Facebook and Mental Health

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  • Research consistently found that Facebook and social media users reported lower well-being
    • A large body of literature linked Facebook use with detrimental outcomes such as decreased mental well-being. A meta study on scientific papers on social media’s influence on mental health found social media use was linked to increased levels of psychological distress, thoughts of self-harm and suicide and poor sleep. One in eight Facebook users reported that their use of the platform harmed their sleep, work, relationships and parenting.[1]
    • Passive use of Facebook – browsing but not engaging on the platform – led to worse outcomes on well- being. People who spent a lot of time passively using Facebook reported feeling worse afterwards. Selective confrontation with other’s success on Facebook could trigger repetitive negative thinking regarding ones imperfections.[2]
  • Heavy use and passive use of Facebook led to the worst of consequences from social media use
    • It was found that the amount someone used Facebook was no. 1 variable that predicted depression among a study’s participants and those with lower well being used Facebook more. Problematic use of Facebook was associated with lower well-being. Making matters worse, those with low subjective happiness were more susceptible to overusing Facebook. Facebook users with some level of mental vulnerability were more at risk for problematic outcomes from their use of the platform.
    • Using Facebook for reasons other than social engagement created decreased well-being. People who read Facebook for 10 minutes a day were in a worse mood than those just posting or talking to friends. People who reported higher levels of Facebook use experienced higher emotional and stronger needs to be connected.
    • Overuse of Facebook skewed user’s perspectives of themselves, the world around them and their social bonds. Those who overused Facebook felt that other people were happier than them, experienced high levels of loneliness and withdrew socially. Facebook addiction was found to negatively affect life satisfaction. People who used Facebook for a long time reported feeling that others were happier than them. Students using Facebook for long durations reported enhanced loneliness. They also reported aggressing less with the idea that life was fair. The problematic use of Facebook led to an avoidance of real social relations.
  • Decreased use of Facebook and social media had a clear benefit for people’s well-being
    • Users who deactivated their Facebook and social media accounts felt greater life satisfaction and more positive emotions than continued users. It was found that people’s life satisfaction increased significantly when they quit Facebook. They had more positive life satisfaction and positive emotions than Facebook users. The increase in well-being resulting from social media deactivation increased levels of subjective well-being by approximately 24-50% as much as standard psychological interventions. Deactivation of social media also led to a statistically significant decrease in depression and loneliness. A study of inpatient patients at a mental health center found that patients using Facebook during their treatment reported higher levels of negative mental health and recovered more slowly than non-users.
  • Adolescents were most at risk for mental health issues stemming from Facebook and Instagram. They’re the users the platforms wanted most.
    • 22 million teens in the U.S. logged onto Instagram every day. Roughly half of Facebook’s users between the age of 18 and 24 checked Facebook upon waking up.[3]
    • Adolescence was marked by the development of personal and social identity, a core experience of maturation exploited by Instagram. Adolescence was a period of personal and social identity development, and much of that development had become reliant on social media. It was posited that because adolescents had a limited capacity for self-regulation and were vulnerable to peer pressure, they were susceptible to the adverse effects of social media.
    • Instagram’s focus on only presenting one’s best moments could send teens spiraling toward eating disorders and depression. The features that were core to Instagram, like sharing only one’s best moments or looking perfect, were a threat to adolescent’s mental health. It was thought that the addictive product could send teens towards eating disorders and give them an unhealthy sense of their bodies as well as cause depression. Adolescents heavily using social media were more likely to report mental health issues.
  • A generation’s mental health was on the line because of Instagram
    • Suicidality was a tragic outcome from teenage Instagram use. 13% of British teens and 6% of American teens who reported suicidal thoughts traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram. Teens blamed Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression.[4]
    • Social comparisons, which was at the base of the Instagram experience, led to a distorted self-image among teens. 40% of teen Instagram users who reported feeling unattractive said the feeling began on the app. 32% of teenage girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.
    • Instagram was linked to greater self-objectification and decreased body image. Frequent use of image-based social media platforms like Instagram was linked to greater self-objectification.
  • Facebook worked against improving its products impact on mental health, despite being aware of its danger
    • Instagram knew that strong negative emotions, such as negative social comparison, kept users’ attention longer than other emotions. But Facebook shut down a team focused on user well-being in 2019.
    • Facebook saw older users as a threat to its business, so it focused on finding every way possible to attract younger uses, even those as young as 6 years old. Facebook saw an aging user base as an existential threat to the long-term health of its business. The platform considered it a “particularly concerning trend” that young users were spending less time on the site and called the lack of use a “significant risk.” Facebook had teams of employees laying plans to attract preteens to their platform. The head of Instagram told employees that the platform’s goal was to be “a place where young people define[d] themselves and the future.” An internal 2018 Facebook document said the platform could not “ignore” the fact that kids as young as six years old were using the internet.