Facebook Shuttered Team in search of social media addiction

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(Photo: Joshua Hoehne / Unsplash)
Another week, another new embarrassment for Facebook. In what initially appears to be good news, new whistleblower documents reveal that Facebook had a team responsible for reporting and resolving unhealthy use of social media. The team, which focused solely on user well-being, studied the ways people used Facebook and was tasked with finding ways to improve the platform.

But “had” is the key word here. According to internal documents inspected from Wall Street newspaper, Facebook closed the team in 2019.

Worse still, the team appears to have been on the verge of making important suggestions that could have benefited users, at the expense of time spent on the platform, which is critical to Facebook’s ability to make money. Before they were disbanded, the team’s researchers conducted a survey of 20,000 users and found that one in eight was engaged in “problematic use” of Facebook. Problem use, they said, has produced a number of negative effects on key aspects of users’ lives. Some users reported a loss of productivity, while others said their sleep was affected by late night scrolling and viewing disturbing content. Users also reported a deterioration in their interpersonal relationships; parents have even shunned their children in favor of spending more time online. A user missed a family member’s wedding because he was watching a video on Facebook. Another said it was common for them to browse the app until 2am, making it difficult to wake up refreshed the next morning.

(Photo: Brett Jordan / Unsplash)

Anyone familiar with the scientific method will tell you that correlation is not causation, as does Facebook itself, whose parent company, Meta, denies WSJthe interpretation of his research. But Facebook’s correlation with unhealthy use of social media isn’t exactly promising. It is also not comforting in the face of recent Facebook rename, during which Zuckerburg publicly aimed to blur the boundaries between the “real” world and the virtual world of to build a metaverse.

Internal Facebook documents reveal that the company knew its platform was more frequently associated with addictive use than other virtual experiences, including Reddit, YouTube, and World of Warcraft. Whistleblower Frances Haugen only spoke last month about what Facebook is like designed to reward content that is controversial (and sometimes downright hateful) because of the way its algorithms favor engagement above all else. One of Facebook’s subsidiaries, Instagram, was also found this year to have a single poverty impact on its users thanks to its algorithms and its user interface.

Despite this, the company has only made tentative attempts to improve its platform to address these issues. It added a time management tool to its mobile app in 2018, as well as a “silent mode” that disabled push notifications in 2020. But the latter feature was hidden in the app’s settings and Facebook’s algorithms continue. to push unsavory content to the top of users’ news feeds. Facebook recently crushed an external attempt to help people curb overuse of the app, so we’re unlikely to see real progress towards user well-being in the near future.

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