Instagram: Building a Healthier Social Media

Instagram: Building a Healthier Social Media

INSTAGRAM’S NEW UPDATES

If you’re a frequent Instagram user, you’ve probably noticed by now that the social media giant has undergone some rather drastic changes in the past few months. These changes are long overdue and much needed! The changes (or updates) directly affect what people in the tech industry call the “user experience.” In other words, Insta is finally addressing an issue that has had many parents worried for years: their social media has a seriously toxic and addictive user experience, especially among younger users.

LIKED BY … AND OTHERS

In an effort to decrease the addictive nature of their software, one of the major changes that Insta introduced was disabling the ability for most users to view how many “likes” a post received. Instead, users simply now only see the name of one user, followed by “and others.” (Note that this update did not affect certain Instagram accounts, such as accounts registered as an artist.) Although you still get bombarded with the dopamine-induced heart symbol notifications, and users are still able to see who liked their post, Insta has nonetheless attempted to shift the focus of their software away from “competitive liking” and more towards post appreciation.

REMOVAL OF THE “FOLLOWING” ACTIVITY MONITOR

The only reason I can think of for needing to see what other people are doing on Insta is if I had a career in marketing or statistics research. In early October, the developers behind the software removed the ability for users to see the like activity of who they follow. Under the “following” tab, a user was able to see which posts were liked by whom. Can you imagine the plethora of issues that this must have caused? To add fuel to the fire, you were able to see which users recently followed other users. In other words, if your friend started to follow someone you don’t like, you would be able to see this activity and voila, the drama begins! Yay Instagram for removing this feature and keeping friends together.

OFFENSIVE COMMENTS FILTER

This Insta feature was added to an updates package back in May of 2018, however, it still deserves some recognition nonetheless. Instagram developed an algorithm for detecting and hiding “comments containing attacks on a person’s appearance or character, as well as threats to a person’s well-being or health.” The goal for developing the filter was to promote a safer online community according to Instagram’s info center. 

QUICK SEARCH BUTTONS ON THE EXPLORE PAGE   

In an effort to promote the exposure of more creative and inspirational content, Insta added buttons on their explore page that allows you to quickly search through various categories of creative subject matter. The buttons include topics such as Style, Decor, TV & Movies and Art, among many.  

SOME OF IT HAS TO COME FROM YOU  

No matter how many changes, algorithms or filters Instagram can possibly develop, the best way to have a positive experience on social media ultimately comes down to you (the user) and how you use it. Instagram’s algorithm for what you see on the application is based on what the system thinks you want to see the most. The way this algorithm operates is through monitoring your “taps.” Therefore, each time you tap on anything on Instagram, it is logged for your account and then their system pushes more of this content your way. All of this to say, Instagram can only do so much on their end to ensure that their users are safe from harmful messages and social media addiction, however, the only way you can truly have a safe experience is by wanting to.    

Are Smartphones and Social Media Affecting our Mental Health?

Are Smartphones and Social Media Affecting our Mental Health?

Smartphones are the center of everything that defines our modern daily lives and the way that we communicate with one another. Whether it be through communication, our consumption of entertainment, or the new ways we gain information; our lives have been forever changed by the unique qualities that smartphones provide us with. In fact, smartphones, and social media by extension have become so synonymous with our lives that many of us can no longer imagine living without these devices in the palm of our hands at all times. This has led to some concern with some researchers claiming that overuse in smartphones has caused a severe uptick in depression and anxiety. With it being such a major part of our life, could our reliance on smartphones be having a negative effect on our mental health and causing us to be the victim of an addiction that is beyond our control?

According to researcher Dr. Jean Twenge, smartphones have been the single largest contributor to a rising rate of depression amongst teens and young adults. Twenge published her findings in the aptly-titled, ‘Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?’ in the September 2017 edition of The Atlantic magazine. In the article, Twenge claims that social media, and its easy access through smartphones, have been the largest contributors to anxiety amongst teens, which leads to loneliness and insecurity. In some serious cases, Twenge believes that teens who use social media for more than three hours a day were more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, making children born between 1995-2012 the most at-risk generation yet. Twenge believes that the biggest cause of this is due to the perception of unreality that social media feeds to its users.

