I’m old enough to remember life before the internet age.
In elementary school we had a computer lab full of old school Macs with the black screen and green text. The floppy disks we used were actually floppy and kids would race to the big plastic containers with paper sleeves as we fought over who got to play Oregon Trail and Word Munchers.
I’ve used encyclopedia collections that were separated into thick tomes organized by letters and I’ve used a card catalogue to find a book in an actual library. I know what the Dewey Decimal system is.
I remember the age when you had to make solid plans and canceling or changing up the timing of an event was a near impossibility. How in the world would you let anyone know about a change in plans? I’ve printed out driving instructions on how to get from Point A to Point B.
I was also the kid who passed notes to friends in school, living on the edge of my seat in hopes that the person in between us wouldn’t read the note before it got to its intended recipient or worst still that the teacher wouldn’t intercept it. I remember film strips in school and overhead projectors.
It was the days when “Back to the Future” actually felt like an impossibility.
Those days are no more. The creation of and widespread access to the internet rivals the Industrial Revolution as the most significant event in history in terms of changing how we live our everyday lives. There are few, if any, daily tasks that are not touched by our reliance on this amazing digital infrastructure that very few of us actually understand.
The internet in many ways has been a gift. It has made life easier and more efficient. It has opened up worlds of possibility and discovery. It has connected us to people and places in ways we never could have imagined even 20 years ago.
But like many good things, it’s a double-edged sword.
The incredible number of new opportunities and advantages the internet affords us has also opened us up to new threats and an assortment of new dangers that we haven’t been prepared to handle. Most of the protections we have enlisted have been reactionary.
And that means damage has already been done.
We see it most in the rise of social media. Kids today can’t imagine a life without it and, if we’re honest, most adults find themselves equally dependent on that digital connection. Social media has offered the world a new platform to advocate for causes and stay connected with others.
But it didn’t take the recent Facebook whistleblower to reveal to us the reality that social media has a dark side — one that is not lacking in either breadth or depth. As a society, when we recognize that a prominent part of our culture holds inherent harm, we tend to do something to mitigate the damage.
That time is long past due for social media.
We’ve regulated entertainment for years. Now it’s time for social media to have some accountability, too.
The responsibility here is three-way. The companies need to be more accountable for their practices and the government needs to introduce some regulatory practices that protect people.
But the responsibility doesn’t stop there. Parents have a responsibility to monitor and control their kids’ accounts. Social media companies use algorithms to determine the kind of content each account receives. It’s been made evidently clear that algorithms are not designed to take the users’ needs or privacy into account. They are used to maximize profit.
Algorithms don’t have moral compasses. So it begs the question: why do we let them make the decisions about what our kids are consuming on a minute-by-minute basis?
It isn’t just our kids who are affected, though, it’s adults, too. We are equally susceptible.
As technology and society evolve so should our scrutiny and the level of accountability that we demand — both for the companies we entrust with loads of personal information and for ourselves. We must engage in personal responsibility in order to protect our kids and ourselves.
The internet can do a world of good. But as it progresses the oversight for its methods needs to progress, too — both internally and externally.
Cortney Stewart is a 2003 graduate of Lecanto High School. She has bachelor’s degrees in political science and international affairs, a master’s degree in intercultural studies and is currently working on her Ph.D. in international conflict management. She most recently spent two years teaching and training students, teachers and government officials in Baghdad, Iraq. Email her at email@example.com.