I posted a video a couple of weeks ago that shows Jonathan Haidt discussing Jean Twange’s findings that Facebook and social media in general have led to disturbing trends in social decay, and in particular the increase in anxiety and depression amongst its users:
Facebook needed to respond. Last Friday, they released an article on their development blog that recognizes Twange’s findings:
A lot of smart people are looking at different aspects of this important issue. Psychologist Sherry Turkle asserts that mobile phones redefine modern relationships, making us “alone together.” In her generational analyses of teens, psychologist Jean Twenge notes an increase in teen depression corresponding with technology use. Both offer compelling research.
But it’s not the whole story. Sociologist Claude Fischer argues that claims that technology drives us apart are largely supported by anecdotes and ignore the benefits. Sociologist Keith Hampton’s study of public spaces suggests that people spend more time in public now — and that cell phones in public are more often used by people passing time on their own, rather than ignoring friends in person.
The two articles linked in the second paragraph that supposedly leap to the defense of Facebook don’t address the problems brought forward by Twenge.
The reason why Facebook is psychologically damaging is that it is encouraging mob mentality. Social media creates unneeded pressure on psychologically underdeveloped teenagers to appease the mob rather than being free to express their true selves. The main culprits are the “like” feature and the one-to-many means of communication. Since every user is effectively a mini-celebrity within their inflated list of friends (another superficial metric that places unneeded pressure to be popular), their every move on social media is scrutinized, leading to increased rates of anxiety and depression.
Fischer and Hampton’s assertions strengthen Twenge and Haidt’s case that there is an increase in psychological damage. The alleged increase in personal interactions now coincide with higher rates of social anxiety. There is more on the line with respect to a user’s ego and reputation when meeting their social media contacts in person. If users have managed to appease the mob in the online world, they will have more pleasant in person interaction. However, the opposite is exacerbated too. If users don’t appease the mob, they are almost expected to face an unpleasant backlash in person.
In the video of Jonathan Haidt, he points out how this phenomenon is playing out on university campuses, thus resulting in safe spaces and mobs forming in real life shutting down those that they don’t agree with. Social media has made people merge their online group-think with real-life. This aligns with Fischer and Hampton’s assertion that real-life interactions have not been quantitatively made worse. It also aligns with Turkle and Twenge’s assertions that real-life interactions have been qualitatively made worse.
To top off their faulty argumentation, Facebook did its own studies. Apart from being an obvious conflict of interest, what makes their findings even more laughable is that they expose another psychologically damaging trait of Facebook: the use of addictive stimuli to foster user dependence.
The good: 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.
A study we conducted with 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. The positive effects were even stronger when people talked with their close friends online. 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.
In an experiment at Cornell, stressed college students randomly assigned to scroll through their own Facebook profiles for five minutes experienced boosts in self-affirmation compared to students who looked at a stranger’s Facebook profile. The researchers believe self-affirmation comes from reminiscing on past meaningful interactions — seeing photos they had been tagged in and comments their friends had left — as well as reflecting on one’s own past posts, where a person chooses how to present themselves to the world.
It’s a non-point that socialization with close friends and relatives improves well-being. This is true and social media arguably doesn’t facilitate this, but rather cheapens the experience by removing an important layer of personal communication: body language. People would actively interact with people just as they would prior to the introduction of social media.
With their Cornell experiement, is it any surprise that their own studies suggest the more you use other Facebook features (apart from status updates and passive reading) the more boosts in self-affirmation?
Isn’t that exactly what a drug addiction is supposed to do? They are fallaciously citing the ego boosts as a positive. Not only does it unnecessarily inflates the user’s short term sense of self-worth (narcissism is an anti-social trait after all), but it also cultivates a dependence on the little dopamine hits: seeing that little red icon indicating new messages, seeing new items in a timeline pull-to-refresh, seeing the steady boost of likes as you try to fit in with the mob.
I dedicated a whole four-part series of articles discussing this. Facebook’s own biased research trying to refute Twange’s findings is ultimately an own-goal by exposing their psychological manipulation to increase users’ dependence on their platform.
The truth about social media is all in their article, in plain sight if you can see through their facade. Reading between the lines you can see why social media is a catastrophe, and additionally you can identify their spin tactics as they try to transform the damning scientific findings in to a positive.
I think the world has been through all of this before. A few decades ago it was the tobacco companies. Today, it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and SnapChat.
* * *