The necessity of holding social media companies accountable


Matthew Dimaandal

FILTERING THROUGH FEEDS: Students are exposed to social media everyday, making regulation critical.

Rhea Gupta, Viewpoint Editor

Gen Z has essentially grown up around social media, influencing our interactions with peers, personal perception and participation in politics. Recently, with the Facebook whistleblower, the intentions of large social media corporations have come under further scrutiny. These corporations wield great power over the public, with the ability to easily sway public opinion as well as individual perception depending on the content their algorithm pushes.
With this power comes the responsibility of prioritizing public interests over financial gains, but social media corporations have historically been negligent, playing a prominent role in dividing society by allowing political extremist groups to flourish and spreading political propaganda as well as creating unrealistic standards that have a toll on mental health.
Based on research conducted by Pew Research Center, 72% of the public uses some type of social media. A large percentage of the population is put at an increased risk of anxiety, depression, media-induced eating disorders and more. The infuriating part of all this is that major social media corporations are aware of the negative impacts their platforms have on the public.
Frances Haugen, a former data scientist at Facebook and the Facebook whistleblower, provided the public with content illustrating that this tech giant purposefully allowed political unrest and harmed children all for “astronomical profits.” According to Haugen, Facebook consistently chose to value greater profits and maximize growth rather than implement safeguards on its platform.
The company targeted younger users by designing an algorithm that would amplify those teen’s insecurities by directing ads and content to exploit their insecurities. Facebook reports publicly revealed by Haugen found that 13.5% and 17% of teen girls said that Instagram makes their suicidal thoughts and eating disorders worse, respectively.
“Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests,” Haugen said to CBS News. “As these young women begin to consume this eating disorder content, they get more and more depressed. It actually makes them use the app more. And so they end up in this feedback cycle where they hate their bodies more and more.” Instagram should have stricter policies that verify if a user is 13 or under to combat the many eager children who lie about their age. By implementing a system like this, a good portion of minors will not be exposed to inappropriate or depreciating content that could possibly induce negative mental health issues. Moreover, tech corporations should be obligated to share their research and findings that have a negative impact on a percentage of the population.
Social media also plays a vital role in creating division within communities. The division in America’s political system is only driven further with the assistance of social media. Social media corporations have taken advantage of the polarized state of American politics by designing and utilizing an algorithm that promotes extremist and misleading content to capture greater attention and ad revenues, thus further driving the division between political parties.
Facebook researcher Monica Lee found in 2016 that the Facebook algorithm was responsible for the rapid growth of extremist groups as “64% of all extremist group joins are due to the recommendation tools” such as the “Groups You Should Join” and “Discover” algorithms. Later, a Facebook spokesperson claimed that Facebook had since then ”strengthened policies and practices to limit harmful content,” but clearly these claims are false. Facebook files that Haugen revealed to the public showed that even after the 2020 elections, Facebook willingly ignored the fact that extremists were joining the app for their personal gain of more content engagement. Anti-corruption reforms need to be made to hold social media corporations accountable. Social media companies should be prioritizing the needs of the public over financial gains. Tech companies need to change their algorithm so it doesn’t automatically favor hateful or radical content.
On top of this, they should be required to aggressively screen for fake news, dangerous or violence inciting content by the government. These companies have the tool of utilizing AI, which they should put to good use. Social media companies are gradually becoming the source of news for many and they need to be accountable and held to the same standards that any print or visual media is held.