Before starting this, I “wasted” an hour (or so) on Facebook. Remember that site that saw its numbers of teen users drop several years ago so it bought Instagram? The Facebook Big Brother has me recorded as a white mother in a rural place that likes clicking on women’s rights and home organization links. It shows me ads for fall sweaters, eco-friendly home goods and comfortable shoes. And when I go on Instagram I see Crayola masks and social justice T-shirts.

They’re not wrong. They just watch my every move and want to make money off of me. But I work with teens (at Hardy Girls Healthy Women) so social media isn’t optional. 

For everything Facebook may be guilty of, they didn’t invent capitalism or the packaging of misogyny through capitalism. I’m not trying to excuse their behavior. One of the teens in our program said: “The fact that in choosing money over their users, they allowed hate speech, put teens and young people at a higher risk for depression and body image issues, and put everyone at a higher risk for human trafficking, now that was the shocking thing.” Agreed. That is wrong. However, the gall of Congress and media outlets to point the judgmental finger at Facebook and not acknowledge the three pointing back at them, that’s what gets me. 

At Hardy Girls Healthy Women, we look at the environment rather than the individual as the place for change. It is the soil we are all planted in – mixed with racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, sizeism, ableism and more found in our roots – that grew the structures and institutions that define and shape American cultural norms. Instead, with our flawed rugged individualism, society points at these young people, these individual seeds, and questions what is wrong with them or what that one corporation is doing to them.

Facebook’s internal research didn’t provide any previously unknown information to folks who’ve worked in mental health and media literacy for decades. Are we shocked that marketing objectifies and oversexualizes women to sell everything from cars to salads? This is not new. 

Does Facebook need to be held accountable for knowingly capitalizing on emotionally damaging strategies for making money? Yes. As does nearly every marketing company and the folks who hire them. Every director who uses tropes to sell recycled storylines with women holding less than a third of speaking roles (and usually talking about men). Every lawmaker who passes policy without consulting the people (often youth, women and gender-expansive folks) who are most affected. These are the systems who’ve created this soil and they are thrilled to call out one aspect of them, Facebook, to distract from their leadership in building and upholding them. 

#Metoo happened not because of Facebook’s algorithms. The movement, from the work of Tarana Burke at Girls for Gender Equity, started long before it was viral. However, it did spread because of social media. When we talk with parents and educators about engaging with young people, they want us to say social media is bad.

That kids need to stay off it. Teens in our program use it to talk with friends (especially during the pandemic), follow news sources, stay in touch with family members, communicate with school clubs they belong to, and share content they believe in. Snapchat and Instagram may seem like silly filters and rich influencers, but there are communities on there. Folks who’ve found each other who are queer, or children of immigrants, or young people mourning members of their communities lost to violence and so many other groups who still aren’t appreciated (and often are harmed) by general society. 

So if we are going to pretend we want to protect teen girls, which, honestly, society hasn’t really shown any sign of actually wanting to do, we must listen to them first. We must take them seriously and put the power in their hands to challenge a society that ignores their brilliance. They are not blank canvases being preyed upon by Mark Zuckerberg – instead they are brilliant young people who need new soil to grow. We uproot misogynist capitalism and we dare adult allies to join us.

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