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It has been a rough 12 months for Facebook. In that time period, the world’s largest social network has been linked to Russian propaganda campaigns, the fake news epidemic and highly partisan hate speech. And that’s on top of new evidence suggesting that using too much Facebook might be bad for your mental health.
In fact, Facebook has admitted as much, noting in a blog post that “passively consuming information” about other people could result in “worse mental health.” But guess what? The solution to this problem, suggests Facebook, is more Facebook. Nary is there a word in there about taking a social media detox or scaling back activity on this social network. Nope, the function of Facebook is to get users to post more, to comment more, and to engage more.
Facebook takes on the mental health issue
According to researchers at Facebook, the problem is the “passive” consumption of Facebook. If you’re actively engaging, commenting and interacting, then it will actually “improve well-being.” That’s because, presumably, you will be reconnecting with long-lost classmates, colleagues and friends. You will be sharing tidbits from your own fabulous life with others who are also sharing tidbits from their own fabulous lives.
But right there, you can see the problem. People don’t necessarily share what’s real on Facebook. They present a highly stylized version of themselves to others. Life, in short, is presented in a favorable light. OK, that’s all well and good, but what about the implications of acting according to this filtered view of reality? This can be especially difficult for teenagers and young adults, who are under an enormous amount of pressure to fit in and conform.
Facebook introduces new features to boost mental well-being
The good news is that Facebook recognizes that some sort of problem does exist. The social network recently released two new features –Take a Break and Snooze – that are designed to make things a bit more comfortable for people on Facebook.
For example, Take a Break is designed for people undergoing painful breakups. There’s nothing worse than breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend, and then watching them dive right into another relationship while you’re sitting at home, wallowing in your misery. So Take a Break enables users to select just how much information they’re seeing about their exes.
Snooze is also a clever new feature, designed to let you tune out a person (or company) that is causing you mental agony on Facebook. Instead of being forced to “unfriend” someone, you can simply hit the Snooze button and you won’t see updates from that person for 30 days.
Facebook needs to take a closer look at how it works
However, are all these steps enough? The assumption here is that Facebook basically works “good enough,” and all that’s required is a few nips and tucks, and everything will look great again. That, too, was the response when Facebook was dealing with the fake news epidemic – just change a few things here and there, and presto! Things will be great again on Facebook!
The reality, though, might be a lot messier. And no amount of psycho-babble from researchers can cover it up. For example, Facebook’s former VP of user growth has accused the social network of creating a “short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loop” that is “destroying how society works.” Yikes! If this is really the view from a Facebook insider, then the problem of how to fix Facebook might not be “more Facebook” – it might be getting people off Facebook entirely.