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The Campanile

Tech companies’ data use ought to be regulated to protect user privacy


Whether you’re in the grocery store or at a restaurant, people are glued to their screens, checking out the latest Instagram post or taking a selfie on Snapchat. Is this the society you want to live in? Is social media’s prevalence in society detrimental to humanity? Should social media and the tech companies who own them be regulated in terms of their data use? These are among the many questions that we must grapple with as the technology powering our interactions continue to evolve.

The recently released Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma,” addresses the issues social media platforms create in society. Through the lens of influential employees inside these companies, it acknowledges the threat social media has become and the negative consequences social media has on the younger generations.

One of the biggest problems with social media is its negative effect on mental health. A study by Child Mind Institute found between the years of 2010 and 2015, depressive symptoms in 12th graders increased 33% of and the suicide rate for girls increased 65%. The comparison to an unrealistic standard vastly impacts mental health and leads to serious problems.

While social media companies market themselves as platforms for communication between people all over the world, the intentions behind these companies may not be as clear. In addition to being detrimental to mental health, social media apps deliberately get people hooked by using algorithms to feed pe what they want to see and hear. Creating personalized feeds based on your browsing history, tech companies essentially track every move you make.

By clicking on “popular videos for you,” people make the problem worse, as the algorithm becomes smarter and continues to feed people what they want to see. In addition, people become closed off to certain world views since they are only provided more information to confirm the opinions they already have, something known as confirmation bias.

The strategies tech companies use to grow comes down to those making the most profit which hurts society. With increased technological advancements in data storage, companies will be able to use our data in new, potentially harmful ways.

These companies can now sell our digital profiles to advertisers outside of the social media platform without our consent. But how do we regulate these companies without restricting freedom of speech?

The solution begins at the consumer level. People who use social media platforms can begin to think smarter than the algorithms. One solution presented in “The Social Dilemma” includes not clicking on “for you” videos or content because by not doing so, you’re confusing the algorithms making it harder from it to know what content to feed you next. You also need to constantly ask yourself whether the information you’re consuming is reliable and true, as a step toward limiting the spread of misinformation.

Although social media use can create physical and mental health problems and poses the potential for addiction, tech companies are not the only ones able to make social media platforms positive communities.

Government regulations should restrict data shared by social media platforms, and consumers need to be on the alert for missformation on these platforms. Ultimately, the government, social media companies and individual users must work together to ensure social media platforms are used only for communication between individuals, not for selling people’s personal data.

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