Why do I feel distressed? Why is it that I’m constantly worried about situations that normally don’t bother me? Am I projecting the right image?”
If you have ever asked yourself these questions, you are not the only one. As per statistics, the level of anxiety has become an epidemic in our society in the past few decades.
THE BRAVE NEW WORLD
Our way of life has changed dramatically in recent years and the pace at which we must live has picked up so fast that our abilities to adapt can no longer keep up. Sometimes it feels like we are all living our lives in a fast-forwarded TV show! We are always rushing through the moments of our lives toward an unknown; never taking a pause, out of fear of being left out. We are living in the “brave new world,” where news is more easily broadcast and where information equals money and intelligence equals success. Not only can this be seen in a wide demographic, but also, on an individual level. We have to know, we want to know, everything, all at once.
I used to believe that this feeling of social vulnerable and isolation was unique to celebrities and people of power. However, now this vulnerability has become part of society at-large. We have entered an age where we enjoy being seen; we are all, in some way, content producers and the guardians of our own personal brand! We see ourselves through the lens of a camera and we experience the world through the frame of an app. We all desperately aim for the perfect image of ourselves and we measure this perfection by the number of likes and followers we get. However, how does this need for acceptance affect the perception of ourselves?
THE NEW YORKER GOT IT RIGHT
There was a very interesting cartoon in the New Yorker published on November 9, 2017, in which a woman just finished a marathon in a forest and the caption reads, “If you run a marathon in a forest, but there’s no one around to social media about it, did you really run a marathon?”
Farley Katz, the creator of the cartoon, uses comedy to pose a very important question about the state of our world today in which people do not feel self-achievement unless they know that others have seen it.
I have always believed that Greek mythology has an interesting perspective about looking at world and analyzing human nature through a set of beautifully crafted stories. Mammon, coming from Greek roots, is the term used to represent “money” and material wealth, but more importantly, it is associated with the greed-driven pursuit to “gain.” Here, I draw on a contemporary parallel to gain a following.
LOOK AT YOUR WATCH FROM TIME TO TIME
We are humans and we are fundamentally limited by time. Therefore, it is important to look at our watch from time-to-time. We have to remember to pause and reset. Remember to ask yourself: do you know what your goals are in life? And, are they going to serve your happiness?
Aidan Faminoff is a 21-year-old Florida State University competitive diver and Instagram “celebrity.” Faminoff grew up in Victoria, British Columbia, before accepting a sports scholarship to FSU in 2016. In October of 2016, Faminoff published a “coming out” post, which received a higher-than-anticipated amount of likes and support. Following the success of this post, he began posting high quality photographs that would eventually lead him to gain a following of over 100,000 users and an official “verified” symbol by Instagram (an icon beside an Instagram user’s name which indicates that the account is the authentic presence of a notable public figure, celebrity, global brand or entity it represents.)
Today, Faminoff uses his online celebrity status to not only entertain his users, but to be an icon of inspiration and an advocate for the global LGBTQ+ community.
THE POST THAT CHANGED IT ALL
Q: Where did it all start for you (the post that got the most amount of likes)? And, what was that moment like?
A: My Instagram started gaining a following once I came out [as a member of the LGBTQ+ community] in a post on October 11th, 2016. I was not expecting the reaction that came after. I knew my friends and family were going to be accepting, but I got so many messages from people I did not know. It was an amazing feeling and I cherish that day. Outsports then reached out to me and asked to do an article on me. It took me a year to write my coming out story because I wanted it to be a source of inspiration for others who may not feel comfortable enough to come out.
GET A GLIMPSE INTO MY LIFE
Q: What is the role of Instagram in your life?
A: Instagram, to me, is a way to share what I am doing in my life. I like to share what I during [dive] practice, which is usually dancing, but also, what I’m doing with friends; It’s a way for the public to get a glimpse into my personal life.
THIS IS MY INSTAGRAM AND NO ONE ELSE’S
Q: Being an Instagram user with a high number of followers, do you ever experience feelings of anxiety or uncertainty after posting a photo or video on Instagram?
A: When I post a photo, I post it because I love it. People will always have an opinion no matter what you are doing. I use to experience anxiety when wondering if people will not like what I post, but then I realized that this is my life. I do not have to conform to the wants and needs of others: this is my Instagram and no one else’s.
HELPING OTHERS THROUGH SHARING MY STORY
Q: How has Instagram impacted your life in a positive way?
A: Instagram helped me in a positive way when I came out [as a member of the LGBTQ+ community]. It let me share my story with others and news pages. I wanted to share my coming out story so that others who are in the closet can read it and get inspired. My goal was to be able to help at least one person and I thought social media was the best way to get my story out.
I AM WHO I AM, ONLINE AND OFFLINE
Q: Being a significant icon for the LGBTQ+ community, do you feel any sort of pressure in representing this cohort?
A: I try to represent myself on social media the same way I am in-person. Posting silly videos of me dancing is what I do at practice. I am not going to share something that does not represent me at all. I gained a following for being myself not trying to be someone I am not.
Special thanks to Aidan for taking the time to answer these questions and sharing his story with us.
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.