‘Facebook’, the brainchild of a young entrepreneur, Mark Zuckerberg, has now become equivalent to food for its users. The first thing done by young adults and teenagers when they open their eyes early in the morning is to scroll through Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. It’s a long list. Facebook is not the only one to blame, it’s one of the many to be blamed. Even after getting control of almost eighty percent of teenagers’ lives, Zuckerberg was still hungry for attention. Consequently, he went and bought Instagram and WhatsApp in 2012 and 2014, respectively. These sites are not selling any product, they are selling the users’ attention. Us, the consumers have become mere products in the hands of these the internet. Doesn’t it surprise you, how suddenly your Instagram or Facebook feed page is full of advertisements of some particular products of which you have been surfing on other websites like Myntra, or maybe Amazon? It is not a coincidence. Everything is being recorded. We are under a constant watch by these predators of attention. Humans have become mere puppets in the hands of computers and their algorithms. Today, more decisions are made by computers than by humans.
As stated by The Wall Street Journal, “Facebook Inc. knows, in acute detail, that its platforms are idled with flaws that cause harm, often in ways only the company fully understands.” The internal documents leaked by Frances Haugen, a former product manager at Facebook, popularly now known as ‘whistleblower’, have vividly stated the wounding effects of these predators on adolescents and the fact that Facebook has been aware of its harmful and unhealthy effects. Facebook since the beginning has been making profits and minting money at the cost of its consumers’ mental health which includes a sizable amount of teenagers, especially girls. In Haugen's words, “Facebook consistently resolved those conflicts in favour of its profits. The result has been more division, more harm, more lies, more threats, and more combat.”
Quoting from an article from The News Minute about Frances Haugen, “She anonymously filed complaints with US federal law enforcement that Facebook’s research shows how it magnifies hate and misinformation, leads to increased polarization and that Instagram, specifically, can harm the mental health of teenage girls.” Haugen also revealed how Facebook, especially Instagram is feeding on people’s emotions. It is a proven fact that it is easier to instigate anger than any other emotion. This is the strategy that Facebook’s algorithm has been using to mint money when it tweaked its encryption model in 2018. The algorithm cherry-picks posts that inspire rage in its consumers to gather maximum engagement on the platform.
Following the documents ousted by Haugen, Congress and regulators have begun to investigate the million-dollar company. What we need is greater transparency on social media platforms. These platforms have been recurrently called ‘addictive’ and ‘toxic’. These sites are themselves morally bankrupt and have turned their consumers into the same. The photo-posting site, Instagram, has developed a sense of insecurity among teenage girls that relates to body-image issues. Young girls have become uncomfortable in their bodies because of the constant reminder by Instagram that to have a good number of followers, one needs to have a modellike body. Followers are nothing but the mere attention of a set of people. Teenagers on this site have a constant pressure of keeping up with the trends and the “pressure to be perfect” just so they can keep their so-called ‘followers’ entertained without realizing that it is happening at their expense. This badgering has led to eating disorders and mental trauma at such tender ages. This is nothing but toxic.
Although Mr. Zuckerberg invented this platform to keep everyone connected from miles away, there is a clear conflict of interest between what is good for people and what is good for Facebook. As said by Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, “Big tech companies have gotten away with abusing consumers for too long”. The crux of the issue is that Facebook is in control of hundred percent of the algorithms. When Haugen was asked for a solution, she suggested that content be shared based on the chronological ranking with a reduction in spam.
Facebook is still ravenous for data. Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, on September 27th, 2021, said that they are building a new platform called “Instagram Kids” but are pausing the work for now to strengthen parental supervision tools on the current application. In his words, “We started this project to address an important problem seen across our industry: kids are getting phones younger and younger, misrepresenting their age, and downloading apps that are meant for those 13 or older.” To address this issue, Instagram has decided that it is best to provide a new platform for children under 13 for an Instagram experience. A conflict of interest is seen again between what is good for the consumers and what is good for Facebook. This platform is another way for Facebook to exploit children, now under the age of 13. As Haugen said, “They have to make sure that the next generation is just as engaged with Instagram as the current one, and the way they’ll do that is by making sure that children establish habits before they have good self-regulation.”
To conclude, there is enough and more evidence to prove that Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat, and many more are just feeding on our attention and selling us as products. The negative effects of these platforms have overruled the motive behind their invention. The main objective was to keep people connected from across the globe. But more than achieving its main goal, it has become a predator of our conscience destroying the productivity of multiple lives, especially teenagers.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Brief Bulletin.