Commentary: With the ability to contact anyone at any time and connect like never before, apps like Instagram and Facebook have helped increase stress amongst the younger generation.
By Joe Gucciardo
Whistleblower Frances Haugen's testimony before a Senate committee on October 4, 2021 revealed that online internet giant Facebook uses algorithms that expose teenagers to content that could assist in them developing an eating disorder.
"It's just like cigarettes. Teens don't have good self-regulation," Haugen said. "They say, 'I feel bad when I use Instagram, but yet I can't stop'. Kids are saying, 'I am unhappy when I use Instagram, and I can't stop. If I leave, I'm afraid I'll be ostracized.'"
We’ve all seen posts on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok -- such as this one -- that show sugary foods being baked in real-time on a time-lapse. It's posts like this that Haugen believes are assisting in the development of eating disorders. She says Facebook is aware of the issues but won’t make adjustments to help combat this problem.
Social media has had a tremendous impact on modern society. It allows people to communicate and reach out in ways never seen before, and it also allows for content to be consumed in many different ways. Smaller social circles have also been affected by this, as they can communicate away from school, work, or other programs and organizations.
However, there is a much darker aspect to social media’s influence on society that needs addressing. And possible eating disorders aren’t the only ongoing issue.
One of the most prominent social media conflics amongst younger generations is cyberbullying, or bullying that takes place in an online landscape.
Anna Weddington, a school counselor for Anderson Elementary in New Hanover County in North Carolina, says the pandemic and remote learning have increased opportunities for cyberbullying:
"They have moved their social groups from face-to-face to online and social platforms," she said. "So what happens is that a lot of times they are communicating with people that they don’t know who they are, they don’t see, they may not even have a camera on them. And with it being social media, things can get said, pictures can get sent, websites can get accessed, and before they even know what’s happening, they can get themselves into a very hurtful and dangerous situation."
In the wake of the Facebook whistleblower testimony, the New York Times published a piece that includes interviews of teenage women reacting to the mental health issues perpetuated by Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, Inc. (now Meta).
On October 5, 2021, Mark Zuckerberg responded to Haugen's testimony on Facebook and defended his company's actions. "At the heart of these accusations is this idea that we prioritize profit over safety and well-being,” Zuckerberg said. "That's just not true.”
"If you ask a young person, it’s something you deal with on a daily basis," said Vicki Harrison, who directs the Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing at Stanford. "You don’t need this research to tell you this," she concluded.
From potential eating disorders to cyberbullying and various other mental health issues that spark from the same applications, Facebook, Inc. (now Meta) is under the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. But what can Mark Zuckerberg and his company do to fix this?
Do what you already know you have to do.
If Haugen’s testimony is correct, and Facebook knows about the issues and isn’t making the necessary changes, then simply make those changes. It sounds as easy as taking a cookie from a cookie jar. It couldn’t be simpler. Help combat the ongoing issues that are hindering the cognitive development of the younger generation.