Sad young girl
The affects of social media usage.

Living in the age in which we document each of our activities online, browsing through social media can have its implications on our mental health. Twenge claims that because the nature of social media encourages users to broadcast the most fascinating and exciting elements of one’s activities, these postings create an unrealistic perspective of the lives of those we are connected with. While falling into the trap of looking at someone else’s far more exciting life, we begin to feel unsatisfied about our own. We become increasingly unaware that what we perceive are far from reality. In other words, the view seen through social media becomes unrealistic and is causing a negative implication on our mental health as a result.

When it came time to take upon a topic for my Integration Project, a project that is required of TAV College students completing the Arts, Letters, and Communication program, I decided to dedicate it to uncovering the effects that these devices, as well as social media platforms are having on our long-term health. Of course, I couldn’t approach the subject without reflecting upon myself and so I set out to document the ways that social media was influencing my life, my mental health state and, not to mention, my productivity. Needless to say, it was difficult to get through one single project without picking up my phone to answer messages or scroll through Instagram. Altogether, I noted that I spent over two and a half hours on social media each day, between checking my phone to view messages and comments or even just to scroll through my feed. Not only was this a detrimental blow to my productivity but it was evident that an overabundance of social media was negatively impacting the viewpoint of my own life and that something needed to be done about it. It was at this time that I decided to pursue a challenge that would see me quitting social media altogether, for as long as possible. The only problem? I was just as addicted to my device as Dr. Jean Twenge suggested in her findings.

It was evident that staying off my device was going to be a challenge and it was one I failed at miserably. It would be difficult to make it through the day without scrolling through my Instagram feed to check what I’ve missed out on in the world, since I last checked. However, I began to pay closer attention to how I perceived the world that was showcased through Instagram or Facebook, which almost always exclusively shows the positive, exciting aspects of my friend networks’ lives; As if to show that their life is increasingly more exciting than my own. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t maintain social media as a haven of positivity and connection but many of us find ourselves using social platforms as an effort to gloat about our own exciting activities in an attempt to feel better about ourselves. When we find ourselves on the receiving end of such a message, it dissuades us from being happy about our own lives and accomplishments, in comparison to the brightly-contrasted photos or fake-laughter photos of our friends making it seem like they were caught reacting to the world’s funniest joke on camera.

Even if it remains difficult to assume the challenge of disconnecting from these devices, this approach shined a bright light on how social media truly influences our lives. While it’s easy to suggest and more difficult to take action upon, it’s important to find ways to disconnect from our devices that connect us to the ones around us. More importantly, it’s important to remember that while our devices may offer the ability to connect us closer to our friends and family, the perception and the reality is never quite the same.

Have We become a Commodity?  A Look at Data Privacy on Social Media

Have We become a Commodity? A Look at Data Privacy on Social Media

There’s an age-old saying that goes; if the product is free, then you are the product. With a never-ending list of free products and applications that regularly rule our lives, from games to social media applications, these apps may not bring a loss to your wallet but they will certainly cost you nonetheless. The only charge associated with it: Your privacy.

In March of 2019, co-founder and CEO of Facebook Inc., Mark Zuckerberg, published a three thousand word essay outlining Facebook’s new plan to prioritize user data and improve the safety of this data in the future. Zuckerberg’s post is likely an attempt at damage control following several scandals of data breaching and instances of data misuse. As a result, Facebook has been at the forefront of controversy for many months but even while Facebook’s stock may have dropped, which also includes the Facebook-owned applications Instagram and WhatsApp, the company remains popular. However, what happens when a major company like this, one that owns more than half the market share of social media and digital communication, violates basic privacy ethics? And, how do we hold them accountable?

