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How the News Feed can ruin your day

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Today Facebook published what might be the most extraordinary blog post in the history of the company
 
December 15 · Issue #48 · View online
The Interface
Today Facebook published what might be the most extraordinary blog post in the history of the company, and one of the more extraordinary corporate blog posts I’ve ever read. In it, the company tries to reckon with the growing concern that social media is, in the words of its former head of growth Chamath Palihapitiya, “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.”
Here’s the bad news about social media, the company said in its blog post:
In one experiment, University of Michigan students randomly assigned to read Facebook for 10 minutes were in a worse mood at the end of the day than students assigned to post or talk to friends on Facebook. A study from UC San Diego and Yale found that people who clicked on about four times as many links as the average person, or who liked twice as many posts, reported worse mental health than average in a survey. Though the causes aren’t clear, researchers hypothesize that reading about others online might lead to negative social comparison — and perhaps even more so than offline, since people’s posts are often more curated and flattering. Another theory is that the internet takes people away from social engagement in person.
But there’s good news as well, Facebook said:
On the other hand, actively interacting with people — especially sharing messages, posts and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions — is linked to improvements in well-being. This ability to connect with relatives, classmates, and colleagues is what drew many of us to Facebook in the first place, and it’s no surprise that staying in touch with these friends and loved ones brings us joy and strengthens our sense of community.
A study we conducted with Robert Kraut at Carnegie Mellon University found that people who sent or received more messages, comments and Timeline posts reported improvements in social support, depression and loneliness. The positive effects were even stronger when people talked with their close friends online. Simply broadcasting status updates wasn’t enough; people had to interact one-on-one with others in their network. Other peer-reviewed longitudinal research and experiments have found similar positive benefits between well-being and active engagement on Facebook.
As I noted in my story at The Verge, the authors conclude that the solution is not to use Facebook less, but to use it more — and differently. “In sum, our research and other academic literature suggests that it’s about how you use social media that matters when it comes to your well-being,” they wrote.
However well-meaning, this can’t help but come across as self-serving. Facebook presents itself as both the likely cause of, and solution to, its users’ mental problems. A question that goes unasked in this blog post is: would users feel better if they quit using Facebook altogether? 
Perhaps that’s too much to ask. But by introducing academic research on the question of how the News Feed affects our mental health, Facebook has opened the door. For that, we ought to commend them. Here’s hoping this post leads to more reflection — and more product changes that materially improve users’ well-being. 
Facebook became well practiced this year at declaring its good intentions, and in apologizing for its mistakes. In 2018 it will be under pressure to show real results — backed by data — that show its good intentions have led to solutions. 
It is a steep hill to climb.  

Democracy
Hard Questions: Is Spending Time on Social Media Bad for Us?
Facebook worries it might be bad for you, adds a mute button
How Trump’s skepticism of U.S. intelligence on Russia left an election threat unchecked
Net neutrality is dead — what happens next?
Elsewhere
Death of Man in Skyscraper Fall in China Puts a Spotlight on ‘Rooftopping’
Reddit’s Favorite High-School Porn Magnate Is Actually 22
Launches
Facebook's new Snooze button can mute annoying friends for 30 days
You can now block Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook
Norwegians can warm up over Facebook’s Bonfire this Christmas
Google releases YouTube VR for Steam
Takes
The difference between good and bad Facebooking
Feeds will open up to new user-determined filters
Twitter has transformed itself, and no one noticed.
And finally
Life on the Meme Council: Meet the Internet’s Gatekeepers
Talk to me
Questions? Comments? Last-minute gift ideas? casey@theverge.com 
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