Commentary

It's Time For an About-Face on Facebook

John Horvat II
By John Horvat II | April 20, 2017 | 10:25 AM EDT

Facebook Application (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

A verdict has just been passed on Facebook, and the news is not good.

A new study has come out pointing out the negative effects of Facebook. This study claims to be much more rigorous than those of the past.

Of course, Facebook has always had its enemies. It is not surprising that there are those who are passing judgment on this popular social media app. Many already suspect that it may not be the best way to spend hours and hours of time. The impulsive checking for notifications has become part of a user ritual that often begins before getting out of bed and extends throughout the day at dinner tables and during conversations.

There are those who defend Facebook by saying it facilitates social interaction. Relationships are all important in the ordinary development of a person. In these times of social deterioration, strong positive relationships are much needed regardless of their nature and source. Thus, it seems Facebook fills a real need. After all, Facebook friends are better than no friends at all.

Thus a debate has raged around Facebook. Many insist that substantial face-to-face contact is the best means of developing relationships. Others say it makes no difference. 

No Real Face But a Mask

The new study certainly adds fuel to the fire. It claims that virtual relationships do not have such a good record. Mediated social interaction and small screens often fail to develop into rich relationships. Facebook has no real face but rather a projected mask. Its authors are two researchers that have submitted Facebook to rigorous analysis. Prof. Holly B. Shakya at UC San Diego and Prof. Nicholas A. Christakis of Yale University conclude the more people use Facebook, the worse they feel.

Such news is hard to face especially among those who use the app. For years, researchers have warned users about all sorts of problems associated with increased social media use. It has been found to discourage face-to-face relationships, cause internet addiction or erode self-esteem. One of the most consistent warnings is the fact that people tend to distort reality by posting more positive depictions of their lives. This also leads to self-comparisons with others who have also put up similar posts. The resulting spiral of egos often crashes in depression when eventually confronted with reality.

The Nature of a Study

In a novel approach, the two researchers used three waves of Gallup data from 5,208 adults. The tests included the changes in well-being over time in connection with Facebook usage. It measured the effects of likes, posting and clicks. The study authors even accessed the Facebook accounts of the study participants. They also monitored real-life social networks and the link of these associations to general well-being. Using these rigorous tools of analysis, Shakya and Christakis produced a study, unlike others to date.

The results of the study found that using Facebook affected overall well-being negatively, while real-world social networks had a positive effect. These negative results increased over time. Even the liking and clicking of links played a role in determining this outcome.

Unanswered Questions

Curiously, while the researchers could perceive the adverse effects of Facebook use, they were unable to explain how the social media brought about this negativity. They had expected “likes” to the posting of others to cause negative self-comparisons. However, they found most other activities on the popular app were consistently similar in producing similar unhealthy effects. One clue as to why this happens has to do with the time and effort spent on Facebook. While many have suggested the quality of postings can change the impact, Shakya and Christakis found that the quantity of use diminishes well-being regardless of what is posted.

Another factor is the medium’s perception among users. The worst thing about the prolonged usage of Facebook is that people have the impression they are not wasting time since they are engaged in what they consider meaningful social interaction, which is not so meaningful.

Cold Hard Facts

The cold hard facts about Facebook do present food for thought. The conclusions are sobering, considering the seriousness of the study. The more the medium is used, the more negative the effect upon lives.  Even casual usage can have its negative consequences since it depends not only on the quality of the postings but also upon the sheer quantity of interactions, which tends to grow over time. Constant exposure to the unrealistically inflated postings of others can lead to negative self-comparisons. The idea that social media is social in the full sense of the word is deceptive—since it can discourage face-to-face relationships. 

Perhaps, it is time to do an about-face on Facebook. Indeed, the two researchers say it best: “Our results suggest that the nature and quality of this sort of connection is no substitute for the real world interaction we need for a healthy life.”

John Horvat II is a scholar, researcher, educator, international speaker, and author of the book Return to Order, as well as the author of hundreds of published articles. He lives in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania where he is the vice president of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.

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