By now, people have realized that they shouldn’t put a lot of really personal information about themselves on the Internet. Some things that people thought were harmless or just venting have come back to bite them. It has caused people to lose their jobs, been denied on an insurance claim, landed them in jail, and a myriad of other catastrophic outcomes.
At the centre of all this chaos is the medium behind all this information. The most notorious one being Facebook. I have been in the computer industry for over 40 years but have intentionally avoided all social media until this point. I have embarked on a project that requires the use of social media in order to enhance the outcome so I am now standing on the precipice of deciding which ones to join and which should be avoided.
The general consensus is that Facebook is a necessity. I am a little disheartened by this realization but with all the data in favour of the company, I will have to hold my nose as I hit that Submit button. I was also advised to sign up for Instagram and Pinterest. Let’s look at some of the problems that have been caused by the social media platforms.
The Almighty Facebook
Facebook, the company we all love to hate. I don’t think any other platform has been accused of causing as many problems on social media as this company. It started off as a good thing. But it has been accused of aiding the Russians in their campaign to influence the 2016 & 2018 U.S. elections. They have recently announced that they will now block White-Nationalist, White-Separatist posts.
People are already complaining that this is censorship. What passes as hate speech? If it is an “incitement to violence”. The company’s workforce of human censors, known as content reviewers, have deleted posts by activists and journalists in disputed territories such as Palestine, Kashmir, Crimea and Western Sahara. It does not permit “hate speech”, which it defines as including content that directly attacks people because of their race or ethnicity.
Content reviewers are trained on how to apply the company’s global hate speech algorithm. The algorithm is designed to defend all races and genders equally. Facebook deletes curses, slurs, calls for violence and several other types of attacks only when they are directed at “protected categories”—based on race, sex, gender identity, religious affiliation, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation and serious disability/disease.
Not only is Facebook a surveillance machine, it is also a technology that facilitates us watching each other. We curate our self-identity on a profile and scroll through our newsfeeds to watch and lurk others. Facebook is a surveillance monster and if we’re going to challenge the pervasiveness of this culture of visibility, we need to slay it. Either hit that delete button or configure those privacy settings to max. This is important for protecting not only ourselves, but also others who might be in your friends list and commenting on your posts. If you are not careful, you can easily become a mule to compromise all your friends.
I say responsibility has to start somewhere. The victims being targeted are so naïve and inexperienced that they are being taken advantage of by the trolls who hide behind these monolithic machines of mass disinformation.
When it was revealed that Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica to harvest the personal data of millions of people’s profiles without their consent and used it for monetary gain and political purposes, I was so turned off by the company. The lesson I have taken from this is to give as little information as possible on my profile. Everything we enter into our computers should be treated as if it was for public view, with the exception of encrypted personal/banking info.
How powerful is a piece of data like your phone number? Other identifiable information is attached to the phone number. You can be targeted with seemingly legitimate advertising when it is actually propaganda. Facebook said that it was making changes to how apps, connecting through their site, can collect data on users. The company will better protect user data, limiting which apps can request access to user check-ins, likes, photos, posts and videos; and limiting what search results will return when users type in a person’s phone number.
When Facebook users found that an Android app was collecting and uploading call and message logs, the company said it will limit the data uploaded. They also said they will delete “all logs older than one year.”
Facebook exploited children
More problems caused by social media, Facebook has been reprimanded by Apple. Since 2016, they have been paying users aged 13 to 35, up to $20 per month plus referral fees to sell their privacy by installing the iOS or Android “Facebook Research” VPN app. The company monitors all data going in and out of a given device, independent of the app used to transmit data, giving the company unrestricted access to messages, emails, and browsing activity. An app which claimed to “help” keep you and your data safe when you go online, by blocking potentially harmful websites and securing your personal information, was discovered to be collecting and sending usage data to Facebook, including about the frequency with which non-browsers were used, even when the VPN functionality was disabled. Apple has informed Facebook that the app must be removed from the Apple Store.
Facebook acquired Onavo in 2013 and used data collected through Onavo to determine “which companies to acquire, and which to treat as a threat.” Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp for $19 billion in February 2014 was the result of the accumulation and analysis of data retrieved through Onavo. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had access to this kind of information before making important business decisions?
And selling user personal data
A former employee turned whistleblower revealed that Facebook’s data privacy policies allowed for a London-based political analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, to collect data without consent. Facebook will begin informing users if their data may have been “improperly shared” with Cambridge Analytica. Facebook ignores your choice of whether you wish to share your data or not and does whatever it wants. That is the price of using something that is free.
All this negative publicity about a company should make someone want to turn and run from it. Instead, people are still embracing it as “too big to fail”. Until a comparable ethical platform comes along, we are all slaves to this monolithic corrupt corporation.
Start with searching for old accounts from your past and finding methods of having them shut down and removed from the Internet. Close down any photo album or blog that you don’t want hostile users pilfering data from. Delete any pseudonyms that can be linked to your legal name. And finally, max out your privacy settings on all of your current social media accounts.
Your memberships across social media platforms are your biggest source of insecurity. For many, your social media accounts are defaulted to public and an appalling amount of personal data can easily be made publicly accessible to anyone with the mind to look.
The cost of social media
When my small business first brought computers into our offices in 1988, some employees became obsessed with chat rooms and watching YouTube videos for most of the day. I was disgusted with this as these employees were causing a lot of resentment with the people who were actually working. It took a while to work out a policy to make everyone happy. After seeing how much time is wasted on these types of pursuits, I vowed that I would never engage in such wasteful antics. I was morally against these types of enterprises.
Over the years, the number of companies engaging in these activities has only increased. Wherever I go, I see people’s heads bent down looking at their phones. They could be reading news but most likely they are engaged in one of the social media networks. The New York Post did a study and found that the average employee spends at least 5 hours per week doing personal things at work. It usually isn’t all social media. It includes things like reading personal emails, paying bills online, shopping online or watching highlights from a previous night’s sporting event. Having worked in many offices, I can tell you that the number is much higher than 5 hours. But just using that number, multiplied by all the workers in the U.S., that adds up to $15.5 Billion dollars of lost productivity every WEEK. We should almost be educating our children at the lowest elementary level to refrain from this behaviour when they start working. That is the only way we can combat this destructive conduct in the future.
Social media is costing us not only money, but some people’s emotional well being and intellectual development. There have been several incidents of children being bullied so bad that they have chosen to commit suicide. Do we need monitoring and who should do it? Now that we have seen the damage it can cause, should we expect businesses that have created the social media scene, to start working in a more responsible manner? This technology will not go away. In fact it is proliferating daily. Devices and programs are getting better and faster and we are all hooked.
Are we all on our own? Each person, family, company must make their own rules and hope that our own small circle doesn’t get influenced by someone with less restrictions in another circle? Microsoft is calling on the tech industry to make guidelines about what should and shouldn’t be shared on technology platforms following the massacre in Christchurch which was broadcast on social media. When are we all going to say “enough, something has to be done”?
It is a moral and ethical dilemma and one that won’t get solved for a very long time. As one deadly incident follows another, we are being forced to ponder what can be done. I am afraid it is going to take an apocalypse of epic proportion before anything is done about limitations. The problems caused by social media usage is an issue that will follow us for decades.
The moral of the story is, use it and enjoy it, but be responsible. Teach your children to be responsible as well. If we treat everyone as if they were our family, we could enjoy everything this platform has to offer without fear.
Thanks for reading my post. If you have any comments or questions, please add them in the box below and I will be happy to reply.