Non Productivity

Re-Thinking Facebook’s Value

Academic researchers from the University of Pennsylvania concluded that use of Facebook and its ilk have negative effects on personal well-being (as measured by increased rates of depression and loneliness). It’s good to have academic research available, but even more fascinating is that Facebook itself – back in December 2017 – acknowledged that use of its services had negative effects on personal well-being. A Facebook news item called Hard Questions: Is Spending Time on Social Media Bad for Us? offers:

In general, when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information —reading but not interacting with people —they report feeling worse afterward. In one experiment, University of Michigan students randomly assigned to read Facebook for 10 minutes were in a worse mood at the end of the day than students assigned to post or talk to friends on Facebook. A study from UC San Diego and Yale found that people who clicked on about four times as many links as the average person, or who liked twice as many posts, reported worse mental health than average in a survey. Though the causes aren’t clear, researchers hypothesize that reading about others online might lead to negative social comparison —and perhaps even more so than offline, since people’s posts are often more curated and flattering. Another theory is that the internet takes people away from social engagement in person.

Hence the question is – in a hyper-consumerist and hyper-consumption world, are we tending to create or consume? And if the answer is consume, are the majority of users on Facebook passive or active? If you aren’t a creator in life – but merely a consumer of the latest fads and fashions – it’s going to be a stretch to be a creator on Facebook.

But the picture reported by Facebook wasn’t uniformly bad. There was some good news too, linked with how you used Facebook. For example:

On the other hand, actively interacting with people —especially sharing messages, posts and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions —is linked to improvements in well-being. This ability to connect with relatives, classmates, and colleagues is what drew many of us to Facebook in the first place, and it’s no surprise that staying in touch with these friends and loved ones brings us joy and strengthens our sense of community.

There is some validity in that viewpoint, but even the positive spin would only work if the messages, posts and comments were an accurate portrayal of reality, rather than a fabrication or rose-tinted / filter-adjusted view. If the former was the case, then what was real would be encouraged and furthered. But if the latter was the case, then even the creation of updates among friends would tend towards the unreal, fake and false over time. What was not would be shared as being true. If the close friends were physically distant and were not able to verify the veracity of the messages, posts and comments, then the tendency would be to spin the best view and push towards the unrealistic, untrue, fabricated, and “curated and flattering” – per the bad news analysis above. Without the intensity of shared personal and in-person interactions to confirm and validate what’s shared on Facebook, the negative outcomes will tend to outweigh the positive ones. And where there is the intensity of shared personal and in-person interactions, then the need to talk about it on Facebook as well is … completely unnecessary.

In other words, without the shared physicality of actual community between people, Facebook is negative for well-being. In. Every. Case.

What’s not mentioned in either the bad or good take is the effect of advertisements (especially fake news and democracy-undermining ads) based on micro-targeting through in-depth personal profiling. Even if use of Facebook leads to positive well-being outcomes when used for actively interacting with close friends (and accurately portraying what is happening, not a filtered viewpoint), the business model of “Senator, we run ads” has destroyed at the level of civil society any benefits that might have accrued at a personal level.

Categories: Non Productivity

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