Since they arrived with the new millennium, social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter gradually gained the attention of millions of users around the world and grew to the point of shaping the way we interact and consume information. There is a problem: in an effort to keep us on their platforms for as long as possible, these companies employ practices that put their users at risk.
Social networks are here to stay-- they are an essential part of the so-called Digital Revolution, and they provide multiple benefits. Generally, platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter are associated with innovation, but these technological giants have fallen short when it comes to implementing mechanisms that address their multiple failings.
From problems with privacy to the radicalization of ideas (political, religious, social), to the rise of superficial figures as popular idols and an ecosystem where disinformation flourishes-- social networks have a dark side that is fought with reluctance, as was revealed by Frances Haugen, a former Facebook executive.
Haugen released to The Wall Street Journal and CBS a series of internal documents that indicate that Facebook prioritizes its extreme growth over the safety of its users. Let’s look at just two of these revelations:
Instagram is “toxic” for teens
According to internal Facebook documents, a study conducted by the company itself indicated that they knew that its social network Instagram was “toxic” for some teenagers. Almost a third (32%) of teens said that when they felt bad about their body, Instagram made them feel worse.
On September 27, in the midst of these revelations, Facebook announced a pause to the launch of “Instagram Kids,” a version of the platform for children under 13 years of age.
Filter bubbles and radicalization of ideas
The algorithms of social networks analyze the user’s behaviors and tastes. This data is used to provide you with personalized content and advertising suggestions. There is a problem with this: if the algorithm only presents me with topics and ideas that I agree with, I am being ideologically isolated.
Filter bubbles are a social phenomenon in which a person surrounds himself only with those who think the same way, without allowing for dialogue or exposure to new ideas. This isolation can lead to radicalization.
An extensive four-year study conducted by the University of Virginia McIntire School of Commerce analyzed browsing data from 200,000 users on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and other sites. The study found that Facebook in particular tends to polarize users, especially conservatives.
For example, the researchers found that during the months when conservative users visited Facebook more than usual, they read news that was 30% more conservative than the online news they would normally read.
What can we do?
Facebook denies Haugen's allegations, saying the data is taken out of context. The funny thing is that other entities, including universities, have conducted research that raises similar questions.
Although social networks allow us to interact virtually with people from all over the world, using them excessively disconnects us from reality and the people who are physically around us. Therefore, you should limit your usage time and establish usage guidelines for your children.
It is important that parents provide their children-- especially adolescents-- with opportunities for interaction, and spend time together, away from the screens.
The radicalization of ideas can be combated when we open ourselves up to other perspectives. Therefore, it is advisable to consume information from serious and professional media outlets such as La Noticia, where we make a great effort to verify the information we publish and where we address different points of view.
You can find this article in Spanish here