On Dec. 15, a strange post went up on Facebook’s corporate blog. It was strange because it suggested that Facebook might, in fact, be bad for you.
What solution can the social network provide? The same answer it gives to every question: namely, more Facebook.
The post was the latest in Facebook’s somewhat new series, “Hard Questions.” This set of blog posts aims to address concerns that social media broadly, and Facebook specifically, might be having a negative impact on society. Topics include “Hate Speech,” “How We Counter Terrorism,” and the latest one, “Is Spending Time on Social Media Bad for Us?”
The structure of these posts is usually the same. Step one: identify some ill in society. Step two: admit that people think technology, and Facebook, might be contributing to that ill. Step three: assert that more Facebook, not less, is the cure for said ill.
In the new post on the potential downside of social media, the authors, who are researchers at Facebook, begin by correctly saying that people are worried about the effect social media has on relationships and mental health. They then point to research that suggests scrolling through Facebook, and blindly hitting the “like” button, makes people feel like crap. “In general, when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information—reading but not interacting with people—they report feeling worse afterward,” they write.
The key phrase is “passively consuming.” The authors’ solution to this problem is not, as you might think, using Facebook less. It is using it more, and more actively. Instead of just liking things, and scrolling through our feeds, they suggest that we should be all-in. Send more messages, post more updates, leave more comments, click more reaction buttons. “A study we conducted with Robert Kraut at Carnegie Mellon University found that people who sent or received more messages, comments and Timeline posts reported improvements in social support, depression and loneliness,“ they cheerily note.
They then adds a caveat that “simply broadcasting status updates wasn’t enough; people had to interact one-on-one with others in their network.” But wait. Isn’t Facebook a social network, connecting me to hundreds or thousands of other people? I don’t need Facebook to interact one-on-one, over text, email, or coffee.
Facebook might admit it has some negative effects, but it is unwilling to face up to the fact that the solution might be using it less. This latest post mentions Facebook’s “take a break” feature. This will hide your ex-partner’s profile updates for you after a break-up, to help in “emotional recovery.” Because, sure, that seems healthier than just not using Facebook at all for a little while.
Pretty much every Facebook post about the ill effects of the platform follows this formula. Hate speech on Facebook is a problem. The solution? Use Facebook more to tag hate speech, so we can get rid of it. Kids are on Facebook, and it might not be good for them. The solution? Give them Facebook Messenger Kids, a new app made just for them. Facebook is causing political divisiveness in America. The solution? Use Facebook to build digital “communities.”
Turns out Facebook’s “hard questions” are actually pretty easy. The answer, after all, is always the same.