the social media giant. Former Facebook data scientist, Frances Haugen decided she had seen enough corruption while working at Facebook and wanted to do something about it. She spent months copying internal documents and reports so she could make formal, legal complaints against the company. Here is a summary of the complaints she submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the US.
- Attention Economy: Facebook's 2018 algorithm maximises engagement and reactions. Hateful and violent content get more reactions and engagement and are therefore shown to more people. Facebook apparently conducted research and wrote reports recognising this negative impact, but did not address this issue.
- Misrepresentation of data: Allegedly, Facebook is misrepresenting about the efforts it makes in moderating harmful content. 9% of Facebook users being English speakers but 87% of efforts put into removing misinformation and to quash fake news are focused on English content.
- Grooming To Be Online Consumers: Facebook’s own reports and research show that Instagram is having a negative impact on young girls in particular. 13.5% of teen girls say that Instagram make thoughts of suicide worse. 17% of teen girls say that Instagram makes eating disorders worse. Despite clear evidence of the negative effect of these platforms on young people, Facebook still actively worked towards building up its younger audience.
- Profit Vs Safety: Facebook is intentionally hiding negative findings from its research in order to keep operating as is and to keep generating huge amounts of profits.
What needs to change?
Interestingly, Haugen does not call for the shutting down of social media giants such as Facebook, but instead calls for their regulation. She does not believe that Facebook is inherently bad and understands the importance of social media as a tool for connection, communication and commerce. Haugen says, a tool that is so embedded in our everyday lives, that wields the influence and power Facebook has needs to be regulated by the government. Social media companies need to be regulated by independent organisations. Surprisingly, both Democrats and Republicans were united when it comes to regulating Facebook. A suggestion was made during the hearing for the creation of a dedicated body with the federal government of the US to oversee social media companies.
Regulation is especially important because of the prevalent use of social media by young children. Facebook launched in 2004 and Instagram in 2010. There are young teens that have never known a world without social media. Though it may seem like a relatively new phenomenon we cannot deny that social media is a huge and important part of everyday life for adults and children. In her address to the US Senate, Haugen explained how Facebook and Instagram’s key demographic is children and has suggested raising the age limits on both sites to 16-18 years old.
The fundamental issue is that Facebook continually puts profit above people. Regulation, guidelines, and transparency are needed in order to ensure our children are safe while using these platforms.
Is social media all bad?
After reading the above you might be rushing to delete your children’s social media accounts as well as your own! But is social media really all bad? The answer to this is definitely no. There are so many benefits to social media such as communicating and connecting with friends and family, meeting like-minded people from all over the world, building community and sharing ideas. Social media can be so beneficial to young people, but the danger lies in social media giants not making the well-being of their users a high priority.
What can you do to protect your children?
∙ Address your own social media habits
The first step to helping your children create a positive and healthy relationship with social media is to make sure they have a good role model to follow. This means you! Take a look at your own social media habits, do you spend too much time scrolling through Facebook or Instagram? Address your own habits first before asking your children to do so.
∙ Make sure you are educated about social media
If your child is going to use a platform, you should know how it works. Take some time to sign up and use any social media platforms your children are using. Follow and engage with the kind of content your children follow and engage with so you can get a better sense of what might show up in their feed.
∙ Make sure your children are educated about social media
ohile there are countless benefits when it comes to social media, there are also some negative aspects to it. Sit down with your child and talk with them about some of the negative things associated with social media such as misinformation, hateful speech and cyberbullying. Another important aspect of social media that both you and your children should know about are the privacy settings. Go through the different privacy settings with your child, make sure they understand what each one does and why they should be enabled.
∙ Encourage healthy technology habits
Many young people (and adults!) will visit social media sites multiple times a day. They will mindlessly scroll through their social feeds while sitting in front of the TV or in the car etc. Encourage your children to build healthy habits when it comes to screen time by creating an environment where they have to put down their phones. For example, you could play a game in the car that requires them to engage verbally or do some arts and crafts activities at home instead of watching TV.
Educating children and keeping them safe in the internet age can feel like a daunting task. If you would like some help in internet safety training, reach out to your child’s school, and suggest they put on an internet safety seminar. At Zeeko we engage with hundreds of schools all over the country to teach students, teachers, and parents all about internet safety. To find out more about our programmes click here. Feel free to forward this article to your teacher so they can get in touch.
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