Facebook plays a role as a source of real - and fake - information and some feel it improves their social connections. But there are downsides. A recent Standard study found that not using it for a month improved well-being for participants. Does this mean deleting Facebook will make you happy? I asked professionals for their insight on benefits of quitting Facebook.
Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist found that decreased Facebook use increased her clients’ sense of well-being, but completely stopping use of Facebook is a tough change for some users. "Once caught in this cycle, it is difficult for people to discontinue use for fear of missing out, getting disconnected from friends, or even getting rejected by ‘friends’ for a lack of reciprocity," says Manly.
However, when her clients who experience depression and anxiety are off Facebook, they report feeling better. Manly attributes it to “more time connecting face-to-face with friends and family, more time doing other activities such as exercising and hobbies, and less self-comparison to others as a result of seeing others happy, perfect lives online.”
Although James Brundage is not a mental health professional, he offered valuable insights on benefits he observed for himself, as well as his family and friends, such as no longer experiencing the fear of missing out mentioned by Manly. “FOMO is caused by an awareness of things to do, combined with a lack of capability (time, money, etc) to do them. If you don’t know, you don’t care.” Being off Facebook also excludes one less source of fake news, which is a source of anxiety for anyone, especially when it’s negative. Liking and sharing exacerbates this because it is based on the false notion that “each individual news story or post is worthy of your attention,” said Brundage.
The viral nature of social media can also get people into trouble; they may express an opinion that is unpopular or is considered offensive. “Because I’m not on Facebook,” says Brundage, I don’t have to have any social anxieties related to social signaling on Facebook. I don’t have to worry about, say, having an errant old “Like” for a Louis CK comedy routine. I don’t need to try to tailor my message to appeal to my liberal friends and my more conservative family. I don’t have to worry about some post coming back to haunt me years later.” Brundage feels freedom to go about his day without curating it.
Curation is a problem when it results from the need to compare the image one portrays to other people. “Our brains have an amazing capacity for drawing comparisons”, notes Lindsey Handley with ThoughtSTEM. “When we see that one of our friends is on vacation in Costa Rica, another friend just got married, another friend just had their first baby, and yet another friend got a major promotion at work, if we're not experiencing some high point in our lives at the same time, it can feel like the rest of the world is on average happier or more accomplished than ourselves. It's important to take a step back from Facebook and to realize that people only post their best moments.” “By not being on Facebook," adds Brundage, "I’m not spending the time or effort to create a curated existence for other to see, and I’m not spending endless hours comparing myself.”
Pete Dunlap, Founder of Digital Detangler, has a concern about social engineering with Facebook users. “In experiments that most users are unaware of, they [Facebook] manipulated how positive or negative your news feed was and analyzed your subsequent posts to determine if by changing your feed they changed your mood. They also carried out an experiment they could influence whether people would vote on voting day by making small tweaks to the user interface. Once again, they were able to accomplish the intended effect. Considering that many users aren't aware that Facebook only shows users about a fifth of the possible posts, there is ample room for user manipulation.”
Even with these considerations in mind, Vania Nikolova, Ph.D., Head of Health Research at Runrepeat.com does not believe deleting Facebook will make you happier, but it does have the potential to improve wellbeing if people are mindful about how they use the platform. Whether it’s social engineering, comparison, the need to curate and not offend, she does acknowledge the negative side of Facebook.
Along with Handley, Nikolova’s concern is about how people respond to their Facebook feed. “Some people are better at choosing and moderating their feed, so it's uplifting, positive and generally beneficial, they don't add everyone as a friend, and they clean up their profiles regularly. Their experience with Facebook is overall positive, so they might not be better off without it.”
Nikolova feels the problem is when people are not mindful of what they allow in their minds through a passive feed. “Some people get depressed by their feed because it's mostly fake and artificially exciting, and makes them feel inferior and unhappy. They don't unfriend a lot of people, and they don't unsubscribe from things that make them feel bad. In this case, I would say that deleting Facebook will be a good thing.” The existing research on Facebook use and expert opinion on the downsides indicates that at the very least, Facebook users may want to take a close look at how they use the platform and how they feel when they do so.