We hear often about the potential negative effects social media can have on our well being. Now, some of that concern is coming straight from Facebook.
The social media giant admitted in a post, Friday, that pouring through Facebook leads to users feeling worse about themselves — a realization that individuals and social research studies have made, but which was a surprising admission from a company that's continuously on the hunt for new ways to get its members to stay.
Citing academic research, Facebook revealed users who passively consume their News Feed — such as simply scrolling through what their friends post — tend to harbor bad feelings about themselves afterward.
"As parents, each of us worries about our kids’ screen time and what 'connection' will mean in 15 years," reads a joint blog post from David Ginsberg, Facebook's director of research, and Moira Burke, a research scientist with the company. "We also worry about spending too much time on our phones when we should be paying attention to our families."
Concern about the downside of widespread social media use has extended far beyond whether we should be spending time more wisely: as the researchers pointed out, it's been linked to teen depression and lower feelings of self-worth.
A study by Yale and UC San Diego researchers published in the Harvard Business Review earlier this year found consistently liking others' content and clicking links predicted a reduction in self-reported mental health.
During and after last year's presidential election, social media users, in general, reported stress from viewing political rants on services like Facebook or Twitter. A survey by a U.K. charity earlier this year among teens and young adults found most said social media worsened their anxiety; Facebook-owned Instagram was the worse.
But Facebook's conclusion wasn't that users should just delete the app.
Facebook said a joint study it conducted with Carnegie Mellon University found users who sent or received more messages, comments and timeline posts reported improvements in social support, depression, and loneliness.
"Simply broadcasting status updates wasn't enough," they wrote. They said similar studies found users who actively consumed Facebook by participating in conversations with friends or reminiscing about past experiences were better off.
Naturally, encouraging its users to become more active helps Facebook in boosting engagement on the social network. It said recent changes are aimed at helping users interact in ways that "support people’s well-being."
What you can do
Quiet some users. Facebook has rolled out "snooze" and "Take a break" buttons that allow users to veil content from particular users or pages.
Don't check in before bed. If you want a restful night's sleep, the allure of staring at your phone can be bad news. The light from your screen can interfere with melatonin production — which you need to fall asleep.
Simply log off and take a short social media break. For those who can't stay away, users can choose to hide or mute other accounts causing their stress, or apply filters — either directly from the service or through third-party tools — to limit the types of content you see.
The Big Picture
Since last year's presidential election, Facebook and its 2 billion users have come to grips with just how much influence the world's largest social network wields over its users, and how vulnerable its automated processes are to entities that want to exploit it.
Fabricated news generators were able to widely share false news reports and clickbait headlines on News Feeds in the run-up to last year's election. The company said it now demotes any content falling under those categories.
This year, lawmakers have also lambasted Facebook for letting its advertising platform be exploited by Russian accounts with aims at manipulating U.S. voters, and the company has apologized for a system that allowed advertisers to target users who have expressed interested in hate speech.
Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.