Anyone who spends any amount of time on Facebook can acknowledge that being there can significantly worsen your mood. In fact, these days, it seems nearly impossible to scroll through your feed without getting mad, either at your friends, family or the world in general.
This week, Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive came out and said that he had "tremendous guilt" about what he helped to create, which he claims is "destroying how society works." Considering what happened a year ago, and continues today, with constant feeds of misinformation, and how easy it is to perpetuate that information, it's hard not to agree. Palihapitiya added,
The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse. No cooperation. Misinformation. Mistruth. And it's not an American problem. This is not about Russian ads. This is a global problem. So we are in a really bad state of affairs right now, in my opinion.
Facebook responded to the accusations, acknowledging that they are not entirely untrue. In fact, the company says that people who passively scroll through their feed, simply reading posts and headlines, are likely to walk away with a negative emotional state. On the other hand, people who actively participate in the process are likely to walk away feeling better.
In general, when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information - reading but not interacting with people - they report feeling worse afterward. In one experiment, University of Michigan 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.
On the other hand, actively interacting with people - especially sharing messages, posts and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions - is linked to improvements in well-being. This ability to connect with relatives, classmates, and colleagues is what drew many of us to Facebook in the first place, and it's no surprise that staying in touch with these friends and loved ones brings us joy and strengthens our sense of community.
Facebook has created a number of tools and programs to try and counteract this. You've likely noticed an increased number of messages at the top of your feed encouraging you to share past content that had encouraged interaction, as well as posting about engaging topics, such as holidays or the weather. They have also created Take a Break, which allows you to temporarily limit posts from an ex after a breakup. They also limited clickbait links, which never seem to encourage interaction, only disappointment.
Either Facebook is legitimately worried about the negative influence it is having on the world, or they know that they have to do something to put out a public image of interest. Either way, any work towards preventing a product from being a negative influence on our emotions, is a step in the right direction. Another good step might be to spend less time on Facebook.