Last week, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced an angry and unrelenting Congress that grilled him on everything from whether Facebook is the same as Twitter to how Facebook makes money.
But more baffling than the questions our legislators lobbed at Zukerberg remains our own outrage over breaches of digital privacy that have always existed, but have only recently drawn lasting attention.
In an age when instant gratification trumps scrutiny, it isn’t surprising that no one reads user agreements. Granted, it’s not as if user agreements as lengthy or complicated as Facebook’s could be digestible to anyone but seasoned lawyers. And yet, it should still be surprising that in 2018, for us millennials, indignation and absolving ourselves of responsibility still go hand-in-hand.
From the soaring costs of college to skyrocketing housing markets, we millennials know that nothing in life is truly free. Therefore, there should have been little doubt that every time we updated our statuses, posted pictures and liked and shared content, there would be some consequence — in this case, the selling of our information.
Russian meddling and disinformation aside, Facebook and other companies did not necessarily betray us when what we considered private went public. Rather, we betrayed ourselves throughout the last decade in failing to scrutinize our use of social media and its potential impact.
Social media has been damaging in skewing our understandings of not only content sharing but also news dissemination, and our perceptions of ourselves as making positive differences.
According to a 2016 study by Stanford University, a plurality of high school students couldn’t tell real and fake news sources apart on Facebook. Additionally, the study noted: “Most college students didn’t suspect potential bias in a tweet from an activist group,” and “most Stanford students couldn’t identify the difference between a mainstream and fringe source.”
This study reflects a greater and more concerning trend. From 2012 to 2017, only a fifth of millennials reported trust in Congress, but despite improving from previous years, our generation’s voter turnout still lags behind other generations’ by double-digit points.
And though we rank environmental sustainability as a top concern, our generation is on track to eat just as much meat as Generation X. Despite nearly half of millennials identifying climate change as the most serious and pressing global issue, 15 percent of millennials said they had made no effort to help the environment. And even worse, 78 percent of young baby boomers and 71 percent of young Generation X members reported that they cut back on heating fuel, as opposed to 56 percent of millennials.
Closer to home, as members of a university like USC, it remains to be seen if student outrage over gentrification has translated into more activism, service hours or community outreach.
These examples paint a bleak picture in which our indignation stops at social media posts and soundbites, but too often even spirals into behavior that betrays our very same convictions.
In the case of social media, the “March for Our Lives” movement has reconceptualized the tools of the internet, refocusing on sharing instead of selling information. It has rallied thousands behind the notion that brief spouts of angry tweets after tragedy aren’t enough. This particular social movement has revealed to young people how they must follow through with action and activism.
Our country was founded upon the notion of “no taxation without representation.” But only five millennials occupy seats in Congress. Millennials hold a mere 5 percent of seats in state legislatures across the nation. However, young people have been answering the call all across the country, from Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, elected to office at the age of 26, to the almost 11,000 millennials who have asked about running for state and local office through the organization Run for Something. Action is being taken.
Now, projected to become the largest generation in the country, we bear the largest responsibility. What makes us enraged must compel us to become engaged. If not, the selling of our information will seem a small price to pay.
Alec Vandenberg is a sophomore majoring in public policy. His column,“It Takes a Village,” runs every other Monday.