The difference between good and bad Facebooking

The difference between good and bad Facebooking
From TechCrunch - December 14, 2017

Social media is a clumsy term that entangles enriching social interaction with mindless media consumption. Its a double-edged sword whose sides arent properly distinguished. Taken as a whole, we cant decide if it brings the world closer together like Facebooks new mission statement says, or leaves us depressed and isolated. It does both, but our opportunity and the tech giants responsibility is to shift usage toward time well spent.

Thankfully, Facebooks CEO Mark Zuckerberg seems ready to embrace that responsibility. Time spent is not a goal by itself. We want the time people spend on Facebook to encourage meaningful social interactions, he said on its most recent earnings call.

Its not just a Facebook issue. Notification-spamming mobile app developers, video platforms like Netflix and YouTube and video games from Candy Crush to Call of Duty need to wake up to how their design choices can squander our attention and stifle our sanity. But Facebook, with its ubiquity, roaring business, idealistic leadership and opportunity to promote whats positive about technology is uniquely positioned to sound the alarm.

To change behavior, we first need to explore the research and measure the difference between connection and distraction.

Active versus passive Facebooking

Late at night or lacking energy or losing focus, I and many others often turn to Facebook. Scrolling its endless feed can deliver delightful little doses of dopamine. A photo of a friend or a news link gives us the momentary sensation of accomplishing something, even if its just learning some tiny bit of information, no matter how irrelevant. We know we could be getting ready for bed, or contacting someone we care about or getting work done, but nothings easier than giving in to craving for another digital content snack.

Facebook is the perfect trap for our attention, especially when our will is weak. Algorithmically sorted feeds bring the best content to you with no effort, a simple click lets you dole out a Like and no matter what time of day or how much you browse, theres always something new. Theres FarmVille and Watch videos and news Trends and Stories to imbibe.

Other platforms have different lures. Scanning smartphone alerts saves you from awkward real-life situations, Netflix binges can last days and theres always another level to beat or opponent to kill in mobile and console games.

I know that these extended consumption sessions, particularly on Facebook, dont leave me feeling good or satisfied. My brain seems jumbled and overcrowded with info. My body seems sapped of strength like Im in a greasy fast-food coma. And the time I frittered away pools in my stomach as sinking regret about what I could have done. With the average user spending around an hour a day on Facebooks products, the consequences stack up quickly.

But on the other hand, there are the social interactions that remind us why Facebook exists and why we come back so often.

You share something that spurs a swath of jokey comment threads with friends or send earnest condolences to a buddy who lost a loved one. You geek out with fellow hobbyists or plan political action in a Facebook Group. You discover an art gallery opening or party down the street and invite pals to join you, or see that an old friend is visiting town and reach out to catch up in person. And through Messenger, you can strike up a convo with someone you can see is online, or laugh about the world in a rollicking group chat.

Moments of this nature deepen bonds with your immediate circle, cement you into a larger community, keep old relationships from dying out, foster connections with those aligned by interest or circumstance and trigger real-world meetups. Theyre active, participatory and engaging. They arent isolating or misanthropic or a waste. Theyre truly social, even with a screen in between.

These two sets of behaviors deserve distinction. Bad versus good, passive versus active, depleting versus enriching. There are ways to use Facebook and social media and other technologies that ask little of us but take much, and those that require energy and spirit but pay it back with dividends.

Scientific research shows just how contrasting their impacts can be. So when we talk about time spent, lets be sure to differentiate. Otherwise we throw the baby out with the bath water, or let the rotten apples ruin the bunch.

The Envy Spiral

For years, Facebook tried to highlight research showing it brought people out of filter bubbles and helped them score jobs.

But now Zuckerberg himself is citing studies showing the more mixed impact of Facebook, where the effect depends on how you use it, not just how much. Research shows that interacting with friends and family on social media tends to be more meaningful and can be good for our well-being, and thats time well spent. But when we just passively consume content, that may be less true, Zuckerberg said on the Q3 call.

He may have been specifically referring to a 2015 study byKross and Verduyn that found that experiment participants who used Facebook actively for 10 minutes felt the same or just a little better, but those who used it passively felt worse.

