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That's how someone I respect recently described Instagram and Facebook.
And I actually agree with that assessment, especially when it comes to describing Instagram.
And before you think that's going too far, take a few minutes and read this all the way through.
More information about the incredible toxicity and danger caused by these two social media platforms is coming to light.
If you want to stay safe on Instagram and Facebook, you need to be educated.
That means knowing what's happening--and then knowing what you can do about it to stay safe.
Why Facebook and Instagram Are Not Safe to Use
I'm going to assume that you have a general understanding of how Instagram and Facebook work.
That being said, we need to have a common language to work with.
These two platforms exist to capture your attention and then monetize it.
That's their business model.
In other words, they take your precious time and energy and find ways to get more of it so that they can sell it to advertisers.
To Instagram and Facebook, you are data to be captured, a valuable bounty to be passed off to companies interested in selling you stuff you probably don't need.
This doesn't sound so terrible at first, but it's not the what that is so toxic, but the how they do it.
In case you didn't know--many people still do not--Instagram is owned by Facebook.
They are connected. In tech-speak, the back-ends of the software have been tied together so that you can be more easily messaged/contacted and so that your data can be more easily shared and used across the platforms.
Remember, you are the commodity, and your data is valuable to the Facebook-Instagram behemoth and the companies that use their platforms to sell you stuff.
But this still doesn't get to why this all matters...
Why this matters is because of the ways in which Instagram and Facebook capture your attention.
You see, this game they're playing is not about benevolence. These are not free tools created to benefit the masses.
Yes, it's nice to stay in touch with friends who live on the other side of the world.
Yes, it's exciting to learn about new initiatives from the organizations you support.
But that's not why Instagram and Facebook exist.
They exist to capture your attention for as long as they possibly can so that they can monetize it.
And they do this with algorithms.
It's a word that gets thrown around all the time now, but most people don't actually understand how pervasive algorithms are in their daily lives--and how much they are controlled by them.
Here's the definition of algorithm you get when you search on Google:
a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.
Ok, well that didn't tell us very much.
Essentially, algorithms are incredibly complicated calculations that operate behind the scenes on social media platforms. On Instagram and Facebook, algorithms determine what kind of content you see.
And the content you see is based on what will keep you captivated and glued to the platforms. It's not a random selection of pretty images and words.
It's content explicitly designed to rob you of your life and keep you coming back for more.
This is where things start to get really dark...
You may have heard about the recent reports of a whistleblower who left Facebook and secretly copied 10,000+ internal documents on her way out.
Her name is Frances Haugen, and she was a data scientist assigned to Facebook's Civic Integrity unit, which was responsible for monitoring issues surrounding the 2020 election.
In the 60 Minutes interview, she revealed that the company dissolved the unit after the election. She described it as basically going like this:
"Well, the election is over and nothing major happened, so we don't need this department anymore." (Not her words.)
The biggest bombshell she revealed was the extent to which Facebook knew that what it was doing was harming people.
More data has come out that shows that Instagram use is directly tied to suicidal thoughts and actual suicides in teenagers.
The Wall Street Journal reported on this in the middle of September of this year.
Yes, there has been talk about this in the past, but the new data sharpens the sword and plunges it deeper.
Children are dying because of social media.
This is not OK.
NYU business professor, entrepreneur, and podcast host, Scott Galloway, argues that Instagram needs to be regulated immediately.
He makes the claim that we regulate other products that are harmful to teenagers, like smoking and vaping, so why don't we do the same for Instagram?
I wholeheartedly agree.
In 2017 and 2018, I worked at a pediatrics practice during my second clinical placement while completing my Master of Social Work degree.
One of the top issues in the entire practice was dealing with the mental health challenges teenage girls were having. It was a weekly occurrence.
The most common challenges these teenagers were reporting were depression and anxiety.
And one of the reasons almost always provided when these girls were asked about their depression and anxiety?
Instagram, the content they saw there, and the bullying they dealt with on the platform.
