By Mark Mahon
Rabat-William Penn once said, “Avoid popularity; it has many snares and no real benefit.” Penn was a Quaker and the colonial era founder of the city of Philadelphia. He didn’t have the opportunity to live tweet his travels but perhaps he knew the drawbacks of fame even in the late 1600s.
Facebook announced last week that the personal data of about 87 million users was shared with the British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. Some 300,000 people had installed the This Is Your Digital Life quiz that had made the data harvesting possible. Alas, there is a cost to something that is “free.”
Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, along with personal blog websites allow us to tell our stories to a larger and larger audience. Fundraising platforms like Kickstarter allow us to fund our dreams, from building a school library to funding the filming of a self-made movie. The website CaringBridge allows us to follow the medical condition and recovery of friends and family members. We can connect instantaneously to colleagues across the globe. But how much is too much?
If we’re mad at Facebook for letting us down by allowing a third-party firm to aggregate details of our lives shouldn’t we be disappointed in our own role in facilitating the whole affair? For young adults and teens, social media platforms on mobile devices are the go-to avocation throughout the day. Data from 2015 indicated that teenage Americans spent about nine hours a day using digital media, from watching online music videos to gaming to social media browsing. 2017 data for Morocco indicates that about 21 million Moroccans access the internet via mobile devices, a dramatic rise in just the past five years. Back in 2014, survey data collected from 1,000 Moroccans indicated that a majority (53%) spent at least four hours per day using the internet. The mobile device is fast eclipsing the living room TV. My space over shared space.
Facebook has the most daily active users compared to other social networks. The company’s $40.6 billion in sales in 2017 came overwhelmingly from advertising revenue. So how the company’s advertisers react to the data breach affair will be interesting to observe in the coming months.
Happier of Not?
A recent study from San Diego State University utilized data from over one million 8th, 10th, and 12th-graders in the U.S. The research indicated teens that spent more time on social media platforms, or gaming and texting, were not as emotionally happy as teens who spent equivalent amounts of time engaged in sports or other activities centered on direct person-to-person interactions. Another study funded by the Centers for Disease Control found that the life satisfaction and self-esteem of teenagers fell dramatically after 2012, paralleling the significant growth in mobile phone access among teens and young adults.
In 2015, a social media usage report was presented at the Arab Social Media Influencers Summit. Seven thousand respondents over age 15 across the Arab world were surveyed. Results showed the ambivalent feelings concerning social media. 57 percent of respondents agreed with the phrase, “Social media made me a happier person.” But only 44 percent agreed with the phrase, “I trust social media.”
Everything in Moderation
In a 2017 interview, Moroccan singer, composer and social herald Saida Fikri noted the often vacuous nature of online content that attracts the attention of young Moroccans: “Our youth live in a fake fame: videos clips with rented cars and too many lies that have nothing to do with their reality.” A wisdom that is relevant to young and old who access social media to connect with friends or to experience a different reality that somehow seems more exciting than our own.
The trend is for even more digital media usage. The Global Digital Report 2018 estimated the number of social media users worldwide in 2017 at 3.2 billion, up 13 percent from 2016.
In response to the data harvesting crisis, Facebook founder and chief Mark Zuckerberg articulated a vital point that is as relevant to people who access social media tools as it is to corporate officers in the digital media industry. “That we’re not just building tools, but that we need to take full responsibility for the outcomes of how people use those tools as well.” Striking a balance between the natural urge to engage with other humans and the need to better scrutinize those who have the ability to access our personal lives will require discipline on a higher level by everyone involved. Facebook reportedly now has about 15,000 people working on security, third-party compliance and content review issues for the company.
Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before the U.S. House Commerce Committee on April 11 and before a U.S. Senate joint committee later this week. Countless social media users will be viewing live coverage or receiving news updates of his testimony via Twitter, or perhaps on Facebook. An update worth receiving.