Is Social Media a Threat to Public Safety?

On Oct. 8, Sacred Heart University presented “Public Safety and National Security Challenges in a Post-9/11 World,” a panel moderated by Dr. Gary Rose, Chair of the Department of Government, and featured panelists Robert Antonellis, an alumnus and former Deputy Group Chief of the CIA, and Gary MacNamera, Executive Director of Public Safety and Government Affairs at SHU.

During the panel, topics such as career advice for prospective students, how policies have changed because of 9/11, and various others were discussed.

“I hope that students understand the importance of the type of critical work that Robert Antonellis and Gary MacNamera do, national security and public safety, that protect the type of lives we live as free people,” said Dr. Rose.

Some of the students who were able to attend found the forum to be beneficial to their understanding of safety and security.

“The panel was extremely informative and helpful in understanding just how much public safety and national security has changed since 9/11,” said junior Joe Winterhalter. “Hearing first-hand stories from the panelists made me more confident and prepared for the future.”

However, other students were still concerned about challenges to the mental and physical wellbeing of the public at large, especially in regard to the current digital age.

“Social media can be dangerous for the public,” said senior Andrea Toth. “Not only are there predators disguising themselves as younger children, but it is also dangerous mentally. Every day, people see highly edited photos of celebrities and believe they are natural, but that isn’t the case.”

Recently, there have been accusations made against Facebook about whether the company knowingly causes harm to the public.

According to the Associated Press, Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee who copied thousands of internal documents, testified before Congress on Oct. 5. saying that “the company knows its platform spreads misinformation and content that harms children but refuses to make changes that could hurt its profit.”

Not only is Facebook a single company, but they also own other social media platforms, such as Instagram and WhatsApp, so they have the ability to reach a wider audience.

“We have to understand that while social media brings a lot of positive, it also brings about a lot of negative, and we would do ourselves a disservice not to recognize that,” said MacNamera. “We have to listen and take action. The problem with social media is that it’s quick, it’s not face-to-face, and the information being gathered and spit back to us may affect the way we think. We have to react to it and understand that it is a threat to all of us.”

According to the Associated Press, Haugen said in her testimony, “Congressional action is needed. (Facebook) won’t solve this crisis without your help.” Instead of a breakup of the company, she is advocating for targeted legislative solutions including “legal protections for speech posted on social platforms.”

Some have disagreed with this sort of potential regulation, but instead have pointed to media literacy education for the public as an alternative solution.

“Personally, I see Facebook as a private company, and I do not think that any private company should be subject to that kind of regulation or break up,” said Antonellis.  “However, I do think that people need to be aware what Facebook is, what they receive and what they put on it. It is a social networking tool. I think more individual information would be more useful than dividing a company.”

Recently, Facebook has been making more changes and restrictions following Haugen’s testimony with Congress.

According to the Associated Press as of Oct. 13, “Under the new, more detailed harassment policy, Facebook will bar content that degrades or sexualizes public figures, add more protections from harassment to government dissidents, journalists, and human rights activists and ban all coordinated harassment.”

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