A Function of Today’s World: Social Media

For most of us, our worlds today function around social media from the time we wake up in the morning until the time we go to sleep at night, and this impacts our day to day lives. We see constant images from our cell phones, laptops, and television all persuading and manipulating us. Because of this persuasion and manipulation from the media industry, we must ask ourselves, are social networking websites violating basic human privacy rights? Through media literacy, we can become active participants rather than passive consumers by having the ability to understand, analyze, evaluate, and question the technology and economics of the media industry to critically evaluate its influence on us both individually and as a society.

We need to look at how these websites collect personal data and information on us and what can we do about our privacy, and the right to control who knows private information about us and under what conditions.

Even if you haven't told anyone about plans you’ve made, Google and Facebook know through your emails and Internet searches what you are doing, as well as your service provider, contact list, your full name, and address through your Google searches. Also tracking you are dozens of advertisers and marketers who track your online behavior through computer programs called cookies that are embedded in the sites and know you by tracking codes that follow your movement and activity on the web. They see when you move from one site to another and will immediately show you more ads. They can learn more and more about your interest through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and learn about your online behavior from shared buttons enabled in shopping sites. Cookies cause privacy concerns and security risks. When you log on to a website that uses cookies, you are asked to give up personal information, which enables websites to remember you as well as your preferences and activity. Your information and data are then packaged, stored, and sold by data brokers.

With social media sites like Facebook and Google, through the algorithms that these companies have created, we are fed information personally tailored to our specific patterns, likes, and browsing history, as well as knowing our biases and views. These mega corporations spend a lot of time interpreting our online movement, so they can construct messages to appeal to specific audiences. With the use of algorithms that track our every move and habits online, people don’t always realize that their information is being collected and how it’s used. Websites collect and store our data and use cookies to personalize content and ads by analyzing the data that shows up on our feeds. This is extremely valuable information for which businesses are paying an enormous amount of money. These corporations trace our every move and measure our patterns and behaviors as we move through our day, to reach specific audiences, all without our permission.

Many of us are okay with giving away our data because it makes life easier. We get directions, weather updates, and ads for things we want. We can look at instructional YouTube videos, get restaurant recommendations, as well as post pictures and videos. But, according to Glen Weyl, Economist and Professor at Yale University, “all of this is free to us, but of course, it really is not free at all; we are paying for it with our data that we are voluntarily giving up. Sites like Facebook are getting millions of people to work for free and are creating value for Facebook every day as its employees get wealthier” (Posner).

Tracking also follows you as you shop and knows where you're going through Google Maps and cell phone carriers. This data is also sold to data brokers that sell your information to advertisers and businesses. At the store, you may be tracked by a signal from your cell phone and store cameras that take your picture for face recognition and tracks how much time you spend looking at items and when you make a purchase it is shared with data brokers. Your tracking can be effective by what you saw advertised on Facebook and now have purchased. Through all this tracking, data brokers have a very clear picture of who you are. All of this is very detailed information on us, and we have very little control over who sees it.

The huge amount of data we voluntarily give as we post pictures, videos, and text has a tremendous impact on our personal data and privacy. Every time we sign up for something online like an app, update our cell phone, or get a store’s loyalty card, we are given a long legal statement that asks if we agree to the terms. Privacy means, "the right to control who knows what about you, and under what conditions” (Right). Consent plays a huge role in data collection and privacy. Companies may provide us with the option to consent, but do people really understand what they are accepting? Most of us ignore these because they are deliberately made lengthy and difficult to read. How do we manage consent when it is ineffective because most people ignore it, or we have no choice, like when we try to update our cell phones? If you do not agree, you do not get service. This leads to terrible privacy protection and shifts the liability on to you. You agree to broad terms that eliminate your privacy and are asked for things we would have never been asked to do under consumer protection laws.

We must remember the quote from the 2020 Netflix film, The Social Dilemma, “if we’re not paying for a product, then, we are the product.”

And through cookies our digital footprint is packaged and sold to other third-party apps. By offering “free” services where we, the user, are the product, the tech industry has made billions of dollars off our private data. As Google founder and former CEO, Eric Schmidt warns “social media is a business, and their job is to maximize shareholder return and revenue and the best way to maximize revenue is to maximize engagement” (Lapowsky).

It is unbelievable how much information these companies have on our everyday lives. “Companies spy on us and monetize our information in exchange for free access to their service. People should care about their information being sold because when companies have access to your personal data you have lost control over it” (Scheier). “When we use free apps like Google and Facebook, we are allowing these companies to have access to our data and are helping them improve their product and grow their wealth. The users (us) are not compensated, the money goes to the massive conglomerates which intern limits the distribution of wealth across the economy” (Posner). “If something is a “tool” it generally is just sitting there waiting patiently, if something is not a tool it's demanding things from you, it's seducing you, it's manipulating you, it wants things from you, and we've moved away from having a tools-based technology environment to an addiction and manipulation-based technology environment that's what's changed. Social media isn't a tool just waiting to be used, it has its own goals, and it has its own means of pursuing them by using your psychology against you” (Edmonds).

Edmonds, P. (2021, November 23). If something's a tool, it's genuinely just sitting there... waiting patiently. Emortal 2021. Retrieved January 7, 2022, from https://www.emortal.com/post/if-something-s-a-tool-it-s-genuinely-just-sitting-there-waiting-patiently

Lapowsky, I. (2022, January 6). Eric Schmidt: Social Media Companies 'maximize outrage' for revenue. Protocol. Retrieved January 7, 2022, from https://www.protocol.com/bulletins/eric-schmidt-youtube-criticism

Posner, E. A., & Weyl, E. G. (2018, April 20). Want our personal data? pay for it. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved January 7, 2022, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/want-our-personal-data-pay-for-it-1524237577

Right to privacy in the information age: Myth or reality. Lawyers Alert. (2013, July 18). Retrieved January 7, 2022, from https://lawyersalert.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/right-to-privacy-in-the-information-age-myth-or-reality/

Schneier, B. (2013, March 16). Schneier on security. Retrieved January 7, 2022, from https://www.schneier.com/essays/archives/2013/03/the_internet_is_a_su.html


My name is Catherine Condolff and I am a sophomore at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. I grew up and currently live in Westchester County, New York. Some of my favorite things to do are playing with my dog Rusty, photography, playing Animal Crossing on my DS, and watching movies with friends. I also love visiting NYC for its arts, culture, and diversity. I enjoy visiting the museums, going to the theatre, and shopping. During my summers I am a camp counselor and work with children ages 3 to 5. As an Art major, I enjoy working on different art projects with the campers. I love watching them make a mess with finger paints, color with crayons, and use glitter and glue. It always amazes me to watch the freedom they have creating their masterpieces and to see them learn colors and shapes, and to use scissors for the first time and gain confidence is really special to me.

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