An average user of facebook spends an hour everyday on the site. That’s a lot of time on a single website considering the many researches recently into how sleep deprivation is affecting many millennials and has evolved into a chronic health issue.
According to this Harvard Business Review study, there is a clear linkage between FB usage and your state of emotional well being. Apparently the more you use FB, the more worse you feel. However, this article does not seek to discuss the mental health issues associated with FB usage but direct real world effects or rather side effects of the usage of the social media giant.
I read this horrifying article recently on CNN where a child bride was auctioned off on facebook for 500 cows, three cars and $10k in cash. Setting aside the disgusting spectacle of a father selling his own minor daughter for dowry to the highest bidder, this news item made me reflect on how far the social media channel is used for immoral, unethical or outright illegal acts in the recent times.
Facebook is now being actively used by far right activists across the globe for spreading falsehoods (or in Donald Trump’s immortal words “Fake News”), for building hysteria and spewing hatred against people of colour and different ethnicities and more recently, for inciting violence against the Rohingya community in Myanmar. This is a far cry from the plaudits that the networking site earned in 2011 as a catalyst of the Arab Spring and a vehicle for free expression of views and for spreading democracy across the world.
So what happened?
It seems that as the world netizens became ever more entwined and interconnected on the social media behemoth, the most radical and the most repressive ideological outfits & regimes wised up as to how FB can be used as a tool to further their goals given the absence of a filter that usually comes with regular media organizations such as news organizations. As people spend more and more time on the social network, their views continue to be shaped by the flood of information and fake news that appears in their News Feed every day in the portal. Unfortunately its a fact that the more incendiary a FB post is (which has more chances of spreading bigotry and fake news), the more the attention it attracts on the site and the more it appears in the News Feed of a huge selection of the populace due to the way the algorithms work according to this article.
Facebook has already received serious judicial, congressional and legal scrutiny on the infamous role its media platform played in spreading fake news in the 2016 presidential elections in the US and incorrectly shaping the views of the voting public in the run up to the elections. Elsewhere, children and teenagers are spending more and more time on the network enamoured by the social connect it bestows attracting the attention (sometimes) of pedophiles, kidnappers and other social vermin.
Given the clear evidence as discussed above of the social, mental and real world perils of the improper and excessive use of the social media platform, is unplugging from the platform the only way ahead? Not necessarily.
The networking site continues to be an important connector of people across different parts of the world and of promoting bigger people to people contacts (though it’s to be admitted that the HBR study suggests that more time on FB reduces face-to-face human interaction) and is an unavoidable part of the online presence of the virtual world. What is needed however, is a moderation of the usage of the site, placing limits on the sharing of intimate personal details that makes one vulnerable to online (and even real world) attacks and a healthy skepticism of any purported news that’s being shared in the sites. News organizations with their vigourous attention to fact checking and best reporting practices are always a better alternative as sources of social, economic and political news.