Facebook has acknowledged what multiple studies have already confirmed – the social network has a tendency to make users depressed, stressed, and envious.
After years of studies pointing to negative experiences for users of Facebook, the social media giant has finally conceded that users may experience periods of sadness or depression. “In general, when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information — reading but not interacting with people — they report feeling worse afterward,” Facebook wrote in a new blog post titled “Hard Questions: Is Spending Time on Social Media Bad for Us?”.
Facebook mentions a University of Michigan study titled “Passive Facebook usage undermines affective well-being: Experimental and longitudinal evidence.” In the study students were randomly assigned to read Facebook for ten minutes. The students who only scrolled reported feeling in a worse mood by the end of the day when compared to students who talked to friends and posted on Facebook. The blog post also mentions a study from UC San Diego and Yale which 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.
The blog also notes that a study conducted by Facebook and Robert Kraut at Carnegie Mellon University found that people who sent or received more messages, comments and Timeline posts reported improvements in social support, depression and loneliness.
Simply broadcasting status updates wasn’t enough; people had to interact one-on-one with others in their network. Other peer-reviewed longitudinal research and experiments have found similar positive benefits between well-being and active engagement on Facebook.
Facebook concludes their post by stating that their research and the academic literature “suggests that it’s about how you use social media that matters when it comes to your well-being.” Interestingly, Facebook’s solution to negative emotional responses caused by too much Facebook is basically to use Facebook more often and in a more social manner. Facebook writes:
According to the research, it really comes down to how you use the technology. For example, on social media, you can passively scroll through posts, much like watching TV, or actively interact with friends — messaging and commenting on each other’s posts. Just like in person, interacting with people you care about can be beneficial, while simply watching others from the sidelines may make you feel worse.
Although Facebook is only now publicly discussing the effects of the social network being so heavily intertwined with billions of people’s lives, there have been studies examining the issue since at least 2013. Reuters UK reported that a group of researchers from the Institute of Information Systems at Berlin’s Humboldt University found that “one in three people felt worse after visiting the site and more dissatisfied with their lives, while people who browsed without contributing were affected the most.”
“We were surprised by how many people have a negative experience from Facebook with envy leaving them feeling lonely, frustrated or angry,” researcher Hanna Krasnova told Reuters.
According to a 2014 study published in Computers in Human Behavior, most users are not very social when using social media, choosing instead to passively consume information. The study, “Facebook’s emotional consequences: Why Facebook causes a decrease in mood and why people still use it,” found that this leaves users feeling unfulfilled and dissatisfied. Users experienced a decline in mood after spending time scrolling through Facebook. The mood decline was not prevalent during browsing the Internet in general. The researchers believe people leave Facebook feeling as if they wasted their time and this causes them to feel sad for being unproductive.
Another study published in the June 2016 issue of Current Opinion in Psychology found that Facebook contributes to envy of friends and could lead to depression. A February 2017 study, titled “Association of Facebook Use with Compromised Well-Being: A Longitudinal Study,” argues that using Facebook regularly can have a negative effect on a person’s well being. “Exposure to the carefully curated images from others’ lives leads to negative self-comparison, and the sheer quantity of social media interaction may detract from more meaningful real-life experiences,” the report says.
In the report “Seeing Everyone Else’s Highlight Reels: How Facebook Usage is Linked to Depressive Symptoms,” researchers investigated how social comparison to peers through Facebook interactions might impact users’ psychological health. The research provides evidence that people feel depressed after spending a large amount of time on Facebook. The problem was again attributed to comparing oneself to others.
Indeed, the concern over Facebook use was recently echoed by Sean Parker, Facebook’s first president. Parker was speaking at an Axios event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia when he discussed the origins and implications of Facebook:
“The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them … was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’” Parker said.
“And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever,” he told Axios. “And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments.”
Parker added: “It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”
“The inventors, creators — it’s me, it’s Mark Zuckerberg, it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people — understood this consciously,” he said. “And we did it anyway.
This is also not the first time Facebook has been outed for manipulating perception. In 2014 they were exposed for blatantly targeting human emotions in an experiment without their users’ knowledge:
Facebook revealed that it had manipulated the news feeds of over half a million randomly selected users to change the number of positive and negative posts they saw. It was part of a psychological study to examine how emotions can be spread on social media. (Source)
The implications of these studies should not be ignored. The world’s largest social network is already a partner of the U.S. government and maintains close relationships with intelligence agencies around the world. The fact that we also know the platform is harming us on an emotional, psychological, and possibly even spiritual level, should not be taken lightly.
Image credit: Anthony Freda Art