If you woke up this morning, pressed the home button on your phone, and clicked the Facebook icon to make sure the world hadn’t melted, you’re not alone. In 2017, about 1.4 billion daily users across the world did the same thing.
Of course, you could have looked out the window and realized the world had indeed shut down, except it was ice, not fire, that spelled our demise.
Last week, for those who don’t know, the overlords at Facebook headquarters made a drastic change to your “News Feed” – the “news” your friends and favorite businesses drivel all day, every day.
Facebook, in a moment of moral indignation, decided the posts you read have become cluttered with unimportant information. There are too many businesses posting information. Too many media outlets begging for viewers. Too many advertisers trying to sell you products. No kidding.
Mark Zuckerberg, the fun-loving bore who controls the global psyche, announced last week that his company altered its algorithm to give priority to content from your friends and family over the sped-up version of a woman’s hands making the most delectable enchilada casserole.
I am a Facebook user. In the past 12 months, I have posted a total of eight times – six of those were articles from our newspaper. For that matter, I kind of like Facebook because I can keep up with the human friends I’ve made over the past 43 years.
From a business standpoint, I’ve also grown fond of Facebook. Our newspaper can publish one of our stories to the platform, and if the story is half-decent, a few thousand people will read it. Journalists like it when people read our stories, and I suppose this column will even make it to the hallowed grounds of the network.
So why did Facebook make this change? That’s where it gets interesting, if by “interesting” we really mean “absurd.”
On Jan. 11, Zuckerberg sent a note to his followers to explain why Facebook altered the way you get information.
“One of our big focus areas for 2018 is making sure the time we all spend on Facebook is time well spent,” he began. And who among us hasn’t logged off from a fruitful session of staring at a guy doing a dance on a treadmill and immediately said, “Now that was some well-spent time.”?
Later in his blog, the founder told us we need more balance in our lives – through Facebook, of course.
“The balance of what’s in News Feed has shifted away from the most important thing Facebook can do – help us connect with each other,” he wrote.
In a broad sense, maybe Zuckerberg is right; we can connect with new and old friends via his network. Then again, maybe he’s confusing the word “connect” with what Facebook really is – a way to “follow.” If you walk behind a person who’s ambling down the street, watching him eat a fresh breakfast biscuit, or watching her wear brand new shoes, that does not mean you have “connected” with that person. It means you have observed that person. It doesn’t matter if we shout that we would love to have our own biscuit. It doesn’t create an immediate connection if we would die for a pair of those shoes. Giving a thumbs-up to a person does not a relationship make. That is not a social interaction.
In a single stroke, Zuckerberg has, with what he must feel is a moral obligation, redefined one of the most important words in society. He has led us to believe that observing is connecting, and he is wrong.
It gets worse.
“We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s well-being.”
Good for our well-being? Zuckerberg can’t be serious.
He is, and he even said there was research that shows “when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being.”
I did a quick search for “Research Facebook Good For Well Being,” and the very first article, published – ironically – by Zuckerberg’s alma mater had the following headline: “A New, More Rigorous Study Confirms: The More You Use Facebook, the Worse You Feel.”
Here’s what the Harvard Business Review said of its study of more than 5,000 adults:
“Overall, our results showed that, while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. These results were particularly strong for mental health…”
And this was the best line from the study: “We found consistently that both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction.”
That study was published last year. It says everything you need to know about the impact of Facebook on your life, but that won’t stop Zuckerberg from telling you otherwise, as he did when explaining the new and improved Facebook.
“I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down,” he wrote. “But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable.”
Here’s where I’ve grown so disgusted by Facebook and its declaration of all things valuable to our lives: Why can’t we just call it what it is? Why do the guilty pleasures in life have to all-the-sudden become the purpose for our lives.
Facebook is not a purpose. It is not part of our well-being, just as playing cards and eating ice cream are not part of our well-being. There’s nothing wrong with any of them, but it’s about time we quit giving such power to the things that are ancillary to our lives.
If the high and mighty sitting behind computers would quit dictating what’s most important in our lives, and we made real efforts to connect in person, that’s when we’d be healthier versions of ourselves. If social media quit telling us how to think, how to act, how to vote, and we were forced to do that on our own, now that would be good for our well-being.
If you don’t believe me, just go look out the window. There used to be ice but now you can feel the sunshine!
(Editor’s note: Joe Southern’s Faith, Family & Fun column will return next week.)