You may still not be convinced that this is a major issue worth government regulation.
I would argue that any product that makes people want to kill themselves in massive numbers is worth addressing, but let's explore this a bit more.
Bad content doesn't just affect teenagers.
Facebook has known that they have a content problem for years.
They know the amount of hateful content that is on their platform, and according to the 60 Minutes interview with the courageous whistleblower, they know they only address a few percentage points of it.
And they're OK with that.
But hateful content isn't just inconvenient. It actually costs lives.
In 2018, the New York Times reported that military personnel in Myanmar used Facebook to incite violence.
Read this if you can stomach it:
They posed as fans of pop stars and national heroes as they flooded Facebook with their hatred. One said Islam was a global threat to Buddhism. Another shared a false story about the rape of a Buddhist woman by a Muslim man.
The Facebook posts were not from everyday internet users. Instead, they were from Myanmar military personnel who turned the social network into a tool for ethnic cleansing, according to former military officials, researchers and civilian officials in the country.
Members of the Myanmar military were the prime operatives behind a systematic campaign on Facebook that stretched back half a decade and that targeted the country’s mostly Muslim Rohingya minority group, the people said. The military exploited Facebook’s wide reach in Myanmar, where it is so broadly used that many of the country’s 18 million internet users confuse the Silicon Valley social media platform with the internet. Human rights groups blame the anti-Rohingya propaganda for inciting murders, rapes and the largest forced human migration in recent history.
It is disgusting that Facebook knows that this happens on their platform and does next to nothing to deal with it.
We're not talking about fake news. We're talking about genocide.
Unfortunately, Facebook has a history of only acting when forced to do so.
If you use Facebook's behavior to determine their intent, their goal is to grow as fast as possible so that they can make as much money as possible.
But growth at all costs is not progress.
This is why we need to do something about this.
And this is why you are not safe on Facebook--and the other platform owned by Facebook, Instagram.
How to Protect Yourself on Instagram and Facebook
My stomach is in knots as I write this.
I wouldn't feel good about myself if I didn't also provide you with a list of ways to protect yourself if you are going to use Facebook or Instagram, which I no longer do.
I decided to stop using the platforms when I realized just how much they were affecting my mental health.
I couldn't stand to see perfectly manicured lives anymore.
Nothing was real.
It was seemingly all about people doing whatever it took to get more "likes."
It was a race to the bottom, and as a highly sensitive person, I couldn't take it anymore.
That being said, here's my list of ways to protect yourself on Facebook and Instagram
- Don't use Facebook and Instagram. I know this seems extreme, but this is the only foolproof way to protect yourself from these platforms.
- If you're going to use the platforms, schedule time to use them. Be disciplined about this. Set a timer and stick to it.
- Curate what you see. My wife no longer uses Facebook, but she's helped me understand how beneficial Instagram can be when carefully curated. She only follows accounts that can teach her something, such as accounts run by LGBTQ+ and indigenous activists.
- Use the platforms with a goal in mind. For example, maybe your goal one day would be to message five relatives or friends you want to stay in touch with. Maybe your goal another day is to post photos from a recent family trip and message them to specific individuals. Whatever it is, YOU decide what you do on the platforms, not Instagram or Facebook.
- Take care of yourself and your mindset. This might seem like strange advice that isn't directly related, but it could be the most important advice of all. You are not your social media accounts. What people say to you on social media does not define you. You only get to control what you share on social media, not how others respond. It's vitally important you take time to care for yourself every day. Develop a daily self-care routine that consists of activities that bring you joy and help you feel recharged and balanced.
If you take anything away from this, I hope you'll take away that your time and energy are valuable.
What you do with your life is valuable.
You create meaning from how you spend your time.
And if you spend most of your time on Facebook and Instagram, you are rolling the dice with your mental health.
Because the quality of your mental health determines the quality of your life.
I hope you will take this information to heart.
And I hope you will act on it.
Each of us is responsible for creating a mentally healthier world.