FACEBOOK: MY SHELL PROFILE
Facebook was once an amazing thing. The ability to connect with new acquaintances, find old school friends, share important life events, watch cute animal videos… it was all a way to enhance our lives and bring people closer together. The way facebook presents itself today is still all about connection. When you go to the App Store to download their app they implore, “On Facebook, keeping up with the people who matter most is easy. Discover, enjoy and do more together. Stay up to date with your loved ones…”. But the corporate side of Facebook has had a very different motto: move fast and break things. According to Wired, the prime decisionmakers at facebook would push for growth at any cost, doing “what they thought was best for the platform’s growth (often at the expense of user privacy), apologize if someone complained, and keep pushing forward.”
As this darker side of facebook has become more publicly understood, and the personal mental health and larger societal implications of it keep mounting, I can’t continue to pretend this giant social media machine is all just cat videos and birthday wishes.
The smart phone/social media era is a psychological societal experiment. A gamble on our collective mental health that we weren’t adequately informed about when we signed up, and that we can’t possibly predict the long term results of.
Here’s why I’m not actively participating anymore.
If you search “social media mental health” on google you find a flood of studies and articles linking social media use to depression and anxiety.
This study found a direct link between reducing social media use and lowered levels of depression and anxiety, especially for those people who came into the study with depression. The author of the study, Melissa G Hunt, interviewed for Forbes Magazine points out the irony that “reducing your use of social media actually makes you feel less lonely," said Hunt. "Some of the existing literature on social media suggests there's an enormous amount of social comparison that happens. When you look at other people's lives, particularly on Instagram, it's easy to conclude that everyone else's life is cooler or better than yours."
The culture of comparison we now live in can be awful for everyone. Whether you’re comparing yourself favorably or negatively, there’s mounting research to show how it can hurt you. The previously mentioned Forbes article notes that “making any kind of comparison—not just to people who you think are more attractive or smarter, but also people who you think are less attractive or smart (or anything) than you—is linked to poorer well-being.”
In theory at least, adults are a little better equipped to deal with feeling of inadequacy, and hopefully some life experience helps us process the anxiety or depression that such comparisons can make. If you grew up before social media, you at least remember what it felt like to live life without it, and can take steps to detox from the platforms if you become aware of negative consequences of use.
For kids and teenagers it can be a lot worse. In middle adolescence the frontal lobe is still developing, impacting decision making and impulse control. The comparison culture and online harassment that social media enables, can be truly devastating to young people; when social media and smart phone use surged, so did teen suicide rates. According to Time Magazine, “While not all the evidence is consistent, a substantial amount of research has found associations between heavy technology use and poor mental health outcomes among adolescents and young adults.”
And the effects are worse for girls.
The famous “fear of missing out” is a concept that is enormously exacerbated by social media. There was a time when you only knew what other people were doing if they told you, or you happened to run into them. When we didn’t have constant access to a carefully curated digest of everyone’s past, present and future plans, we couldn’t possibly know if we were missing out on something. You couldn’t know, and so you didn’t care.
We all know social media is a waste of time. Sometimes that’s the explicit reason people are using it - to kill time on a train, waiting room or social engagement you regret not saying no to. Facebook is designed to suck us in and keep us mindlessly scrolling, and its addictive quality is intentional with the only entities that actually benefit being facebook’s advertisers and shareholders.
If you want to know about the larger, more serious implications - start by reading this.
Decide for yourself
I’m not a big fan of telling people what they should believe, or that their beliefs must match mine. I do strongly believe, however, that making informed decisions and spending time really reflecting on how you came to your beliefs is something that everyone should be encouraged to do. Do you have great reasons that you believe eating meat is good? Cool, this vegetarian is glad you’re at least thinking about it. Spent some time delving deeply into religiology and come out the other side believing in a god? This atheist respects your right to believe whatever you want. It’s the people who fumble through life never really thinking about their actions that drive me nuts.
With that said, if you want to learn more about facebook’s corporate ethos and business practices I’d recommend reading the previously mentioned Wired article, and see how you feel from there…
Why not just delete my profile?
My desire to remove myself from the platform has been building for a long time, and yes I see the irony in linking to this piece from facebook and other social media platforms. That “delete profile” button has been wooing me for some time now, but in all honesty I can’t find a way to leave completely without losing the small value the network has left for me. Managing band business pages and being part of music and professional networking groups are still elements of facebook I can’t find another solution for, and the connections they provide have a tangible positive effect on my professional life. I thought LinkedIn might replace it for me, but it turns out LinkedIn sucks. Plus a lot of friends in far away places still message me via FB. I can’t find a way to keep those things in my life, so I’ve made a compromise with myself: a shell profile.
I’ve deleted everything other than the requisite profile pic and cover photo and I continue to use Newsfeed Eradicator - the Chrome extension that blocks my feed and leaves me with an inspirational daily quote in its place. The only notifications I’ll see when I check in will be for the groups I belong to, the pages I manage, and new friend requests.
I no longer want to be an active participant in this social psychological experiment, nor feed my thoughts and biographical data into FB’s algorithm, so I’m going to try a little experiment of my own: having political conversations in real life, where our humanness tempers our differences and allows (hopefully) for kinder, more respectful debate. Getting to know people in person, rather than scrolling through their carefully curated social media accounts. Calling my parents more instead of assuming they’ll get caught up with my life through my posts. Catching up with friends in real life. Maybe I’ll see you there.