Ethics for Everyone

Moral wisdom for the modern world

Facebook Free: A 30-Day Experiment

Some of Facebook's moral negatives.

Quitting Facebook can give you more free time to pursue the sorts of activities that make up for a truly happy and fulfilling life: deep relationships, physical activity, productive and meaningful work, spirituality, and the pursuit of excellence in life.  With this in mind, I think that quitting Facebook can help many of us be better persons. This is not true for everyone, however. For some people, Facebook is not a problem and enhances their lives. But for others, this is not the case.

Before I clarify what I mean by the claim that quitting Facebook can make you a better person, let me be clear what I do not mean. First, I don't think that Facebook is intrinsically evil, though if you've read my recent post about quitting Facebook you'll know I'm through with it. I also don't think that being on Facebook necessarily has a negative moral impact on us or our relationships. In fact, there are some positives to be had via activity on Facebook. However, there are some features of Facebook that can have a negative impact on our character. The following points aren't necessarily true for all (or perhaps even most people), but I think that they do apply to many of us.

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Some of the Moral Negatives of Facebook

1. Facebook can foster self-centeredness. This is not necessarily the fault of Facebook, but the nature of this technology can nevertheless encourage a selfish focus. There are a variety of explanations for the types of status updates we find on Facebook, some of them having to do with a longing for connections with other people. However, in some instances Facebook seems to be the virtual equivalent of standing on a rooftop proclaiming "Look at me and what I did today!" Some people even engage in certain activities for the purpose of having something to brag about on Facebook. Given the ease with which Facebook enables us to talk about ourselves, it can encourage some forms of self-centeredness.

2. Facebook offers the illusion of intimacy, rather than the real thing. There is a lot to be said about this, but I think that there is a qualitative difference between the types of intimacy we have with friends when we are face-to-face and side-by-side in life which Facebook simply cannot replicate. It is true that it is not meant to replicate this, but when we interact with scores of people on Facebook, perhaps sharing our hopes, fears, triumphs, and failures, I would argue that the form of intimacy present is illusory. We feel like we are connecting with people, but I doubt we are doing so in a way that is in general conducive to their fulfillment, or our own.

3. Facebook may be harmful to your marriage. While the claim that 1 in 5 divorces cite Facebook as a contributing factor has been shown to be a myth, it is nevertheless true that Facebook is potentially dangerous to some marriages. The opportunity to connect with former significant others is a potential problem. Someone might object that the problem is not Facebook, but the person or perhaps the marriage itself, and in a sense this is correct. However, it might be the better part of wisdom to avoid something that offers an easy way for connecting with past significant others if you are married, just like it is the better part of wisdom to avoid Dunkin Donuts if you are on a diet or your local bar if you are a recovering alcoholic. This is especially true when your marriage is going through a rough patch, which coincidentally is also a time when the desire to reconnect with some past love is potentially the strongest. More generally, many marriages would be strengthened if the spouses invested their "Facebook time" in each other and their relationship.

4. Facebook offers the illusion of serving the common good. There are a variety of good causes with a presence on Facebook, which I think is a very good thing. However, what if we replaced our time spent on Facebook by serving others in our community through a political, religious, or social service organization? Which is better: (i) "Liking" Habitat for Humanity on Facebook; or (ii) getting some friends together and helping build a house for someone in your community?

 

A Call to Action

In light of the above, I would like to ask you to consider engaging in a 30-day experiment. Why not try going "Facebook Free" for one month?  During this experiment, reflect on the impact this has on your flesh and blood relationships, school or work productivity, physical health, and overall sense of happiness and well-being. You don't need to permanently delete your account, but merely deactivate it for those 30 days. If, after this experiment, you conclude that Facebook is on balance a good thing for you, your account will be there waiting for you. But you might find that other more enjoyable and fulfilling things are crowding out the time you used to spend on Facebook.

 

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Michael W. Austin, Ph.D., is a Professor of Philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University.

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