These issues may not even come as a surprise to frequent social media users, because the use of our private data is part of what shapes our personal social experiences on these platforms. Social media platforms gather your data to understand your unique consumer behavior, in order to create effective targeted advertising. With this data, social media companies can properly provide advertisers with quantifiable data about consumers for businesses to capitalize upon. Therefore, each and every advertisement that appears in your social media feeds are out there using the very data that you gave over to the company. Factors like this include, your geographical location, your education history, occupation, your likes, beliefs, and even your face.

Picture this scenario: You just finished uploading photos from your recent exciting holiday party and immediately upon uploading these photos of you and your friends, Facebook has already identified the faces in the photos and asks if you’d like to tag your friends in those photos. Meaning that Facebook’s facial recognition adds to the fact that the company knows everything about you, from your worst time-wasting habits to your own unique face (which gets more disconcerting when you consider that there’s a large database that stores and recognizes your face and can identify it as such whenever it appears in a photo or video.) Perhaps you become concerned by a major conglomerate’s ability to recognize you and quickly rush to Facebook to delete all the photos and videos of yourself from the platform. That may seem effective at first, until you consider the March 2018 report by New York Magazine, which claimed that the company hadn’t deleted any of the videos after users tried to delete old videos and other content that was still living on the company’s servers. This led to the company apologizing for this practice and promised to truly delete them upon user request. Despite everything, by using Facebook’s platform and agreeing to its Terms of Service, you provide the company with the license to use any pictures and videos that you publish to the platform for their own purposes. In other words, while the copyright to the photo may be your own intellectual property, Facebook reserves the right to re-publish your picture on one of their pages or use your likeness in a television commercial without paying you a dime.

Taking this all into account makes recent scandals surrounding the company even more troublesome, including last years infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal. Cambridge Analytica was a political consulting firm that leveraged data mining and data analysis to create communication strategies for political campaigns. During the 2016 election cycle, eighty seven million users had their personal data breached by the consulting firm through the two hundred seven thousand users who provided data for an app called “This is Your Digital Life”. Facebook gave permission to this third-party app to collect data of users who consented to answer surveys about their digital usage habits for monetary compensation. Violating their agreement with Facebook’s terms of service, the Cambridge Analytica application instead also gathered the information of the “friend network” of each user, which breached not only the users themselves but the entirety of each of their friends on the platform and beyond. With this data, the firm set about creating strategies to help boost its political client during that election cycle, the now-president Donald J. Trump, which led to Russian interference in the U.S. election using Facebook as a primary tool to spread false information through targeted advertising.

Aside from Facebook’s very disconcerting issues surrounding their ability to combat false information (all the while profiting the very same advertising), a far more personal question that we ought to ask ourselves is: How do we want these conglomerates to handle our private data and information? Ultimately, it comes down to how we legally view the service and the company as a whole. When testifying before the United States Supreme Court last year, Zuckerberg stated that he views Facebook Inc. as a “technology company” rather than a media company. The issue that lies here is that we don’t yet have guidelines to how we hold social platforms accountable with the law. Should Facebook be deemed a media or publishing company, it would be held accountable to laws and restrictions set in place for several decades, enforcing transparency from the electoral candidates themselves. In the meantime, United States lawmakers have scrambled to decide just how to regulate Facebook, and just what that regulation might even be.

Despite Facebook’s somewhat unethical practices, it’s certain that even with user dissatisfaction, its practices aren’t going to change anytime soon. This is because Facebook isn’t as interested in creating a positive user experience than it is interested in mining your data to sell to other corporate advertisers. Perhaps the biggest selling point of Facebook’s multiple major brands is that all of your co-workers, friends, and family members are omnisciently present on the platform, which makes it an integral part of how we communicate. In fact, it would be even more of an inconvenience to quit the platform entirely seeing as how our lives have become so integrated with it. It’s important that we remain careful about how much of our data we choose to share with these companies. The more that we surrender our privacy to the product, the more that we ourselves become the product worth re-selling.

Sign Language: Should We All Learn It?

Sign Language: Should We All Learn It?

