scientists started linking cigarettes to cancer, the tobacco industry
silenced them—only acknowledging the extent of the truth decades
later, under legal duress.
if, instead, they had given these researchers license to publish
papers, or even taken the information to heart and crippled their own
money-making machines for the good of their addicted users.
statements from investors and former executives that Facebook is
both psychologically addictive and harmful to democracy, Chief
Executive Mark Zuckerberg has pledged to ‘fix’ it. But how far will
one has accused Facebook of causing cancer, but Mark Zuckerberg now
stands at a similar crossroads. (Because FACEBOOK is SOCIAL CANCER) In
the face of pressure brought by a growing roster of Facebook Inc.
investors and former executives, many of whom have publicly stated
that Facebook is both psychologically addictive and harmful to
democracy, the Facebook founder and chief executive has pledged to
“fix” Facebook, by doing a number of things including “making sure
that time spent on Facebook is time well spent.”
Zuckerberg has also recently told investors he wants his company “to
encourage meaningful social interactions,” adding that “time spent is
not a goal by itself.”
researchers have acknowledged that while direct sharing between
individuals and small groups on Facebook can have positive effects,
merely scrolling through others’ updates makes people unhappy.Photo:
here’s the multibillion-dollar question: Is Mr. Zuckerberg willing to
sacrifice revenue for the well-being of Facebook’s two billion-plus
Zuckerberg has already said the company will hire so many content
moderators to deal with fake news and Russian interference that it
will hurt profits, but whether he will go further and change the basic
fabric of Facebook’s algorithms in the name of users’ mental health,
he has yet to say.
Facebook, a company Mr. Zuckerberg started when he was in college, has
changed so much that even its creator is playing catch-up to the
reality of its globe-spanning power.
June he changed the company’s mission from “connecting” the world to
bringing the world closer together. He said he used to think giving
people a voice would make the world better on its own, “but our
society is still divided. Now I believe we have a responsibility to do
December, Facebook researchers surveyed the scientific literature and
their own work and publicly acknowledged that while direct
communication and sharing between individuals and small groups on
Facebook can have positive effects, merely lurking and scrolling
through others’ broadcasted status updates makes people unhappy.
a survey conducted in early 2017, the Royal Society for Public Health
asked 1,500 young people to evaluate the five biggest social networks,
to measure whether they are good or bad for mental health. The results
showed all but one service had a negative effect on mental health.
Facebook, Twitter , Snapchat and the Facebook-owned Instagram all
pushed survey participants to contrast their lives with others, a
phenomenon known as social comparison. The exception was YouTube, in
part because the dynamic is usually one-to-many communication, with
person-to-person socializing happening in comments.
in a survey of young people early last year found four of the five
biggest social networks—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and
Snapchat—prompted users to engage in social comparison, contrasting
their own lives with others’. Shown, Snapchat co-founder Evan Spiegel,
in Cannes, France, in June 2015.Photo: ZUMA PRESS
study, conducted by researchers at Tel Aviv University, also
established that Facebook can cause people to feel their own lives
don’t measure up to those of others. Interestingly, the effect is
especially pronounced in young people, but diminishes with age: It was
virtually nonexistent in those over age 30, says Ohad Barzilay, one of
networks can also make us miserable by convincing us that whenever
we’re away from our friends, we’re missing out on social bonding
occurring among them, says Jacqueline Rifkin, a Ph.D. candidate at
Duke University who collaborated on a study of the “fear of missing
out,” or FOMO. The misery can kick in even if what we are
experiencing—an awesome vacation, perhaps—is objectively better than
what our friends are up to.
Rifkin’s work indicates that FOMO isn’t about envy but something far
more primal: If our kith and kin are bonding without us, we may soon
find ourselves left out of the tribe.
screenshot of a vacation post on Instagram. Photo: INSTAGRAM
suggest that how much you use social media is at least as significant
as how you use it. This has of course been true of everything humans
consume for all of history, so it’s hardly a surprise.
pretend that one of the findings that comes out of this research is
that the best thing for people would be to batch their Facebook use
and only look at it once a week,” says Robert Kraut, a professor at
Carnegie Mellon University who has studied online communities for more
than 20 years and has collaborated with researchers at Facebook,
publishing work derived from Facebook’s own data. “What would be the
business consequence if the research came to that conclusion?”
may soon find out. Facebook likely has the power to push us away from
harmful ways of using the service—if it wants to. Facebook already
uses some of the most sophisticated artificial intelligence known to
humanity to stimulate us to “engage” with its product and
advertisements. Facebook’s public statements indicate it thinks it can
use those same tools to keep users from overindulging.
is already taking steps to reform parts of its service—primarily the
News Feed, the beating heart of Facebook’s success since its
introduction in 2006. As outlined in the recent blog post by the
company’s chief researcher, those steps include things that Facebook
itself believes will reduce engagement on the service, including
hiding clickbait and fake news and promoting posts from friends.
Facebook is now pushing the aspects of its services that it and others
argue are better for our mental health. As users continue to share
less of their own lives on Facebook, the social network is pushing
them to join and use its Groups function. The company is also showing
more ads in its Messenger app, one of the places where the
person-to-person communication it suddenly favors takes place.
is built on the idea of connecting the world, as its mission statement
so boldly pronounces. The irony that Mr. Zuckerberg must confront is
that the very means of that connection—what the company
euphemistically calls engagement but which a growing chorus of experts
say is more accurately described as addiction—appears to be
detrimental to the humans whose thriving he seems earnestly to want to
promote. Unlike CEOs who in the past were confronted with the harms of
their products, Mr. Zuckerberg seems more ready to acknowledge them.
may well live up to Mr. Zuckerberg’s stated goals. Or, it could bow to
economic logic: In first nine months of 2017 alone, the company’s
“engaging” News Feed algorithm has helped drive revenue up 47%.