Being on Facebook can be bad for you, social media giant admits
In wide-ranging blog post about the psychological effects of social networking, Facebook’s director of research David Ginsberg says research shows that scrolling through posts without interacting can leave users feeling low in mood.
Facebook has conceded that being on social media can harm users’ health.
Spending time on the platform can lead to negative mental health among users, but the Silicon Valley behemoth has recommended that people post more to try and stop themselves feeling blue.
In his blog post, Ginsberg wrote that people who spend lots of time simply scrolling through their social media feeds but not interacting with anyone reported feeling worse as a result.
He cited a University of Michigan study in which students were randomly assigned to read Facebook for 10 minutes and ended up reporting feeling worse at the end of the day than their peers who were told to talk to friends online instead.
A study from UC San Diego and Yale found that users who clicked on about four times as many links as the average person or ‘liked’ twice as many posts reported experiencing worse mental health than the average.
The reasons for this psychological trend are unclear. However, researchers hypothesise that reading about others can lead to negative social comparisons – a feeling that is thought to be experienced more acutely online than offline since social media posts can give a relatively unrealistic reflection of other peoples’ everyday existences.
Conversely, Ginsberg wrote that actively interacting with people and participating in conversations on Facebook had been linked to “improvements in wellbeing”.
He added that he and his colleague Moira Burke, a research scientist at Facebook, had carried out their review of the academic literature around social media use in a bid to “combat our inner struggles” about the technology’s potential impact on their children and family life.
The blog post also announced new changes aimed at improving the health of users, including a button designed to give people more control over their interactions with former partners and a ‘snooze’ service allowing users to mute people without permanently unfriending them. After Facebook was criticised for allowing people to live-stream video of violent events - including their own deaths - the site has also launched a pattern recognition program aimed at spotting posts or live-streamed video that could be a precursor to suicide.
Earlier this month, Facebook announced it was launching Messenger Kids, its first app tailored for under-age users – ranging from babies to 12-year-olds. This prompted criticism from commentators who believe it is harmful to young children to be on the social network.
Sean Parker, one of Facebook's early investors and its first president, recently went public with his criticisms of the site, saying it had been designed to exploit human vulnerability.
“God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” he said.
Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive, also said last week that the site was “destroying how society works”, adding that he felt “tremendous guilt” about his part in the company’s growth and has banned his own children from using it.
“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” he said. “[There’s] no civil discourse, no cooperation; [only] misinformation, mistruth.”
He added: “We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection because we get rewarded in these short-term signals – ‘Hearts’ and ‘Likes’ and ‘Thumbs-Up’. We conflate that with value and we conflate that with truth and instead what it really is is fake brittle popularity that’s short-term and leaves you even more vacant and empty.”