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Facebook: Facebook Can Be Bad for You

Facebook’s own researchers discovered that too much passive scrolling has a real impact on your mental health.

Dado Ruvic/Reuters

Facebook has finally admitted that using Facebook probably makes you miserable.

After reviewing extensive academic research, Facebook published a blog post on Friday titled “Hard Questions: Is spending time on social media bad for us?”

The conclusion that Facebook researchers reached was yes, using Facebook in the way that most people use Facebook—mindlessly scrolling through an endless feed of content—is extremely detrimental to people’s mental health.

“In general, when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information... they report feeling worse afterward,” wrote David Ginsberg, Facebook’s director of research, and Moira Burke, a research scientist at Facebook.

In one experiment, University of Michigan students who were randomly assigned to read Facebook for 10 minutes were in a worse mood at the end of the day than others who posted and chatted with friends via Facebook instead of passively scrolling, Facebook revealed.

Another study showed that “people who clicked on about four times as many links as the average person, or who liked twice as many posts on Facebook, reported worse mental health than average in a survey.”

Facebook researchers hypothesized that “reading about others online might lead to negative social comparison—and perhaps even more so than offline, since people’s posts are often more curated and flattering. Another theory is that the internet takes people away from social engagement in person.”

In other words, Facebook has finally discovered what its users have known for years: Spending hours of your life scrolling through a feed of other people’s luxury vacation photos, marriage announcements, FaceTuned selfies, and fake news will undoubtedly make you unhappy.

In response to these findings, Facebook has rolled out a product update that allows users to “mute” content from certain people, pages, and groups for periods of 30 days, theoretically giving users more control over the type of content they see. But it’s unlikely to offer much relief.

Facebook also suggested users take advantage of features like its suicide prevention tools and the ability to hide content from your ex.    

Unsurprisingly, the company also encouraged users to… spend more time on Facebook.

The company claimed that while passively scrolling through the feed will make you hate your life, reconnecting with old friends, chatting in small groups, and sharing content 1-to-1 can make you happier.

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The issue, however, is at its core, Facebook is not a small group chat-focused platform that encourages this type of connection, it’s a broadcast-based social network that has spent over a decade fine tuning its algorithm to keep users glued to the news feed.

Instituting such a radical shift in user behavior will take a concerted effort on behalf of the company and will require substantial product changes that amount to more than just the ability to haphazardly mute people.

Facebook’s announcement comes at a time when the company has drawn sharp criticism from investors and former employees. Former executive Chamath Palihapitiya recently claimed that the company was literally “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” and Sean Parker, an early backer, said that the platform was “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”