Facebook Isn’t Free

Paul Sullivan
  • Paul Sullivan
  • 28 mars, 2019

Facebook Isn’t Free

With the slogan “Bringing the World Closer Together,” social network platform Facebook seems to make a lot of promises. Indeed, Facebook has ushered in the era of social media; not only can you talk to anyone else in the world, but you can get an instant overview of someone’s life and activities simply by typing a name or clicking a link. Yet just as its users seem to be “closer,” Facebook has also unleashed a swarm of disasters, which bear legal, social, and even health consequences.

The Business of Information

Facebook is one of the top four tech giants of our age, with revenue in the double-digit billions. It makes its money principally through advertising, but that’s not to say that it throws the same ads at everyone. Rather, Facebook’s advertising is incredibly sophisticated, capitalizing on user information to target potential buyers and generate user engagement. In other words, everything you see on Facebook is specifically marketed to you. Facebook has more than enough information on you to do this, so it’s no surprise that this is how Facebook turns a profit.

But Facebook investor Roger McNamee writes that “Facebook sometimes traded [its] data to get better business deals.” He explains that Facebook, mining from oceans of data, sold its users’ information, allowing foreign powers during the 2016 American election to share fake news in order to sow dissension and further divide American people.

The problem grows even wider, and doesn’t merely affect politics. Facebook influences our everyday lives. According to a 2014 study, 44% of Americans used Facebook as their principal news source. That number alone shows to what point the social media—then a young company—had successfully vanquished journalism. As fewer and fewer people rely on traditional journalism, our perception of facts becomes increasingly skewed. As McNamee explains, “Facebook’s algorithms promote extreme messages over neutral ones, which can elevate disinformation over information, conspiracy theories over facts.” Facebook being what it is, it often only shows users content they would agree with, or at least content that would garner a reaction. In so doing, Facebook polarizes its users and helps disseminate false information.

The Long-Term

You might ask: if we’re not politically involved, if we don’t use Facebook as a source of news, if we are extremely careful about the information we share on the web—it can’t be that bad, can it? Science shows that yes, it can.

Numerous studies have proven that social media use can result in overall reduced quality of life, and even seriously impact one’s emotional health. This effect is particularly pronounced among young people, but technically affects people of all ages. Time spent on Facebook has been correlated with elevated rates of stress and anxiety, tendency towards depression, and general dissatisfaction with one’s life. Two German studies found a direct link between time spent on Facebook and users’ negative feelings. You may be tempted to say of this is the result of us being “bad at Facebook.” But the truth is that we excel at Facebook—and that’s precisely the problem.

Like author Simon Sinek says of today’s world, “We are very good at putting a filter on things.” It doesn’t matter how good your vacation was, whether you are actually excited about your new job/car/engagement, or if you are as good-looking and lucky as your Instagram profile makes you seem. Provided you have enough experience with it, you can use social media to make everything look amazing. We may look like we have it all figured out, even if we don’t have a clue.

Because media has become so visual, it is often more important to look a certain way than be a certain way. If you scroll through your feed and see only Hollywood-worthy shots of someone’s life, you might presume that they are simply living it up. That’s precisely why social media is so damaging. As it interferes with politics and disrupts the role of journalism, Facebook also forces us to look only on the surface, and the result is a ripple effect on our lives and countries.

The Solution

Since it poses such new problems and features such sophisticated technology, Facebook is a hard platform to fix. But it is not impossible. Specialists in journalism, law, and technology all have suggested similar things. For one, we need laws that protect our information and stop media from selling it. There also needs to be some kind of control on what images and notions spread on Facebook, as a way to distinguish reliable sources from unreliable ones. Lastly, we need to educate people on the greater effects of heavy social media usage.

Discussion Questions

1. On the whole, do you think Facebook is a positive force in our lives, or a negative one? What about other social media like Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram?

2. Does social media affect your job, directly or indirectly?

3. Are you worried about the effect social media has on people’s lives?

4. Do you think it’s a good thing to have advertisements aimed specifically at you?

5. The end of this article suggests a number of solutions. How do you think it would be possible to:

a) Protect people’s information?

b) Control the spread of information to favour reliable sources?

c) Educate people on the health consequences of social media?