Frances Haugen (the former Facebook product manager who, last week, testified before the Senate Commerce Committee about the unethical behavior of Facebook) raised many old issues. The problems with Facebook, and with most other forms of social media, are common knowledge to most Americans. We know that social media is addictive to children (and adults). We know that the owners of social media companies place financial gain ahead of the safety of their users. We know that–although they claim to provide their customers with neutral platforms on which to share photos of family weekends, selfies from the boys’ night out, and baby pictures–the reality is that Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have taken the place of the old media by offering their new bite-sized form of journalism.
Social media has changed the face of journalism and news media entirely. The morning paper used to tell its readers the news from the day before. Other than things of national or local importance that would be seen on TV, it provided Americans with the space to discover what was happening across the country. However, anyone paying attention to The New York Times will know that over the past ten years, print subscriptions to the newspaper have dropped while digital subscriptions have dramatically risen. Instead of getting our news in paper form, we now rely on online sources to tell us what is happening around the world. This is not all bad; as we receive news far faster than ever before. From hearing of earthquakes in Haiti minutes after they have happened to news from our favorite celebrity as soon as it breaks. However, social media has replaced truth-seeking journalism with clickbait news, tweeted for likes and interactions. An article that was once rigorously fact-checked is now tweeted out on the fly, 280 characters after 280 characters. Where writers used to target finding the truth, now the reach of the social media posts prescribes value to their work. A space that was once filled with expert professionals is now overflowing with amateurs in search of ratios (a strange Twitter phenomenon in which the user tries to gain more interactions than the tweet they are commenting on) and gotchas. Political discourse has declined as well. Rather than actual adult discussions about real issues, conservatives spend most of their time trying to “own the libs” and liberals worry too much about offending people to build strong arguments in defense of their beliefs. Obviously, this is a sweeping generalization. But, where it does exist, it is a symptom of the same societal shift away from integrity and professionalism.
Frances Haugen told CBS that Facebook prioritized financial profit over the safety of its users, promoting content that induced a stronger emotional response because “it’s easier to inspire people to anger than it is to other emotions.” Clearly, Facebook and its peers, Twitter and Instagram, do not prioritize integrity, truth, and professionalism at all. This approach, in turn, trickles down to the everyday social media user who values the speed at which they can post their news ahead of the truth and veracity of the news itself. As a society, we need to discuss preserving truth in the world of journalism. Gone are the days of our reliance on print newspapers, but hopefully we haven’t lost journalistic integrity as well.