In theory, it sounds nice: make a social media platform where friends and family can stay in touch by sharing life bits and photos; organize get-togethers and spread the word about good things happening. That is what Facebook looked like from a distance back when it started. To be fair, so did other social media platforms.
It took me a while to be convinced to hop onboard with Facebook at the insistence of friends across the world who wanted to stay connected. That was back in 2009. Even so, I was reluctant to share much. I was and still am too enamoured with the real world. Virtual sharing just doesn’t do it.
The fact that any posted photos become property of Facebook or Instagram for example, adds more reluctance. I came across of the most eloquent statements, sobering too, about copyright murkiness in social media in a Washington Post article: ‘The Internet is the place where nothing goes to die.’
Still, being social is good, right? Not always. We all remember Amanda Todd, the teenage girl from Coquitlam who took her own life in October 2012 after being harassed, shamed and cyberbullied through numerous Facebook posts.
That could happen, we all learned. The bullying did not stop until it was too late, and it kept on going even after her death. Was that an isolated case? Hardly so.
According to a survey by UK anti-bullying organization Ditch The Label, 54 percent of young people between 12 and 20 said they were bullied online. A 2017 report said the bullying happened mostly on Instagram (42 percent), followed by Facebook (37 percent) and then Snapchat (31 percent.) So yes, it happens.
It could be anyone’s child, and we are the bystanders. I dropped off Facebook back in 2012, unable to make peace with that reality. Much of our social professional lives though happen through Facebook, which is where it gets complicated. Even the recent Unplug and Play event was coordinated via Facebook, an irony not lost on many I am sure.
While we can objectively assess the benefits, we must acknowledge that cyberbullying is real and children and teens have no proper means to keep safe. How could they though when they are up against questionable policies?
A recent documentary aired on CBC titled ‘Inside Facebook: Secrets of the Social Network’ exposed the way this social media platform moderates its disturbing content. Anything bad goes, right? Well, spoiler alert: it doesn’t. Positive happenings along with event planning, social support for worthy causes and so on, coexist with the ‘necessary’ evil to the point of making it tolerable.
But evil should not be tolerated. ‘If in doubt, remove’ sounds like good sorting policy to any of us. To those behind the design, that kind of policy means loss of revenue since increased traffic means money in the end.
And money is being made, sometimes via the most vulnerable of users. The newly released Messenger Kids app is at the heart of a big controversy which made the organization Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood declare Facebook unfit to make products for children.
It turns out that Facebook has been making big money from purchases made by its youngest customers, some as young as five, who would play online games and thus deplete their parents’ credit cards. That aside from the fact that children are harmed in other ways by social media (increased depression, poor sleep habits and unhealthy body image,) according to the website. A view supported by many health and tech experts.
What’s the solution? Facebook is so enmeshed in our lives that doing without is simply a no can do for many; so are Instagram and Snapchat. Where there’s profit to be made things will only get worse from here. Unless we choose better. We can change things by demanding better policies and adopting better ways of sharing life information.
Our kids have strong presences online even before they understand the very concept. A 2018 report by MediaSmarts, a Canadian digital and media literacy organization revealed that 4 in 10 Canadian parents post photos and other information about their kids online.
Those fragments of personal information help build an online profile that is followed by tailored ads. Every ‘like’ adds yet another detail. Sounds conspiratorial and I wish it was.
With that in mind, here are some questions: What are we willing to share knowing that it will stay there forever, and what bargain are we settling for knowing that there is an ugly side to social media sharing? Are we willing to allowing someone to influence our choices, from the simplest day-to-day ones to the complex ones that have to with political allegiances?
Freedom to think and choose is our biggest asset, aside from time itself. Neither should be given up easily. As for our kids, we ought to lead the way by keeping on the safe side. Digital literacy is no longer a maybe but a must, and we must lead by example. That is the first step towards changing things for the better.