From: Zoe Kwitek

Winona

 

Social media companies prioritize profits over privacy by using our data as their key to success.

These companies operate by targeting individuals by influencing their beliefs and behaviors through tailored algorithms.

The algorithms are designed to present content for their targeted user by “selecting, curating, and controlling our information environment by prioritizing information based on its potential for virality, rather than its grounding in veracity,” as Samantha Bradshaw wrote for the Centre for International Governance Innovation. This system affects how information and news is prioritized and delivered to each individual user. The range of exposure may include the presentation of diverse views or the reinforcement of singular ones, and extreme or polarizing information.

Social media platforms are able to obtain and store massive amounts of data that’s aggregated about individuals and their social behavior. As we operate online, we leave a digital footprint laced with an immense amount of data for the system operators. This footprint is known as “data exhaust,” as the exhaust is the byproduct of our interactions with online content, Bradshaw writes. This information is used by platforms to analyze who we are as people, consumers, and citizens in a voting democracy. 

These systems of operations intrinsically reveal a value orientation for monetary gain over ethical practice.

Frances Haugen, a former data scientist who focused on algorithm products in her work at Facebook, explains the importance of the company’s utilization of algorithms that govern what shows up on users’ news feeds. Haugen provided documents that prove Facebook has “repeatedly mislead the public about what its own research reveals about safety, the efficacy of its artificial systems, and its role in spreading divisive and extreme messages,” Marcy Gordon reported for PBS.

These features allocated by these major platforms allow them to control and contribute to the spread of harmful content online by distorting the online public sphere.

Gordon reports Haugen as stating, “the company’s leadership knows how to make [social media platforms] safer but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people.” It’s clear there’s a prioritization of valuing company growth and profit over user safety and discretion. 

As technology continues to grow, this issue of distorted propaganda and the spread of misinformation will only continue. 

How can we combat this issue? We can start by being mindful of the content and messages we’re exposed to. 

In the future, we may shift our focus to moderating the features these platforms are able to use in hopes to minimize the spread harmful content online.

Let’s bring freedom back to the consumer as our awareness grows and our interpretation of the information we’re subjected to changes.