Social media and me: Holding companies accountable 

Social media and me: Holding companies accountable 

Erica Jiang, Staff Writer

“Your phone is eating your brain alive.” 

We have all probably heard this comment at least once in our lives. From Instagram to TikTok to Facebook, there are a myriad of issues stemming from the social media platforms on our phones. I often catch myself scrolling mindlessly through my feed, spending hours caught up in the algorithms and sacrificing my mental wellbeing for short-term entertainment. 

Social media can and has been used to perpetuate divisive rhetoric and harm younger users, as detailed by the Wall Street Journal in the recent document leak, the “Facebook Files.” On Sunday, October 3, Frances Haugen came out as the primary source for the files in an episode of 60-Minutes and later testified in front of the Senate on October 5. As a former product manager at the company, she claimed that Facebook’s leadership repeatedly prioritized profit over the safety of their users. 

Before she left the company last May, Haugen gathered internal reports and research in order to demonstrate that Facebook willfully chose not to fix the problems presented on its platform. During her testimony, Haugen emphasized the idea that Facebook’s engagement-based ranking algorithm provokes the spread of misinformation, hate speech, and even ethnic violence. Many individuals who oppose the influence of Facebook and Instagram, typically focus on its content and censorship policy. However, Haugen blamed the malignancy of social media platforms on the algorithm and platform design, as they tend to favor outrageous content which sparks debate and conflict. Additionally, the files revealed that Instagram is worsening mental health among teenage girls. Haugen connected this phenomenon to engagement-based ranking systems as well, and told the Senate that it “is causing teenagers to be exposed to more anorexia content.” 

Growing up in an increasingly technological world, I developed strong, false perceptions of my own body and wondered why my life didn’t look like the ones portrayed online. Throughout my early childhood life, I never really thought about how my body looked, what I was wearing, or how my Asian features contrasted those of my predominantly white peers. But that was at a time when the only media I consumed was watching male soccer players on the pitch. After expanding to social media platforms such as Instagram and YouTube, I began to watch as slim, white girls presented clothing hauls, went to the beach, or attended galas in tight corsets. It became ingrained in my mind that a girl should always have a flat stomach and a thigh gap, or she wasn’t taking care of herself. I constantly kept an eye out for a promising new workout or diet and constantly found myself even more unsatisfied after I completed one. “If they can look like that after this regimen, why can’t I?” 

My body was not the only aspect of me I compared to images I saw online: I also envied their lifestyles. I glamourized the lives of YouTubers and Instagram influencers, forgetting that what they show online is merely a highlight reel of their life. I thought it was normal to never have bad days or to never experience troubles in school or at home. I developed a habit of living vicariously through their experiences and in thinking that mine weren’t exciting enough. Once again, I wondered why I was so dissimilar to them and why I couldn’t just fit in. 

Although it can be hard to let go of these notions of dissatisfaction, it is critical that, as social media users, we do not fade into the world of social media. We must constantly distinguish between the often false perceptions of life portrayed in the media and the reality of our world. If a post triggers negative thoughts, it is best to scroll on to the next post or put down your phone. 

While a solution to this addictive behavior could simply be turning on Do Not Disturb, larger media companies such as Facebook should also be held accountable for protecting their users and putting morals over profit. As we spiral into a technological age, it is as crucial as ever for platforms to take it upon themselves to create healthy environments. 

Companies need to shift away from general engagement-based ranking algorithms to chronological feeds or more specific algorithms that track user’s interactions with certain posts. It would be better to promote posts tailored to what the user has liked or saved, rather than posts that all the users on the platform find most provoking. In the meantime, as users, though we are not able to fully disassociate from social media, we should always keep in mind the negative effects of it as we engage, remembering to put our own wellbeing over the false images we see in the media.