Opinion: How do we improve Facebook’s impact on society? By forcing it to do better

Sree Sreenivasan is a leading expert on how technology is changing our lives. He is a professor of Digital Innovation and CEO of Digimentors.
Liberal Opinion

Sree Sreenivasan

Digital Innovation Prof, Stony Brook; CoFounder, Digimentors
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The pile of evidence showing the harmful effects of social media continues to grow. Much of the blowback is falling on Facebook amid allegations it ignored its own research that showed its site’s negative impact on people, especially children.

Public blowback has gotten so bad that Facebook changed its corporate name to distance itself from its own service.

The pervasive nature of social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter means these services aren’t going anywhere. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t improve, and do a better job. It won’t be the government that gets these companies to yield a more positive impact. It’s going to take those of us who use these apps to force them to do better.

Hi, I’m Sree Sreenivasan, and I talk about politics, technology and more. Today, I’m going to share some thoughts on Facebook, social media’s effects on society, and how we can begin to improve things. 

Here are some things we know from whistleblowers and others:

1. There is a fully separate and unique content moderation system for elite users

2. Instagram is absolutely horrible for mental health of— especially teenage girls.

3. Facebook is changing our politics and how political parties operate and campaign digitally.

What hurts the most about all of this is that it keeps coming back around. 

People have known about the potential negative effects of social media on young people for years. Now we know that social media companies conduct extensive research that proves its often negative effects — research that they regularly and completely ignore.   

We’ve seen over and over again what it takes for people with huge social followings to face platform-specific consequences for things that regular people get banned for all the time. And, we’ve certainly seen the effects of social media on our politics. Entire political movements have started, and succeeded, on social media.

I like to say Candidate Trump became President Trump because he understood how social media works better than the social media companies themselves did.

The controversies keep coming, but stock prices and engagement keep going up.  There were congressional hearings, but absent Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, those hearings are largely meaningless. 

I’ve never called for a boycott of Facebook or told people to leave in droves. I’ve always said that I want to stay and make them fix the products I use every day: FB, IG, WhatsApp, and Messenger. 

It’s a utility. We don’t boycott our local power company when it screws up – we force it to get better, more useful and safer for everyone.

Whatever your politics, it’s up to us to be smarter users as it’s clear they won’t change on their own. 


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