Mr. Zuckerberg, Tear Down This Wall!
Facebook's algorithm cannot be fixed. The News Feed is the problem.
Posted Jan 12, 2018
No one would have thought that just over 30 years after President Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Wall would be a primary cause of human suffering and separation, not to mention an inroad for Russian propaganda. Numerous reports have detailed how Russian organizations not only spread fake news, but also egged on opposing sides of American controversies, even fueling real world confrontations. It’s unclear what effect ‘fake news’ spread on the Facebook wall had on actual votes in the 2016 election—but it was widespread.
Moreover, as my next blog post will detail, there’s been substantial research evidence pointing out how time spent on Facebook causes worsened mental health and well-being. I wrote a whole book on this issue.
So I was amused to read that Mark Zuckerberg is changing the News Feed algorithm to “make sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent,” and that “Facebook a force for moral good.” As this New York Times article lays out, he intends to shift the News Feed from viral posts from publishers to updates and posts from your friend group that are highly liked and commented on. Ugh.
It’s time we stopped drinking the Facebook Kool Aid. Of course, nothing is all-good or all-bad. There are several features of Facebook that many if not most people like. The ability to stay in touch with distant relatives and friends. The opportunity to connect with an interest group, or to sustain us with connection during times of illness, etc.
But as Psychology Today’s recent cover story pointed out (The Comparison Trap, Nov/Dec 2017), social comparison is a primary problem with the site – and with our own minds. I suggest in Facebuddha that there’s a way to turn social comparison into fuel for our personal growth (instead of corrosive envy). But let’s keep it real, how is it going to feel to see your friends’ posts which garner hundreds of likes— while yours are ignored? How is it going to feel to continue to see your friends’ highlight reels, their happy moments, while you are stuck in your pajamas looking at a computer screen? The juxtaposition is designed to make us feel like losers. Moreover, we will still see the polarizing posts with lots of angry comments that got us here in the first place.
Zuckerberg is aiming to limit the policy damage of an unfettered News Feed leading to viral fake news. But our mental health will not necessarily be improved by viewing more of our “friends” (in scare quotes because who really has 500 or 5000 friends?). In fact, the research indicates that it’s precisely this kind of superficial interaction which is detrimental to our health in the first place. We are who happens to us, and what we make of the happening. What happens to us when our relationships are filtered through a Facebook trance? The answers are not pretty, as I detail in my book.
More on this in the next blog post, but we can affirmatively say that according to the best research to date, time spent on Facebook is, by and large, not ‘time well spent,’ and is in fact, detrimental to our physical and mental well being.
Mr. Zuckerberg, tear down this wall! (Or better yet, deactivate and do it yourself!)
(c) 2018 Ravi Chandra, M.D., D.F.A.P.A.