The Danger of Cookies
Australian journalists have discovered that the site is targeting depressed users to place ads more efficiently. Will you be next?
By Alli Guaman, Marymount Manhattan College
When it comes to social media, especially Facebook, it’s normal to have a lot of conflicting emotions—you love it, then you hate it and then you love it again.
Of course, Facebook feeds have long been the culprits behind insecurities and envy, but, as of now, Facebook usage is at an all-time high. According to the Facebook Newsroom, there have been 1.28 billion active users on average for March 2017, and 1.94 billion active users as of March 31, 2017, with 88 percent of users living outside of the United States. Those are a lot of Facebook feeds to scroll through.
It’s true that Facebook has been a revolutionary social media platform. People from opposite sides of the world can communicate with each other through direct messaging, sent and received in a matter of seconds, but, for others, Facebook might as well be known as the “anti-social” media platform. There have been studies that show that, aside from jealousy and insecurity, Facebook can cause depression. Seeing Everyone Else’s Highlight Reels, a study by Mai-ly N. Steers, published in 2014, reveals how Facebook usage is linked to depressive symptoms in adolescents, college students and even older folk.
Facebook gives users a “mechanism” that allows them to divulge personal information, including status updates expressing their depressive episodic moods. By tracking the status updates of two hundred college students throughout the course of a year, researchers were able to determine that 25 percent of Facebook profiles “evidenced depressive symptoms.” In another study that surveyed Facebook users for over a year, it was found that individuals who had an active Facebook account for longer amounts of time felt as if they were less happy than their online peers, and thus that life was unfair. (Both studies can be found in Mai-ly N.’s study linked above.)
With all the competition going on in Facebook feeds, it’s no wonder users often end up feeling negatively about themselves, but what many people don’t realize is that online advertising also plays a central role in shaping how individuals view themselves.
Although Facebook does not directly choose the advertisements that will be used on their website, the company does have a major say in how the ads are chosen—too big of a say, apparently. In a 2017 leaked document titled “Confidential: Internal Only,” found on “The Australian,” it was found that Facebook has allegedly sold the “emotional trends” of youth to advertisers. According to this article, “the document [was] prepared by two top Australian Facebook executives [who] use[d] algorithms to create data (via posts, pictures, and reactions) on the emotional state of 6.4 million ‘high schoolers,’ ‘tertiary students,’ and ‘young Australians and New Zealanders…’” It was a bold move on the part of the Facebook executives, especially since “sentimental analysis” research, a term coined by the analysts, goes against the Australian Association of National Advertiser’s accepted Code For Advertising And Marketing Communications To Children. However, after denying said allegations, Facebook then apologized.
Targeting insecure youth may be against Australian protocol, but, in the United States, there are no such regulations. This is problematic, as a great deal of youth are now exposed to technology and, more often than not, are on social media. A 2015 Harvard 10P Institute report, which revealed the social media trends of millennials, found that Facebook remains the most-used platform among them. Eighty-three percent of millennials reported having a Facebook account, while 88 percent reported that they use Facebook even though they may not have their own account. The reason for this? Millennials say Facebook is their means to learning about the news.
It’s important to remember that companies want you to feel insecure. They grow from it. It is all about profit, even if it is at the expense of your insecurities. When you are bombarded with ads telling you to try their new diet pill or schedule an appointment for botox, your self-perception, of course, will become negative; it will also, unfortunately, become unrealistic, which is why you will be prone to believe the lies that appear on the screen telling you to feel a certain way about yourself.
To avoid such unpleasant encounters, you could argue that the only thing students need to do is remove themselves from social media and delete their accounts. However, not only is this implausible, it does not make sense in this day and age where many people are reliant on social media. Therefore, it’s important to be computer savvy when dealing with social platforms such as Facebook, which, behind Google, is the second most internationally used website.
When someone creates a Facebook account, they agree to enable cookies. According to the Indiana University Knowledge Base, “Cookies are messages that web servers pass to your web browser when you visit internet sites.” This means that your search history and internet habits are recorded and stored in the Facebook database, allowing advertisers to cleverly (according to them) place them on your feed.
The solution to this is quite simple. Delete your search history and disable cookies. That way, you can attain the privacy you would not otherwise have online. It may get a bit tedious, but you can surf online without worrying too much about the information Facebook and advertising companies are trying to extract from you. Of course, using Zuckerberg’s creation less (or you can take the full plunge and delete your entire account) is always an option. Not only will your privacy be 100 percent protected, but you will be able to really enjoy life in person, instead of scrolling through pictures of your classmates’ trips to the Bahamas.