Facebook has just publicly slapped itself upside the head, admitting that its very existence is often detrimental to the wellbeing of its users.
An analysis today from Facebook's research director David Ginsberg and research scientist Moira Burke serves as a mea culpa of sorts from Zuck and Co about the emotional and mental toll the social network takes on its addicts.
"We don’t have all the answers, but given the prominent role social media now plays in many people’s lives, we want to help elevate the conversation," the duo write. "In the years ahead we’ll be doing more to dig into these questions, share our findings and improve our products."
In particular, they note that studies show that simply reading Facebook leaves students feeling worse at the end of the day than if they had posted or engaged with friends on Facebook. Another study noted that status updates gives negative social comparisons; by only seeing others' (mostly) positive status updates we think our own lives are worse in comparison.
We're not overblowing this. This is literally what Facebook admitted today:
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.
Another finding from Zuck's department of the bleeding obvious:
Another theory is that the internet takes people away from social engagement in person.
Perhaps most damningly, a study cited by Facebook noted that heavy users, those who click more links and like more posts, reported worse mental health. In other words, Facebook is the fast-food burger chain of the internet. The cancer-stick maker of the web. The cyber-tobacco giant. A digital crack dealer. It is actively destructive to its most loyal followers.
And like many of those burger joints did after getting dragged through the mud in the early oughts, Facebook is trying to temper the bad press by offering users options to "limit" what they see on the site.
One of the features will be called Snooze and will serve as a way to temporarily hide a person. The button will put a 30-day mute on a person, hiding their posts from your news feed without having to permanently unfriend them. Another option, dubbed Take a Break helps users get over breakups (or at least limit the Facebook-induced misery) by hiding an ex's status updates from the user's profile, as well as the ability for the ex to see their posts.
Take a Break came about because Facebook realized its very website makes ending a relationship a nightmare for couples, as per its own confession:
Research on peoples’ experiences after breakups suggests that offline and online contact, including seeing an ex-partner’s activities, can make emotional recovery more difficult.
Finally, Facebook is making the time-honored publicity move of throwing donations at the problem, promising some pocket change – $1m – to research on the effects of social networking use in youth development.
Of course, the Silicon Valley giant isn't about to take all of the blame here. Carefully placed throughout the post were notes that, really, these problems are a user's own fault in the end.
"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," Facebook offered. "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."
Too late, Zuck. This is your Ratner moment. ®