Dear Katie,

   The world you are growing up in now is much like the one I was raised in. I can’t remember a time without technology and neither can you. From a very young age, I was playing games online like Toontown and Club Penguin to learn and explore the world never for one moment questioning the motives of the business behind the screen. As I think back, my adolescent years were filled with the rise of social media and funny Skype calls with friends in elementary school. I assume your memories will be similar considering you’re only a few years younger I am. The new technological developments of our generation are amazing, but there are downsides to growing up in a society that always welcomes new products and apps without questioning how they can influence us especially children trying to understand the world.

I’m writing this letter because our world is changing rapidly, and very few people are stopping to think about the consequences of ubiquitous technology. Your generation is spending hours of time on the computer every day, and research shows that this much time on the computer leads to depression, anxiety, and insecurity. You’re now reaching the age where I struggled to understand the world and was falsely led astray by what my peers accepted as reality. I urge you to question the choices you’re making—are they for popularity, acceptance, your friends, or yourself?—and understand that what you’re told to do and be online is not a fair representation of how the world is. Social media companies are able to influence your emotions, target your behavior, and spy on you when you use their platforms and all of this impacts how you see the world.

   Facebook is a website I grew up using. It may seem like an old-fashioned website now, but it’s an example that shows the dangers of social media use when it comes to how you feel. Facebook is a company that billions of people willingly turn to to share personal information, pictures, thoughts, and videos. However, one thing you may not realize is that when you accept the terms of service, you are giving Facebook the power to toy with you and exploit the information you provide them. The company has the power to influence the way you feel when you check your feed and see what you’re friends are up to. A research study published in a prominent psychology journal states that professors from Cornell University found “experimental evidence that emotional contagion (spreading of emotions) occurs without direct interaction between people, and in the complete absence of nonverbal cues.” This means that Facebook can spread emotions among people and has the power to make you happy or sad by changing your feed. It can make your feed be filled with happy comments and updates from your friends, or they can do the opposite. As the user, you are never in control, and that’s scary. It has become common for teens to turn to all social media—not just Facebook— and feel anxious, depressed, and nervous. This is not ok. You can’t accept this, and you deserve more. I have felt the same way you do worried about how I look and feeling less than what I am. I have been in your shoes.

   As a young girl, I constantly struggled to understand the world of social media, a world that prides itself on superficiality and pushes young children to appear older than they are. Only when I was exposed to this world, I didn’t know that it was false and that insecurities were covered up by photoshop and make-up. The beauty that you see online is enhanced to an extreme that is unnatural. Because the “popular” girls in my class were posting photos in this way, I thought there was something wrong with me and the body that I was given. I spent a lot of my time looking down at myself and what I looked like. There was, however, nothing wrong with me, and there’s nothing wrong with you. Do not spend your time envious of others and wishing that you had more. God made you uniquely you, and you are very lucky to have two hands and a special, thoughtful mind. This perspective of the world on social media is not a healthy one. You deserve happiness and positivity, and social media won’t provide what you’re looking for. You are in control of how you feel now that you know about the jealousy that festers of these websites. I want you to at least be aware of how it can impact you and perhaps even delete your social media account.

   In addition, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram are websites that target us to make a profit, specifically off younger kids. The tactics that Facebook uses to display ads, however, are not uncommon. Advertisers have historically used “cookies” to track the websites you regularly visit in order to display personalized ads. In fact, Wikipedia states, “At the turn of the 21st century, some websites, including the search engine Google, changed online advertising by personalizing ads based on web browsing behavior.” Google and other companies basically took what already existed in the physical world and applied it online. These companies know everything that you see and search. Companies sell your information to advertising agencies in order to make money off of you. This is an issue that more need to be focused on when it comes to teenagers and children. There need to be more protections for us and our activities online. We are often targeted by advertising companies to buy their products because we’re naive and unaware of what they’re doing. On Facebook, the individuals behind the company know your emotions based on how you interact with their site and what you look at and like. They’re able to recognize your emotions and use that to their advantage. Facebook is able to, for example, tell whether an insecure 15-year-old girl is depressed or anxious when online. Instead of using this information for good, say referring the girl to a therapist in her area, Facebook uses it to recommend a weight loss product and preys on the weaknesses of young teens who don’t know any better. Technology needs to be changed to be used for good and not bad. You are unfairly targeted, and you have the power to stop being targeted too. It only requires you to delete your account, and you’ll gain back the rights that are taken from you.

   You, Katie, deserve to be informed about what’s happening online. Your emotions are used against you by indifferent companies to influence your actions. You are more inclined to feel unsure of yourself and insecure when you’re on social media. In fact, research has shown that the more time you spend online and social media, the more unhappy you’ll feel. This information is powerful because now you know and can be aware of how you’re being influenced and make the right choices. There is so much more in the world than what’s happening online. You may go online to receive recognition for your actions, how you look, find people to talk to, etc., but you need to find confidence in yourself and who you are. You are a loved, valuable person. Don’t give others power over you.

Sincerely,

An older you

Cover Image Credit: hercampus.com

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