Tripod Editorial: On Limiting Social Media in Light of WSJ Investigation

A recent investigation conducted by Jeff Horwitz of The Wall Street Journal reveals that, as many may have guessed, Facebook Inc. is well aware of the fact that its platform is infested with flaws that do nothing but harm its users. These flaws cause a certain kind of harm that only the company can fully comprehend, and The Wall Street Journal’s study reveals that the researchers at Facebook, despite the fact that the ill effects of the platform are increasingly evident to those inside of the company, have done nothing to fix them. This is manipulation at its finest, and those that are arguably affected the most by this lack of transparency and regard for users tend to be younger populations; like us. Facebook continually ignores the media exposés and congressional hearings regarding this issue. 

Mark Zuckerberg has said that Facebook allows its users to speak on “equal footing with the elites of politics, culture, and journalism” and that its standards apply to everyone. Yet behind the scenes, the company has exempted some higher-profile users from these rules. Zuckerberg claimed that he was aiming to strengthen bonds between users, and even improve their well-being by encouraging interactions between friends and family online. 

If you use Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tik Tok, or another one of the popular social media platforms that dictate our everyday life as young people in this day in age, you’re aware that they are capable of negatively affecting one’s mental health. Even if you haven’t directly experienced this kind of mental strain, odds are you know someone who has suffered from the negative effects of social media. The algorithms foster addiction, discord, and self-hate, and there is no way around it thanks to its creators. Mark Zuckerberg has also denied the extent to which the apps harm users, stating that the research shows that “using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental health benefits,” an attempt to frame the incriminating findings in a positive light. The Wall Street Journal exposé however, reveals that the opposite is true. In studies conducted by the company itself, researchers at Facebook found that some problems were specific to Instagram and weren’t seen as often on other social media platforms. Particularly, social comparison, in which users would assess their own value in relation to the wealth, success, and attractiveness of others, is much worse on Instagram. Instagram revolves around appearance, the body, and lifestyle. 

During a congressional hearing this past March, Zuckerberg was asked if the company had studied the app’s effects on children, and he answered with the lack-luster response “I believe the answer is yes.” It’s fairly apparent that these people in charge do not care about what their apps do to the mental health of users, they only care that we still use them. When Senators Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn called on Zuckerberg to release Facebook’s internal research on the impact of its platforms on youth mental health, Facebook responded with a six-page letter that omitted the company’s studies. Additionally, Facebook told senators that its internal research is “kept confidential to promote frank and open dialogue and brainstorming internally.” Have you ever heard a more deceitful and evasive response?  

The only way we can beat this system is to refuse to participate in it. That may be asking a lot, since the majority of our social lives revolve around these applications. But think of it this way: wouldn’t it be a small victory to receive the dreaded screen-time notification at the end of the week and not feel intense self-loathing once you realize you spent 8+ hours scrolling on Tik Tok? Wouldn’t it be nice to get that number down so that you can reflect on your day without a blue-light induced migraine? Aren’t you a little tired of getting into an argument with an adult, and always hearing “You think that way because of your damned addiction to that phone… It’s always that phone… It’s melting your brain.” Let us attempt to think for ourselves, think without the constant stimulation and constant urge to compare what we’re doing, wearing, who we’re talking to, and what we’re talking about to others. 

At the end of the day, what matters is what you accomplished and how you feel, and if you spent the living a flat existence through a two-dimensional screen, what will you have to show for yourself at the end of the week, month, year, or even your time at Trinity? It’s early enough in the year to make this a goal for the semester and start now. Social media can feel like an addiction, and quitting cold-turkey could be a difficult task to take on. However, limiting your time spent on your phone bit by bit at a time is a much more attainable way of ensuring usage of these apps does not get to your head too much. Cut that screen time report down by mere minutes each week, and ease yourself off the crutch of comparison that Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Tik Tok, and all those other platforms provide. 

-KJN        

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