Facebook explores how the newsfeed can have a negative mental health impact on users

Mark Zuckerberg reflects on the value of the newsfeed

Facebook has revealed its findings into the psychological effects of using social media, whether or not it has a positive impact on users - the answer turned out to be much more nuanced. The social network allegedly has different affects on users depending on whether they are using it to create content, versus passive consumption.

In a blog post entitled Hard Questions: Is Spending Time on Social Media Bad for Us?, David Ginsberg, director of research, and Moira Burke, research scientist at Facebook, explored just what constant hours consuming the site – and others – can do to the human mind.

It delved into the potential damages of social media on people in the long term. One piece of academia it referred to was work from the University of Michigan, the institution found that people who read the site for 10 minutes each day were in a worse mood than those just posting or talking to friends on the site.

UC San Diego and Yale discovered that people who clicked on four times more links that the average person, or who like twice as many posts, had worse mental health than average – although no solid hypothesis was drawn as to why.

The studies largely found that the negative effects were associated with the long-term consumption of the feed without any degree of interaction with others. In contrast with this, those who did use the tool to communicate with friends (says Robert Kraut at Carnegie Mellon University research) reported improvements in social support, depression and loneliness. Further research found the resurfacing of old user content like anniversaries and more, helped improve the mood of users.

To increase the experience Facebook said it has issued new tools to avoid seeing exes on the timeline after a break up, it has demoted fake news and clickbait (allegedly) and it has implemented AI techniques to identify at risk people using the site.

The blog referred to a recent statement from Mark Zuckerberg chief executive of Facebook, who said: "We want the time people spend on Facebook to encourage meaningful social interactions.” Facebook has always been about bringing people together — from the early days when we started reminding people about their friends’ birthdays, to showing people their memories with friends using the feature we call 'On This Day.'

"We’re also a place for people to come together in times of need, from fundraisers for disaster relief to groups where people can find an organ donor. We’re always working to expand these communities and find new ways to have a positive impact on people’s lives."

The service has also introduced a snooze button, in order to help users avoid the Christmas updates of certain individuals - for a select time. The tool has been introduced to empower users and reduce unfriendings.

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