Our experimental manipulation led people in the passive Facebook usage condition to feel approximately 9% worse at the end of the day compared with baseline. In Study 2, intense passive Facebook usage predicted a 5% decrease in affective well-being over time the study shows. It also worryingly found that people spent significantly more time passively Facebooking.

The core driver of this decline in well-being was envy and social comparison. People felt that everyone elses lives were more entertaining and glamorous than their own, and that everyone else was care-free while they themselves were wracked with stress and trouble. Continually exposing oneself to positive information about others should elicit envy, an emotion linked to lower well-being, the authors wrote.

This was exacerbated by success theater, a term popularized by The New York Times Jenna Wortham to describe how people only show the best side of themselves on social media, and hide all the warts of real life. People essentially perform their life as if it was theater, hoping to make a good impression.

Success theater works, on social media or otherwise. A 2011 study by Jordan et al. found that people may think they are more alone in their emotional difficulties than they really are. Thats because people underestimated negative emotions and overestimated positive emotions in their peers.

A study in 2013 by Krasnova et al. found that 20 percent of envy-inducing situations that experiment participants experienced were on Facebook, and that intensity of passive following is likely to reduce users life satisfaction in the long-run, as it triggers upward social comparison and invidious emotions.

Facebook users can even exhibit a self-promotionenvy spiral where they increasingly adopt narcissistic behaviors and glorify their lives in an attempt to compete with the rest of their social graph.A longitudinal study by Shakya and Christakis in 2017 with a larger subject base than many other Facebook well-being studies found that lots of Liking and link clicking led to declines in peoples mental health.

Yet when studies looked at active Facebook behavior, they found some indication of positive repercussions, as Jon Brooks discovered in a look across Facebook well-being research for NPR.

A 2012 paper by Deters et al. found that experimentally inducing increased status updating reduced loneliness . . . due to participants feeling more connected to their friends on a daily basis. Wise et al. found in 2010 that directly communicating with friends on Facebook led to participants reporting pleasant emotions, but not when passively skimming through the site.

And to get down to the nitty-gritty, Kraut et al. reported in 2015 that Receiving targeted, composed communication from strong ties was associated with improvements in well-being while viewing friends wide-audience broadcasts and receiving one-click feedback were not. Essentially, active commenting by friends boosted peoples emotions while Liking didnt.

The scientists arent the only ones convinced Facebook can have a negative influence on our lives. Former employees and industry pundits are speaking up, too.

Its time for time well spent

Weve reached the dawn of an era of reckoning with the unintended consequences of technology. The fake news scandals and Russian interference surrounding the 2016 U.S. presidential election have landed Facebook, along with Twitter and Google, in the hotseats of congressional hearings. If ever there was a time for Facebook to look closer at what it really is and what its impact can be, its now. That means improving election security, fighting harassment, weeding out disinformation, but also reconsidering its design ethics.

Ex-Facebookers arent shy to voice their views.

The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops weve created are destroying how society works, said former Facebook VP of user growth Chamath Palihapitiya. Hired in 2007 to help Facebook conquer the world, the founding partner of VC fund Social Capital seems to have had his conscience catch up with him. I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works, he says, asking leaders of the world not to feed the beast of optimizing engagement while forbidding his children from using these kinds of products.

Facebooks first president, Sean Parker,recalls that The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, . . . was all about: How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?Now he says I dont know if I really understood the consequences . . .It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what its doing to our childrens brains. Its telling that public figures with their social and financial standing wrapped up in Facebook are willing to criticize it so publicly.

One reason I think it is particularly important for us to talk about this now is that we may be the last generation that can remember life before former Facebook product manager and Like button co-creator Justin Rosenstein told The Guardian. [Disclosure: Rosenstein is a friend of mine]

Now the co-founder of productivity startup Asana, Rosenstein wrote on his Facebook that while hes grateful to have worked there and thinks it can foster compassion, We technologists can take responsibility for mindfully designing tools that help users align their attention with their intention. Denoting the dualism of social media usage, he says that When we do, technology is a powerful tool for helping us collaborate toward our highest goals; when we dont, we relinquish control of ourselves, and potentially our democracies, and calls distractedness abug in our collective programming.

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