With Thanksgiving coming, I was thinking about what I'm thankful for in the world of computers, and Facebook came to mind.
I have a very good friend that used to live a few miles from me near Tacoma, Washington. She has since moved to New Hampshire, I relocated to Arizona, and now, we use Facebook for all the interactions we used to have face-to-face. On Facebook, we joke with each other, complain about all the people that are driving us crazy, celebrate our victories, and support each other through the bad times.
Staying in touch with her and my other far-flung friends and family, sharing pictures and jokes, even using it to promote my business – Facebook is the best innovation on the Web! Then I started having second thoughts.
Probably the worst contribution made by Facebook, in my opinion, is the spread of deliberately false, inflammatory, and manipulative information in our world. According to a 2018 article on fake news and social media by Maggie Fox on NBC News’ website, “Falsehoods spread like wildfire on social media, getting quicker and longer-lasting pickup than the truth..."
The study she quotes, published in Science Magazine's website on March 9, 2018, goes on to say, "Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information, and the effects were more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, or financial information."
I’m not so sure that our political climate needs another source of deception – weren’t we looking for graduation pictures and birth announcements?
If you have not caught the social media bug, I think you should consider yourself lucky. I have found myself, many times, wasting time on social media when I was supposed to be responding to customers or posting information for one of my businesses. Even though I'm very aware of the addictive properties of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, they can all still catch me in their time-wasting traps. Scrolling through the various feeds is just so mesmerizing!
An article in Reader's Digest, "10 Weird Negative Effects of Social Media on Your Brain," summarizes all the studies that have shown that social media may weaken your self-control, make it more difficult for you to interact socially in real life, and interfere with healthy sleep patterns. It takes a concerted effort to counteract these negative effects and keep yourself healthy.
Facebook even agrees that social media might be bad for us! In their article from December 2017, David Ginsberg, Director of Research, and Moira Burke, Research Scientist at Facebook say that the use of social media may lead to more depression and suicidal thoughts. They encourage users to be less passive and more active, scrolling and reading less and commenting and interacting more, in order to fight these effects. Even social media tells us to be careful on their platforms!
Do you ever think about how something will be received on Facebook instead of just enjoying it?
There are literally hundreds of studies about how Facebook and other social media compromise our privacy that overwhelmingly concentrate on three main vulnerabilities: users "oversharing," platform security holes, and criminals and other nefarious users seeking users' personal information for their own gain.
The "oversharing" problem is the easiest to solve: stop displaying personal information where the general public can see it. Carefully go through your list of friends and imagine each of them being informed of your political beliefs, your love life, or your health status, for example. Would it make you uncomfortable for any of those people to know any of the things you post on Facebook?
At least part of the problem is the amount we're sharing on social media, but part is to whom we're doing the sharing. AARP's website has a great article on checking your privacy settings on Facebook. You should definitely go through their entire list, but for an everyday quick check of the privacy status of your account, click on Facebook's Privacy Checkup in your Quick Help menu (the question mark on the far right). It's definitely worth your time.
One last word on sharing: remember that criminals use Facebook, too. Cleaning up your act doesn't just mean less embarrassment from oversharing; it also means less potential identity theft, danger to your family members, and hints to the thieves and robbers out there. Don't risk not doing it!
Facebook seems so fun and friendly!
Too much of anything can be harmful. Just taking a short break from Facebook could make you feel better, according to this article by Business Insider, but that author also feels that most people don't want to lose the connections to people they have through the site permanently. Ravi Chandra, M.D. uses several studies to support his opinion that we should consider getting off Facebook and other social media sites permanently in his article in Psychology Today entitled "Is Facebook Destroying Society and Your Mental Health?"
Ultimately, it is a personal decision: are you being negatively affected by Facebook, and how much? Some moderation or a short break might be helpful, or maybe even a permanent vacation. Also, remember that both the high tech world and your own circumstances are changing all the time. Be aware of the time you are spending on social media, the amount of information you're sharing, and your resulting frame of mind. Evaluating these things often can help to insure that you can be wholeheartedly thankful for the way Facebook has brought you closer to those you love.
As usual, please use our contact form below to email me with any questions you have about this or any other computer-related topic. If I don’t know the answer, I guarantee I can help you find it!
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Be a happy, healthy consumer of social media!