How Social Media is Taking Advantage of Your Data

What began with meaningful purposes to help connect friends around the world has turned into a money machine that misuses user’s data daily, Facebook has seen its fair share of backlash. Social media is relatively new and with that comes trial and error. It has been quick to become a fabric of today’s society, making it extremely hard to avoid, especially for me, a college student in their early 20’s. I use different platforms in different ways, utilizing Facebook in particular for my sorority and other college related groups. Over the course of the past three years I have come to face the truth of what Facebook has become, manipulative and secretive.

In chapter 7 of Cal Newport’s book, Digital Minimalism, he talks about how Facebook presents “itself as a foundational technology, like electricity or mobile telephony- something that everyone should just use, as it would be weird if you didn’t” (Newport, 218). This is cultural need to use their software keeps the eyes and interests of billions of people. Because they rack up so much revenue from their mobile advertising, the emphasis on making their software vital at all times was important to their company. Their mobile app allows users to access Facebook when they’re out or away from their computer, which makes them more money. In recent years, users have used Facebook for possible benefits, rather than specific and meaningful purposes. Newport emphasizes the importance of using these sites for particular activities. For example, I first created a Facebook account and used it every minute that I came home from school. I used it for no real purpose, other than to be on Facebook. I saw who was online, randomly poked people, posted random statuses, and waited around for others to post. As I shifted into a high school, it became a little more tunnel vision. I would post albums for family members to see or to catch up with old friends. As I transitioned to college, Facebook began to have a meaningful purpose to me. Like I stated earlier, I use Facebook almost exclusively to receive updates from my sorority and to receive invitations to events.

I  may have escaped Facebook’s grasp on my attention, but they still sell my data and they also have billions of others who have yet to filter their uses. Facebook already has a profile of me to sell to advertisers and just because I habitually scroll through my news feed anymore doesn’t mean they can’t make money off of me anymore. The social media site has had its troubles recently with its privacy policy, but that isn’t stopping them. In 2016, the Cambridge Analytical scandal shocked the nation when we learned that user’s data was being used without consent to create targeted political ads, Business Insider explains (Chan, 2019). If someone you were friends with on Facebook had taken a quiz created by Cambridge Analytica, they could also use your information.

This issue affects us all, not just those who are using social media habitually. Facebook has manipulated society more than we think. Because they have already made their mess, they already have all the information they need. They have gotten over many scandals by throwing bones at the public, vowing to make changes to their privacy policy so that people will continue to use their software all day and every day. These changes still allow for them to use your data, but allows you to see what they are doing with it. This promise to become more transparent is still in its early days, but people are buying into it. Because Facebook has become such a huge social aspect of our society, they are able to push the envelope and still regain loyalty from MOST of their users. While some deactivated their accounts after Cambridge Analytical, many didn’t and still continue to use it as normal.

Circling back to Newport’s point, by taking part in the attention resistance movement, we as a society can help others break their attention away from Facebook and other sites that are abusing our data. We cannot fully remove social media, but we can tailor how we use it. I have been trying to focus on what purposes I have for visiting certain apps and sites. What am I looking to accomplish? How can I find that focus before slipping into endless scrolling? I urge you to take a deep dive into your social media habits. How can you use it to enhance your professional and personal life rather than as a time filler?
 

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