Recently, in the news, there has been much talk about the danger of Facebook, especially to children and young people. Whistleblower Frances Haugen, once a product manager at the company, testified in the United States (US) Congress that Facebook harms children, sows division and undermines democracy in pursuit of breakneck growth and astronomical profits.
This is not surprising. Many have been concerned for years about the negative impact of not only Facebook, but many other social media platforms on the minds of the young and old. However, I have a question for you to ponder – is Facebook and other social media platforms to take all of the blame, or should individual responsibility also have a major part to play? Truthfully, if one does not use Facebook, that person will not have a social media addiction; that person will not be trapped by the misinformation, conspiracies, and lies propagated through social network algorithms.
Let us look at some statistics from the DataReportal website. One report shows that there were 4.48 billion social media users around the world in July 2021, equating to 57 percent of the total global population. Here are the top 15 social media sites in the world with the number of active users: Facebook – 2.74 billion active users; this is 35.5 percent of the world’s population. YouTube – 2.291 billion active users. WhatsApp – 2.0 billion active users. Facebook Messenger – 1.3 billion active users. Instagram – 1.221 billion active users. Weixin/WeChat – 1.213 billion active users. TikTok – 689 million active users. QQ – 617 million active users. Douyin – 600 million active users. Sina Weibo – 511 million active users. Telegram – 500 million active users. Snapchat – 498 million active users. Kuaishou – 481 million active users. Pinterest – 442 million active users. Reddit – 430 million active users.
India is the country with the largest number of Facebook active users – over 300 million. According to the 2021 statistic report on Facebook users: There were 259,800 Facebook users in The Bahamas in February 2021, which accounted for 62.9 percent of the population. The majority of them were women – 53.6 percent. People aged 25 to 34 were the largest user group (81,000).
There were 1,504,000 Facebook users in Jamaica in January 2021, which accounted for 51.6 percent of its entire population. The majority of them were women – 53.1 percent. People aged 25 to 34 were the largest user group (510,000).
Facebook was launched in 2004, YouTube in 2005, WhatsApp in 2009, Instagram and Pinterest in 2010, and Snapchat in 2011. It seems as though these burgeoning social media platforms are truly impacting every country and nearly every citizen on earth, even more than traditional headline news, secular printed books, or revered sacred literature.
What must we do with this new method of sharing? Some 17 years ago, all local and world news, advertisements, personal information, and family gossip, were being communicated to the world via controlled media – newspapers, printed books, websites. Today, anyone can share any information at any time with limited restrictions. Is that bad? No. The problem is social media giants themselves utilize algorithms to bombard viewers with information of their interest. Algorithms in social media platforms can be defined as technical means of sorting posts based on relevancy instead of published time to prioritize which content a user sees first according to the likelihood that they will actually engage with such content.
Have you noticed after searching the web that the next time you visit your Facebook page you will see an advertisement of the same product you were looking for on the web? That is due to algorithms set up by the media providers to lure you into the mindset to purchase that product. It is not just about making it easy for you to find what you want, it is about money. This is one way social media owners become rich.
What’s good about Facebook, WhatsApp, and other social media platforms? First, they allow anybody, anywhere in the world, to do what they could not have done just a few years ago – advertise and promote without cost – products, events, and services to friends or even the world. Second, they allow everybody to keep in contract with family members and friends anywhere in the world through video or voice messaging without charge. It makes it possible to send nostalgic photos, birthday wishes, announce birthday parties, engagements or marriage anniversary announcements, or promote concerts. More excitingly, social media makes it possible for anybody to view or listen to live concerts, historical documentaries, debates, weddings, funerals, church services, professional seminars, and more, without a direct cost. In reality, many churches and other entities are having more people attending their meetings via social media during COVD-19 than they have had years before.
Ease of accessibility to information through social media may create emotional and intellectual dysfunction. There is no longer any need to go to the library, or order a book to read or research. It is all at the fingertips and it is free. Many children are accidentally coming across websites or information that are emotionally or intellectually damaging without parental knowledge.
A research article titled, “The 15 Biggest Social Media Sites and Apps”, states: “YouTube is also one of a tiny selection of social media platforms that reaches incredibly young age groups. A 2020 study conducted by Pew Research revealed the following about the viewing habits of US children under the age of 11 – 80 percent of parents say their children watch YouTube videos. Only 19 percent of parents say that their children don’t watch YouTube videos. More than half of parents said their children watched YouTube at least once a day. Do you know what your children are watching on YouTube?
Return to this page next week when I will continue with part two to help us understand how social media and dopamine impact us.