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Social Media or Social Disease?

By John P. Mello Jr. TechNewsWorld ECT News Network
Dec 19, 2017 3:58 PM PT
social-media-mental-health

Is social media evolving into an antisocial medium? Days after one of its former execs argued that the answer is yes, Facebook published a post addressing the issue.

"I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works," Chamath Palihapitiya, who once served as vice president for growth at Facebook, told an audience at the Stanford Graduate School of Business last week.

"The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we've created are destroying how society works," he maintained.

There is a lack of civil discourse and cooperation on social media, as well as widespread distribution of misinformation and mistruth, according to Palihapitiya.

"It's not an American problem," he said. "This is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem."

Good and Bad Social Media

Some people feel bad after using social media, but others do not, wrote Facebook Director of Research David Ginsberg and Research Scientist Moira Burke.

"According to the research, it really comes down to how you use the technology," they said.

"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," Ginsberg and Burke pointed out.

"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," they explained.

Wellness Through Better New Feeds

To help foster interaction, Facebook has made a number of changes to its services, Ginsberg and Burke noted.

For example, it has started demoting clickbait headlines and false news, and prioritizing posts from people users care about to foster more meaningful interactions and reduce passive consumption of low-quality content.

It also added a "snooze" feature allowing users to hide posts from a person, group or page for 30 days.

Take a Break is another tool designed to remove stressful content. It gives users more control over when they see an ex-partner, what their ex can view, and who can look at past posts about the relationship.

In addition, the company has launched several suicide prevention initiatives, the Facebook researchers wrote.

Facebook has invested US$1 million toward research to better understand the relationship between media technologies, youth development and well-being, they added.

PR Awareness

Facebook's acknowledgment that there's more to social media than fun and sharing, and its moves to address the darker aspects of its community may not be entirely altruistic, suggested John Carroll, a mass communications professor at Boston University.

Still, "it's a sign their awareness of bad PR has started to rise," he told TechNewsWorld, .

"Many people think these steps are largely cosmetic. I don't see a lot of newfound enlightenment in Mark Zuckerberg these days," Carroll added. "He's in a position of influence and importance in the world that he doesn't want to face up to."

Two Sides to Interaction

Social media can both foster and inhibit interaction, asserted Karen North, a professor of digital social media at the University of Southern California.

"It can extend out social interactions to times and places when we wouldn't otherwise be able to interact with each other," she told TechNewsWorld.

"Usually to interact with people, you need to be in proximity to each other," North explained. "Social media allows us to be together even when we are physically apart."

However, social media interaction differs from proximity interaction because it's done through a device and involves content creation.

"That can interfere with people interacting more personally," North said.

Avoiding Social Media Blues

There are a number of ways for individuals to avoid the potential negative consequences of social media, said Brian Primack, director of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health.

There is a connection between increased depressive symptoms and the increased proportion of social media friends you don't know in real life to those you do know, he noted.

"We also found that your mental health is better if you report that a higher proportion of your friends is what you would consider 'close' friends," Primack told TechNewsWorld.

Limiting the number of social platforms you participate in can be beneficial, as the number of platforms a person uses can be a predictor of poor mental health, he observed.

Establish strict guidelines for when and where you use social media, may be helpful, Primack ventured.

"Many families are declaring evening time to be device free," he noted. "They have everyone in the family drop their devices in a box at the front door, so that everyone can really focus on each other during a family dinner and other evening activities."


John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government Security News. Email John.


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