We Need to Talk About Facebook

Is it the social media platform you can’t refuse?

Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash

Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash

Chances are, if you have anything you’d like to sell or promote, from a product or service to a cause or an event, you’ve been told you need to be on Facebook. The social media app‘s pervasive penetration in the global marketplace has earned it a reputation as an essential marketing tool. Maybe you’ve also told others to get with the program. I’ve said it to friends, family members and clients. I believed it.

Reasons I’ve often cited to use Facebook:

  • It’s a great way to stay in touch with people you like, but don’t see in person very often.
  • It’s a free* form of marketing, in an arena where your customer or audience is already hanging out.
  • It’s nice to see pictures of friends and family who live far away.
  • It’s a simple way to publicize an event where you want a larger audience than your immediate circle of close friends.
  • It can be a source of news and information you wouldn’t otherwise stumble across if your friend didn’t share it.
  • Cute animal videos.

I’m not alone in drinking the Kool-Aid. During the first quarter of 2017, 1.28 billion active users signed into Facebook every day and 1.94 billion signed in at least once a month, making it “the most popular social network worldwide.”

Yet the potential dangers of social media are not exactly news. Google serves up 13 million search results for “your brain on Facebook,” and over 37,000 for “how Facebook affects the brain” dating back to at least 2009 (Facebook launched in February 2004). Early articles tended to focus on the children. More current reporting suggests that regular use of Facebook is sapping our productivitychanging our brains and potentially harmful to our mental health.

Social media crashes real life

So why are we flocking to Facebook in ever greater numbers and in some cases, against our own wishes? It’s complicated. For some, the answer is addiction.

In the loose sense of the word, the app—along with many other online products—is designed to be addictive. But true addiction, involving compulsive behavior and negative emotional consequences may be less common.

A University at Albany study found online social networking sites could potentially cause “disordered social networking use”—for only about 10 percent of users. Another study at California State University discovered similarities in the brain patterns of compulsive Facebook users and drug addicts, with the important difference that “the brain regions that inhibit this behavior seem to work just fine, unlike in the brains of cocaine addicts.”

While scrolling through my feed when I should be winding down for sleep or finding myself too tired to even apply the will power to shut off my phone, I’ve wondered if I’m addicted. I deleted the app from my phone multiple times over the past couple of years and during those periods, I didn’t log in on my desktop either. My breaks from Facebook lasted up to 30 days. Each time, I felt good about my time away; more centered, and certainly less anxious about the political climate. But inevitably there would come a time after my self-imposed hiatus when I’d find a compelling reason to log in—to post an announcement with a wider reach, to wish a friend a public “happy birthday,” or just to relieve a moment of boredom. Within a matter of days, I’d find myself logging in compulsively and/or unconsciously again.

Facebook can quickly shift from a convenient curation of events, photos of family and friends, and trending news to a time-sucking black hole bereft of meaning. At best, I find that it unconsciously distracts me from spending time creatively or in genuine connection with important people in my life. At worst, using it sometimes increases my anxiety and fears and leaves me feeling unimportant and replaceable to the “friends” I rarely see anywhere but online.

Even if you feel confident you’re in the non-addicted 90 percent, you might want to consider a few of the other potential downsides of a platform that is designed to generate revenue through repetitive engagement before you commence scrolling through your feed:

  • Facebook algorithms. They’re secret, we know they’re designed in part to monetize your feed, and they only serve up content users would actually prefer to read “sometimes.” Facebook’s algorithmic push to promote video had a serious negative effect this past April on posts from the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe and other outlets.
  • Social media can be antisocial. How many times have you lost contact with the person sitting right in front of you because one of you suddenly started scrolling through their feed? It may even have been prompted by something in your discussion. And The Telegraph says the future looks worse.
  • Facebook helps false information spread further and faster. The 2016 U.S. presidential campaign is the most cited example. It’s unlikely that Facebook engineers or Mark Zuckerberg want to help spread misinformation, but even the corporation’s new fact checking system is flawed. The “fake news” label isn’t applied consistently and in some cases actually leads to increased sharing of the untruths in reaction to feeling censored. As the HAL 9000 computer said in Stanley Kubrick’s movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey, “It can only be attributed to human error.”
  • Using Facebook as an emotional salve might make you feel worse. The New Yorker‘s “How Facebook Makes Us Unhappy” warns that some studies pointed to increased alienation, envy and loneliness in relation to time spent on Facebook, and in Harvard Business Review, “A New More Rigorous Study Confirms: The More You Use Facebook, the Worse You Feel.”

Why not try your own experiment? The next time you finish using Facebook, ask yourself how you feel: more connected and happier, or more lonely, envious and isolated?

The good news

If you, too, find you have mixed feelings about your relationship with Facebook, setting some limits on your use may be easier than you think.
Restraint strategies include:

  • being intentional about your purpose before logging in,
  • setting time limits,
  • making it harder to get to the app, or
  • using your device settings or an app to block Facebook.

Plenty of alternative ways to market, communicate about and promote your business, product, service, important cause, organization or event do exist. Most of them have been around for a long time.

Want to talk about them? Get in touch.