The global furore created by the data mining of 50 million Facebook users by controversial UK political consultants Cambridge Analytica (reportedly to help Donald Trump win the US election) spawned the Twitter hashtag #DeleteFacebook and a campaign calling for users to abandon the social media giant in droves.
In truth, it just one of a number of reasons for shutting down your Facebook account – if you were looking for one.
Other reasons include the constant stream of fake news flowing down your Facebook feed, the trolls, scumbags and hate speech mongerers who freely ply their trade on Facebook or just the incredible and unfettered power Facebook and founder Mark Zuckerberg now wields with its 1.2 billion users and rivers of advertising revenue that has crippled the free press.
But there is a far more obvious reason why you should seriously consider doing as the hashtag says and #DeleteFacebook.
Simply put, the latest research shows that frequent use of Facebook is likely to make you a less happier, less well-adjusted and less healthier person.
“Researchers are finding that the curated versions that we post on Facebook and Instagram have real consequences in our actual lives,” said Shankar Vedantam the host of NPR’s Hidden Brain, a popular science and psychology podcast which looks at how people interact with the world.
“As you watch the seemingly idyllic lives of friends on social media, you may find a little voice pointing out that your vacations are dull by contrast, that your kid never scores the winning goal, that your relationships seem to be painted in grey while everyone else’s seem to be in Technicolor,” the eloquent Vedantam went on to say.
Social comparison risk
The podcast episode called “SchadenFacebook” (which you can download here), looked at a 2017 study carried out by academics at Tel Aviv University’s Coller School of Management, which was the first study aimed at separating out correlation (Do lonelier people tend to use Facebook?) from causation (Does Facebook use make you unhappier?) in relation to social media use.
It examined the “natural” experiences of 144 workers at a security firm who initially were not allowed to use Facebook at all and had to delete their accounts. Later, the company allowed some employees to re-open their accounts.
In this unique situation, none of the people got to choose which group they were in, so it couldn’t be that people who were unhappy were choosing to use Facebook, ruling out a correlation bias.
The researchers collected data from the time no one was allowed to use Facebook to the time some were allowed to have access.
Surprisingly, the study found that users are not generally fooled into accepting that the experiences posted on Facebook by their friends are the true picture.
But did find conclusively that “Facebook usage increases users’ engagement in social comparison and consequently decreases their happiness”.
“Using Facebook makes you more comparative. You need to prove yourself to yourself over and over again,” one of the researchers, Ohad Barzilay, told Hidden Brain.
“You compare yourself to others more often, you judge yourself, am I better or worse than my friends? Am I happier or are they happier?”
“This [constant] social comparison engagement makes you less happy,” Barzilay said.
Harvard Business Review study
On top of that study, I tracked down another recent and more comprehensive study on the impact of Facebook use on wellbeing, that was published in the esteemed Harvard Business Review.
Conducted by Holly B. Shakya an assistant professor of global public health at UC San Diego and Nicholas A. Christakis, director of the Human Nature Lab at Yale University, it tracked the wellbeing of 5208 regular Facebook users over a two-year period.
It measured life satisfaction, self-reported mental health, self-reported physical health, and body-mass index.
The findings were: “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 report went on to say: “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. We found consistently that both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction.”
Neither of these findings really surprised me – nor do I suspect would they many other people.
Unfortunately, we often accept at face value what we read and see on Facebook and as the academic studies show use this as a disingenuous point of self-comparison: “There’s so and so having a better holiday then me…or with a nicer house or car…or with a better job…or with happy kids…or a nicer figure….”
But if we weren’t on Facebook voyeuristically trawling through the lives of others, and instead spent time on building our relationship in the real world, the latest research strongly suggests we’d be a lot less envious, a lot less depressed and a lot less self-judging.
Quitting is hard
The problem is thought that quitting Facebook – like any other addiction (and it is an addition!) is not easy.
The world’s most famous online brand (alongside Google) is completely entangled in our lives. It’s on our phones, our iPads and computers and it crops up in everything we see and do: from food packaging, to newspaper articles to everyday conversations.
The brilliance or insidiousness of Facebook, and other social network platforms like Instagram is that it takes advantage of natural human curiosity. Quite simply put: we want to know.
But if you’re feeling depressed or dispirited about your life and feel others are having more fun then you (when in fact their lives are not so shit hot) maybe its time to take the plunge and press the delete button.
“What, you’re not on Facebook?” your friends might ask in shock and horror.
To which you can simply smile and say: “Yes”.