By Rea Kondi
The recent story of a controversial Facebook Research Program that paid the iPhone users for their personal data brought to the surface the recurring theme of the privacy practices of the social networking company. Facebook has confirmed the existence of the program and the payments made towards the teenage participants in the program in exchange for ‘nearly all their personal data’ as part of its market research. After the report first came out on TechCrunch, the social media giant defended its research program yet removed the app from the Apple iOS. The data collection practices of the social network have come under criticism throughout 2018. It is worth-noting that the latest clash involving our online privacy and security is only a part of an increasingly complex relationship manifested on and offline.
Stephan Marche addresses the question “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” by focusing on the psychological impact associated with the popular social media platform. To back his view, the author refers to the findings of an Australian study that states, “Facebook users have higher levels of total narcissism, exhibitionism, and leadership than Facebook nonusers” (theatlantic.com). According to the article, such patterns of behavior are exhibited in the constant need to engage in “digital intimacy” and to be a self-publicist. In this regard, Stephen Marche reveals the tight correlation between an online entity and its own projection, “Our online communities become engines of self-image, and self-image becomes the engine of the community”. As self-obsession takes center stage, users will instinctively compare their own lives with others, based on posts publicized on the internet where showing off is very easy and effortless. To elaborate on the psychological impact of comparisons, the article refers to Moira Burke, a Carnegie-Mellon graduate, who studied the effects of Facebook on users. “If people are reading about lives that are much better than theirs, two things can happen, they can feel worse about themselves, or they can feel motivated” (theatlantic.com). While the study presents the opportunity for a positive impact or experience, Burke explains that social media can cause feelings of inferiority as users are forced to spectate on the lives of the people on their feed. Case by case, the article makes the argument that narcissism and inferiority are the byproducts of the Facebook culture. At this point, the author explores the imminent contradiction of the social media rise, namely the increase of online communications has not strengthened in fact it has weakened the human relationships. We live in a world where “We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds are less meaningful and less easy”. As evidence, he states that the decrease in confidants from the years 1985 to 2004 proves that social connections aren’t as strong as they used to be. The author labels this phenomenon as “social disintegration,” which has caused members of social media community to confide in professionals such as therapists, psychologists and life coaches more than friends because of the mental effects of socializing online rather than in person. Stephen Marche concludes his article by stating that Facebook has only demonstrated that connections are not equivalent to the bonds humans share. Social media has made people self-conscious to the extent that they are unable to disconnect from themselves, thus depriving them of the ability to be carefree. In the context of Facebook, self-image has become the antonym of freedom.
The counter argument to the findings of Stephen Marche is presented in the article “Facebook Isn’t Making Us Lonely” by Eric Klinenberg. In his opinion, the effectiveness and the effects of social media depends on the user. To support his claim, he quotes Claude Fischer, a Berkely sociologist, “When the telephone arrived, people didn’t stop knocking on their neighbors’ doors; they called and then knocked” (slate.com). Favoring the social media as a force for integration and easy accessibility to friends, the author concludes that we still have the option of disconnecting, including Stephen Marche’s research, which would have been more realistic if he had used the internet more efficiently.
In Marche’s article, the case of Yvette Vicker’s death is brought as an illustration in support of his claim of the loneliness caused by Facebook. Yet the assumption that the use of social media negatively affected her well-being remains largely vague. On this point, I agree with Klinenburg’s remarks that the lack of relevant information raises questions of credibility. A second area of disagreement is the author’s focus on Facebook. Since the writing of the article, the popular Facebook has been pushed to share the social media landscape with platforms favored more by teenagers such as Instagram and Snapchat. Another area of disagreement for me is the subjective interpretation of data presented in the studies. For example, the article claims that the increase of “professional care givers” in the United States is due to the loneliness caused by social media, “The majority of patients in therapy do not warrant a psychiatric diagnosis” (theatlantic.com). The connection remains largely vague and hard to define since the increased numbers of psychologists and therapists can be at least partially attributed to efforts to de-stigmatize mental illness. To be sure, social media effects have been linked to cases of diagnosed anxieties and even suicide on account of online bullying, competitiveness and the constant need for approval by others. On the subject of disconnecting from social media, each article presents an opposing view. Marche’s article maintains that Facebook has deprived us of the ability to “forget about ourselves,” while Klinenberg writes, “Disconnection requires little more than shutting down your computer and smartphone” (www.slate.com). I believe one author is addressing the issue in a psychological context while the other is being very literal.
As a teenager, I am aware that disconnecting from the virtual world involves more than just switching off a device, especially since scrolling, texting and posting are ingrained into our daily routines. However, depending on the user, this can be complemented by time spent offline with school, sports, music, family and friends.