Meet friends to be happy, don't rely on FacebookTech
Facebook has been accused of spreading fake news and manipulating your newsfeed for their profit. But that may be changing.
Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook will be undergoing a major overhaul in 2018. In a recent Facebook post, Zuckerberg said users' newsfeeds would begin to prioritise "meaningful social interactions" over "relevant content."
Zuckerberg explained the reason behind the changes: "We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren't just fun to use, but also good for people's well-being."
While it sounds good on the surface to think you'll see fewer ads and more content from your friends, the reality is, the proposed changes could actually be worse for users' mental health.
In fact you are likely to see more content that could make you feel worse. I've never had anyone come into my psychotherapy office saying, "I saw an ad from my favourite store on my Facebook. They're having a sale and I'm feeling depressed about it."
But, I've had plenty of people say things like, "All my friends are happier than I am," or "My friends have better lives than I do." Many of them find that social media takes a toll on their mental health because watching their friends announce the best parts of their lives causes them to think they don't measure up. It's not just my anecdotal evidence that says Facebook posts from your friends may do harm more than good - studies show envying your friends on Facebook leads to depression.
A 2016 study published in Current Opinion in Psychology found that social media increases social comparisons. And the more people scrolled through happy status updates, exciting vacations photos, and beautiful family moments, the worse they felt.
When Facebook removes news articles, posts from your favourite brands, and viral videos from your feed, you'll be left with more content about what your neighbour ate for dinner or where your friend from college went on vacation. And those are the kind of posts that tend to wreak havoc on mental health.
Ironically, the content Facebook wants you to see less may actually be the content that makes you feel good.
Take those silly cat videos, for instance - studies show those are good for your mental health. A 2015 study published in Computers and Human Behavior found watching a cat video reduces your stress and boosts your mood.
Whether it's a cat chasing his tail or a family of felines wrestling, taking a break to tune in is good for emotional well-being. But Facebook wants to show you fewer of those. Zuckerberg says he wants people to have more "meaningful connections" on Facebook. And while that sounds hopeful, most people aren't actually socialising on social media.
Only nine per cent of Facebook users' activities involve communicating with others, according to a 2014 study published in Computers in Human Behaviour. Instead, most people are turning to social media for news and entertainment. Interestingly, this study also found that people experience a sharp decline in their moods after scrolling through Facebook. Most people don't experience the same emotional decline when they surf the Internet. The toll on mental health is unique to Facebook.
Through a series of studies, researchers concluded that by the time people log out of Facebook, they feel like they've wasted their time. Their remorse over being unproductive causes them to feel sad.
While Facebook can be a good way to say hello to friends and family you don't often see, it's likely to take a toll on your emotional well-being if you depend on it for social connections. And don't rely on the upcoming changes to benefit your psychological well-being. The new algorithm may make things even worse.
The key to staying mentally strong in the digital age is to limit the amount of time you spend scrolling on social media. Focus on having meaningful face-to-face connections. Spending time with friends in-person is much better for your psychological health.
Amy Morin is a clinical social worker, psychotherapist and psychology instructor
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