Facebook knows that Instagram is toxic and harmful. That headline, or some variation of it, showed up time and time again over the last week in my newsfeed after The Wall Street Journal published a series that exposed this, I’d say, open secret.
“Facebook Inc. knows, in acute detail, that its platforms are riddled with flaws that cause harm, often in ways only the company fully understands,” a preface to the series stated.
Sometimes I’m thankful that I grew up in an age where social media was still a fringe concept. The closest thing we had when I was in my early teens was Friendster or instant messenger, proto-social media. Myspace took off during my senior year. I had no way of knowing then that it was opening a floodgate that could never be closed.
But here’s the thing, social media in and of itself is not bad. It’s a tool we have not yet figured out. Think about a hammer. Humans have been using hammers for thousands of years, and yet we still manage to occasionally injure ourselves or others with it. When you consider how powerful a tool social media is, it’s no wonder we keep getting hurt by it.
There is no denying that companies need to implement more safety features and regulation into their social media platforms. But until and unless that happens it is going to fall to each of us to find a way to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe from social media danger.
So, what does that look like?
Well, personally, I like to keep my social media settings locked up tighter than Fort Knox so that I don’t have random strangers dropping in and sending me messages. As a journalist, I get enough toxicity from the public through other means, I’d hate to open up my personal social media accounts to that.
Another thing I’ve started doing is opting out of the outrage cycle. If I see something online that raises my blood pressure, I shut it down and try and focus on something positive. I try to not engage, though I’m not always as good at this as I’d like to be.
One thing my wife, a cybersecurity expert, turned me on to recently is the way that criminals are using things like Facebook for social engineering. Social engineering is defined as “the use of deception to manipulate individuals into divulging confidential or personal information that may be used for fraudulent purposes.”
You’ve probably seen the warnings yourself recently about not taking Facebook quizzes that ask for your street name when you were growing up or your favorite pet’s name because the information could be used against you. That is social engineering.
And then, of course, there are the less tangible threats. Things like cyberbullying or cyberstalking that can be difficult to protect yourself against. These are the kinds of harmful interactions that companies like Facebook need to be held accountable for.
There is always the option of leaving social media entirely, but let’s be honest, for a lot of people this isn’t a real option. Just to take you back to the hammer metaphor one more time. Imagine that you kept hitting your thumb with a hammer and someone suggested you just stop using a hammer, but then you’re left with nothing to drive your nails in.
For many of us, social media is an integral part of our jobs, lives or small businesses to the point that not using it becomes detrimental. The trick is finding a way to use it that is more helpful than harmful, and my guess is that it’s going to take some major pressure on companies like Facebook to help create this transition.