Open Letter in Response to the Facebook Files Case: A Message from the SFS President

 
Social media is again in the spotlight, this time concerning how major platforms are designed, managed, and used—and the consequences of those arrangements for the health and safety of society at large. Although Facebook and Instagram have been the primary focus of discussion, particularly following the recent investigation surrounding Facebook, the issues in question are germane to virtually all platforms.
 
The School for Field Studies (SFS) is an institution of higher education with nearly 20,000 alumni around the world. We rely heavily on social media to connect with that community and to bring our mission and programs to the attention of colleges, universities, and students. It is therefore reasonable that we ask: do we have a responsibility to encourage and support, if not demand, that social media executives and managers behave in a socially responsible manner? Should those executives consider more deliberately their decisions, which can foster the constructive aspects of their products and sharply curtail the harmful abuses perpetuated by mismanagement? Or continue to maintain a hands-off policy that transforms their platforms into catalysts of such abuses?
 
At SFS, we believe that constructive engagement with social media requires us to have a thoughtful management philosophy in our use of these platforms. As the material posted on these forums can directly help–or harm—others, it is not only a useful and productive endeavor, but our responsibility as users of social media and citizens who feel it important to do our part in working for the common good. Moreover, our primary constituents are students—largely, young people—who have disproportionately borne the burden of the under-researched effects of social media on their mental and community health. As they inherit the present political environment, they will have to reckon with the impact of social media on the health of our democracy.
 
We are actively discussing our engagement with social media at SFS Headquarters. We encourage the broader SFS community to offer their perspective on balancing the value of community connection with the dangers of complacency. For those interested in sharing their thoughts, we welcome you to reach us and join the conversation at feedback@fieldstudies.org.