Facebook is eating your brain

downResearchers at UC San Diego and Yale have completed a 2-year study of how Facebook affects users.

Holly Shakya, assistant professor at UC San Diego, and Yale professor Nicholas Christakis spent two years following 5,208 adults who are part of a Gallup long-term study. After asking permission, they monitored these subjects’ Facebook use directly from Facebook, rather than asking subjects to report their own use. (People often don’t realize how much time they spend on the social network.) And they checked in with subjects on their emotional and physical well-being, as well as their body-mass index (BMI), three times over the course of two years.

“Overall, our results showed that, while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being,” the researchers wrote in a Harvard Business Review article. “These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year.”

But what about how Facebook makes the world more connected and helps you keep up with friends and family?

In addition to negative self-comparison, the researchers note, increased use of Facebook and other social media tends to take up a lot of people’s time and can create an illusion of closeness. To the extent that time spent on Facebook takes you away from real-world social gatherings, you lose the benefit of being in a community, the researchers say. The same is likely true if you’re at a gathering in body, but your eyes and mind are locked on your smartphone, checking out your friends’ latest posts.

So what should you do? I’m not going to tell you to stop using Facebook.

I am, though! Facebook makes you sad and lonely in exchange for little bursts of positive reinforcement. I think that’s true of all social media to some extent (and yes, I still use Twitter, I am imperfect and always have been) but Facebook seems especially pernicious, probably because of its single-minded focus on designing its user experience to suck you in and trap you.

On the other hand, you do get to submit to intense surveillance in a system that shares your data in weird and mysterious ways with corporations and has intentionally-confusing privacy controls so… I guess that’s cool if you have mind control or prison fantasies?

Turn it off, delete the data, burn it down, and let Zuckerberg find a job where he doesn’t wreck the world.

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