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, American Sign Language (ASL) is the fourth most spoken language in the United States, with over two million people in North America using ASL. However, sign language has no connection to the English language we consistently use. Moreover, British sign language is different from American sign language. Above all, sign language isn’t only about the gestures, it is composed of vocabulary, expression and grammar.

As recognized, sign language is the fundamental language of people who are deaf and hard of hearing. Sign language can be some people’s first language as well. In any respect, learning sign language is beneficial to everyone even if you think you do not need to learn it. So, why should we learn it?

sign-language

Graphic by Propa Alam

 Cultural awareness is notably essential, so being competent with sign language not only helps with your language proficiency but also communicate and comprehend disabled people in a meaningful and considerate way. On the other hand, learning a new language is commonly enjoyable and gratifying to a certain extent. It allows you to have the opportunity to get to know people from the deaf community and learn about the community. According to World Health Organization (WHO), it is stated that approximately 466 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss, which include 34 million children and is estimated that by 2050 over 900 million people will have disabling hearing loss.

Sign language can be convenient in the business world as well. Generally, it is required to learn how to use sign language in the workforce where you are in a position of interacting with deaf individuals and people with hearing issues in any condition, especially when it comes to being a professional interpreter and working in broadcasting. In addition, it is known as a great professional asset and overall enhances your resume. Not to mention, it has been asserted that learning sign language helps with cognitive abilities and boosts your language skills. You will be able to gain an appreciation of visual arts as well.

All things considered, sign language grants a hearing person convenience that helps them learn a whole new language, allows them to connect with the deaf community and is generally a professional asset. Nonetheless, it would be favorable if schools and institutions included sign language as a language choice for the fact it would allow children to learn this particular language which would benefit them and allow them to connect with the disabled community. Broadly, there are more purposes and ways to use sign language apart from business, specialty and joy.

Nasrin Sotoudeh

Nasrin Sotoudeh

Last month, an Iranian human rights lawyer named Nasrin Sotoudeh was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes. Arrested last June, Sotoudeh was accused of: Insulting Iran’s supreme “leader,” circulating propaganda and spying, as reported by The Guardian. Sotoudeh had previously been incarcerated in years past for similar crimes.

Sotoudeh is known for defending women who have protested Iran’s compulsory headscarf laws, as well as other human rights defenders. In 1985, the hijab became mandatory for all women in the country, regardless of religious beliefs. Recently, women have been protesting this law publically by removing their headscarves and in some cases, carrying them on sticks and posting images to social media, which occasionally go viral. These images and other relevant media have aided in spreading awareness on the issue beyond the country’s borders. Although the sentence for a woman who removes her hijab typically does not exceed two months, if she is believed to be encouraging others to follow suit, she may face up to a decade in prison.

In 1936, ruler Reza Shah Pahlavi banned the hijab and chador in a bid to westernize the country. For some, this caused great discomfort and the hijab and chador became symbols of the revolution to come years later. Some argue that the religious clothing represents aspects of Iranian culture, but to many women living under the mandatory hijab law, such as Shaparak Shajarizadeh, the hijab represents female oppression and infringement of citizens’ rights.

In an interview conducted by Celine Cooper, a Montreal based journalist, Shaparak Shajarizadeh details her own personal experience as an activist against Iran’s oppressive hijab law.

“Lots of people say that there are more important issues than compulsory hijab. But for me, it is not just about having a veil on your head or having some sort of dress code. It’s about violence. Iranian women always have this shadow of fear when we are out. You don’t feel safe.” -Shaparak Shajarizadeh, Iranian activist and defendee of Nasrin Sotoudeh

Whether it be banning certain clothing pieces, or forcing it upon the individuals, policing people’s clothing choices is oppressive and indicative of a government’s lack of respect for their country’s citizens’ rights and freedoms. The harsh and barbaric sentenced being delivered to activists in Iran who dare to protest against the country’s oppressive laws is deplorable and deserved the attention of other nations across the globe that believe in the preservation of human rights for all.