Is Facebook Bad for You? It Is for About 360 Million Users, Company Surveys Suggest

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From The Wall Street Journal:

Facebook researchers have found that 1 in 8 of its users report engaging in compulsive use of social media that impacts their sleep, work, parenting or relationships, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

These patterns of what the company calls problematic use mirror what is popularly known as internet addiction. They were perceived by users to be worse on Facebook than any other major social-media platform, which all seek to keep users coming back, the documents show.

A Facebook team focused on user well-being suggested a range of fixes, and the company implemented some, building in optional features to encourage breaks from social media and to dial back the notifications that can serve as a lure to bring people back to the platform.

Facebook shut down the team in late 2019.

A company spokeswoman said Facebook in recent months has begun formulating a new effort to address what it calls problematic use alongside other well-being concerns, such as body image and mental health.

The company has been public about its desire to address these problems, said Dani Lever, the spokeswoman, in a statement. Some people have struggles with other technologies, including television and smartphones, she said.

“We have a role to play, which is why we’ve built tools and controls to help people manage when and how they use our services,” she said in the statement. “Furthermore, we have a dedicated team working across our platforms to better understand these issues and ensure people are using our apps in ways that are meaningful to them.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files series has documented how Facebook knows the products and systems central to its business success routinely fail and cause harm. For some people, such as teen girls or human-trafficking victims, the risks can be significant. These documents highlight the company’s research into possible negative impacts on a broader swath of users.

Facebook is owned by Meta Platforms Inc. A restructuring announced in late October highlights the company’s focus on the so-called metaverse—an online world featuring extensive use of virtual reality—that goes beyond traditional social media.

The research into social-media use that may negatively affect people’s day-to-day lives was launched several years ago with the goal of mitigating harmful behavior that the company was increasingly identifying on its platforms.

The researchers on the well-being team said some users lack control over the time they spend on Facebook and have problems in their lives as a result. They wrote that they don’t consider the behavior to be a clinical addiction because it doesn’t affect the brain in the same way as gambling or substance abuse. In one document, they noted that “activities like shopping, sex and Facebook use, when repetitive and excessive, may cause problems for some people.”

Those problems, according to the documents, include a loss of productivity when people stop completing tasks in their lives to check Facebook frequently, a loss of sleep when they stay up late scrolling through the app and the degradation of in-person relationships when people replace time together with time online. In some cases, “parents focused more on FB than caring for or bonding with their children,” the researchers wrote.

“I’m on Facebook every day, every moment. Literally, every moment; just not when I’m in the shower,” a 22-year-old woman told the researchers. “I lose the notion of time.”

In March 2020, several months after the well-being team was dissolved, researchers who had been on the team shared a slide deck internally with some of the findings and encouraged other teams to pick up the work.

The researchers estimated these issues affect about 12.5% of the flagship app’s more than 2.9 billion users, or more than 360 million people. About 10% of users in the U.S., one of Facebook’s most lucrative markets, exhibit this behavior. In the Philippines and in India, which is the company’s largest market, the employees put the figure higher, at around 25%.

. . . .

The researchers said in the documents that most of the people who use Facebook compulsively said they used multiple social-media apps, including Instagram and WhatsApp, which are also owned by Meta, Facebook’s new corporate parent, along with Twitter and Snapchat. Some of the troublesome aspects for users on Facebook, such as feeling pressure to respond to messages and frequently checking for new content, are also widespread in smartphone use, the researchers noted.

“Why should we care?” the researchers wrote in the slide deck. “People perceive the impact. In a comparative study with competitors, people perceived lower well-being and higher problematic use on Facebook compared to any other service.” The other services in the comparison also included YouTube, Reddit and the videogame World of Warcraft.

Facebook’s findings are consistent with what many external researchers have observed for years, said Brian Primack, a professor of public health and medicine and dean of the College of Education and Health Professions at the University of Arkansas. He said there isn’t a consensus on causality but that most of the evidence “should be concerning to people.” His research group followed about a thousand people over six months in a nationally representative survey and found that the amount of social media that a person used was the No. 1 predictor of the variables they measured for who became depressed.

“Everything is pointing in a certain direction,” he said. “There’s only going to be a certain amount of time Facebook can say there is nothing causal out there.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (It should be a free link, but if it doesn’t work, PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

PG notes that one of the standard publicity practices recommended to its authors by traditional publishing is to be active on social media. Facebook is always mentioned.

To be fair, most articles about the importance of social media for indie author also feature Facebook on a regular basis.

This doesn’t say that going on Facebook to view the pages of a few of your favorite authors will lead to bad self esteem, but, as he has mentioned before, PG shut down his Facebook account and quit using the service because he didn’t like the sense of being manipulated while using it.

YMMV, however.

6 thoughts on “Is Facebook Bad for You? It Is for About 360 Million Users, Company Surveys Suggest”

  1. For years I’ve been saying that Facebook would not exist for long, and it turns out that I was right.

    They are now called “Meta”.

    In my stuff, no advanced civilization uses social media. Any that do always ends badly.

    I refer you to various episodes of Doctor Who as example.

    – Rise of the Cybermen

    – The Bells of St John

  2. FB is a godsend for the housebound, the ill, the disabled, those who are in groups with other people for a rare disease, …

    We may not be the advertising demographic they want, but we find others to talk to at all hours of the day and night – something literally impossible during the pandemic.

    • Like all technologies, it is a function of how you use it.
      I don’t use it–no stomach for gossip–but my siblings and cousins are scattered all over the country (Texas, Florida, NJ, Ohio, PR, wherever the Navy sends them, etc) and they stay in touch daily as if they were next door.
      My mother’s neighbor, on the other hand regularly pops in with alarming news, urban legends and tales of woe to come…all from Facebook.e

      Technology is a tool, neither inherently good nor bad.
      Blaming it for what foolish humans do with it is like blaming kitchen knives for what a deranged guy in Germany did with one.

      For those that think Facebook is the *cause* of all evil, two words: Chain Letters.

      And this:

      Because “we’re all special” and as tbe saying goes, “the fault lies not in the Stars…”

      • I know my ‘free’ access to FB is paid for by ads – I would rather pay a subscription, but that option isn’t offered.

        I also know FB is losing the young – and they take their advertising demographic with them.

        I also know it could vanish over night.

        I live with that – and don’t worry very often. Right now it is convenient, and has connected me with the school and Girl Guides of Mexico of my youth, with people who have the same thing I have, and with quite far-flung relatives and friends.

        • Which is what it was meant to do.
          Advertising? Selling product?
          Rabble rousing? Not so much.
          I’d like to see some numbers on the end user split between friends and family users and commercial end users, not salesfolk.

          Maybe they need to split the F&F folk and give them a low fee private option separate from the “look at me, aren’t I cool?”

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