Facebook has acknowledged that social media use can be bad for users' mental health, a sign the company is feeling pressure from a growing chorus of critics raising alarms about the platform's effect on society, The Guardian reports.
David Ginsberg, Facebook's director of research, and Moira Burke, research scientist, made the surprising admission yesterday in a blogpost that highlighted the downsides of using the website. According to a new report, people posting and sharing on Instagram will account for nearly one-third of all social media users worldwide by 2021. The company has also been roiled by criticism that it failed to protect the platform against misuse by Russian agents during the 2016 presidential election. Former Facebook exec Chamath Palihapitiya was even blunter in his assessment: "The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we've created are destroying how society works".
"University of MI students randomly assigned to read Facebook for 10 minutes were in a worse mood at the end of the day than students assigned to post or talk to friends on Facebook", the blog post said.
The Facebook blog noted that a a University of California, Davis and Yale University study that "found that people who clicked on about four times as many links as the average person, or who liked twice as many posts, reported worse mental health than average in a survey".
Facebook, which has about 2 billion monthly active users worldwide, said that its focusing on making the social network more about interacting with others rather than getting people to spend more time on the website. Take a Break, a product of the company's so-called Compassion Team, is one of several recent changes to the social platform that are meant to foster social interaction and engagement between users.
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"We want Facebook to be a place for meaningful interactions with your friends and family - enhancing your relationships offline, not detracting from them", Ginsberg and Burke wrote. This effect was found to be strongest when someone talked with a close friend online. "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".
It is important to note here that correlation and causation are different.
The researchers cite numerous studies showing that there are people who feel better when they reach out to friends and loved ones on social media. They've removed clickbait headlines from showing up in your News Feed, instead showing more posts from friends. "In sum, our research and other academic literature suggests that it's about how you use social media that matters when it comes to your well-being", they wrote.
The company outlined a number of new tools its released, including a snooze feature that lets users unfollow a person, page or group for 30 days.