A new study carried out by Carnegie Mellon University and Facebook researchers has revealed that personal posts and comments make people happier. We should be deeply suspicious about this – and for obvious reasons, not least because their results overturn the findings of a host of other studies.
There is already a mountain of research showing that online communication comes a poor second to face-to-face contact, and by a long mark. Written words are only part of communication – tone of voice, facial expression and body language make up the greater part. Nearly all previous studies clearly demonstrate that time spent on social media is associated with a greater likelihood of loneliness and depression.
But this new research tells us that Facebook personal messaging has a major impact on wellbeing and overall life satisfaction in much the same way – they claim – as getting married or having a baby.
The researcher’s conclusion is based on a narrow premise – that Facebook users feel better when people they know and care about post a few simple words rather than just a perfunctory click on LIKE. Posts and comments are not exactly labour-intensive, but they might remind recipients of existing meaningful relationships. But can a line of type really be as satisfying as a normal face-to-face conversation with all its nuances and subtleties?
The study, collated by Drs Burke and Kraut, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute, involved nearly two thousand Facebook users from 90 countries and appeared in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication – an IT industry publication.
Each participant agreed to take part in a monthly survey conducted over three months. By monitoring users mood and behaviour, the researchers found that comments from close friends caused an increase in psychological wellbeing, satisfaction with life and overall happiness that were as significant as those associated with major life events.
By conversing in depth on Facebook, or by ordinary email or text for that matter, with people you already know and like, and with whom you already share a bond, you are bound to feel better, just as you do when you talk to them in person. When we read their messages, we can ‘hear’ their voices and understand the subtleties of hidden humour… or frustration, because we already understand their politics, their beliefs, their likes and dislikes, their foibles and their eccentricities. But to suggest that the occasional line of type has the same effect seems to be far-fetched.
Nonetheless, their assertion is that people who are feeling down may indeed spend more time on social media, but they choose to do so because they’ve learned it makes them feel better… so just like all other kinds of addiction then…
But watch out for Facebook! Parents might want to take a closer interest in what’s happening on their children’s Facebook pages, and that means looking at more than just whom they’re talking to.
Facebook is facing allegations that it’s gathering information on youngsters who ‘need a confidence boost’ to help advertisers target kids. According to national newspaper The Australian, a leaked Facebook internal document suggests the firm could allow advertising agencies to use the data to target young and vulnerable users.
The confidential 2017 document details how, by monitoring posts, comments and interactions, Facebook can work out when children as young as 14 feel ‘overwhelmed’, ‘defeated’, ‘stressed’, ‘anxious’, ‘nervous’, ‘stupid’, ‘silly’, ‘useless’ and a ‘failure.’
Facebook calls this ‘sentiment analysis’ and it includes information on when young users are most likely to feel certain emotions. According to the document ‘Monday-Thursday is about building confidence; the weekend is for broadcasting achievements.’
In a statement issued to The Australian, Facebook has promised an investigation into the matter. They said ‘The data on which this research is based was aggregated and presented consistent with applicable privacy and legal protections, including the removal of any personally identifiable information.’
In 2012, Facebook ran an experiment on tens of thousands of its users, in which it altered which status updates appeared in the news feed. These were selected based on post’s emotional content. An algorithm determined whether a post was positive or negative, and Facebook’s aim was to see if the selected group became sadder if they saw a greater number of negative posts.
The results showed that they could, and Facebook was criticised because people claimed it was engaging in social engineering for commercial benefit.
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Copyright Andrew Newton 2016. All rights reserved.