We’ll still use Facebook in spite of its problems

Social network fulfils important functions in the context of human behaviour in the digital age

CEO Mark Zuckerberg is under fire for failing to protect Facebook users' personal information and for its inability to prevent Russia from using the social network to influence the 2016 presidential election.

While the site's privacy troubles are recent, users have known about its other shortcomings for years.

That Facebook can make us miserable is old news - so many research studies have concluded that it negatively affects our well-being.

Last year the company conducted its own such study and largely agreed.

So why are we all still using the service, really? What do the experts studying our behaviour on Facebook have to say?

Here are a few of the less obvious reasons:

Because Facebook allows us to be better versions of ourselves

In her bestseller Reclaiming Conversation: The Power Of Talk In A Digital Age, Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sherry Turkle notes that we often use Facebook to "reflect the person (we) want to be, (our) aspirational self".

University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Catalina Toma's research has found that when people spend five minutes viewing their own Facebook profile, their feelings of self-worth are boosted.

Because Facebook makes us feel in control

Control has massive appeal in the context of complex human interactions.

"Online communication makes us feel more in charge of our time and our self-presentation," Ms Turkle writes in the book.

Facebook has done such a good job of making us feel in control that the company has begun to draft our public personas for us. Think about the site's new photo montages of "friend anniversaries", wherein an algorithm culls our most liked, most commented-on photos.

When we post these machine-created self-representations, Facebook is partially deciding what facets of lives we should show the world. In other words, Facebook has begun drafting Ms Turkle's "aspirational self" for us.

How much is Facebook in control, versus how much are we in control?

What seems to matter most is that we feel in control.

Because we're bad at judging what's good for us

Mr Ethan Kross, director of the Emotion and Self-Control Laboratory at the University of Michigan, cited the psychological principle of rationalisation (psychology's fancy term for "making excuses"), wherein we justify our own thoughts and actions even when presented with contradictory information.

So even when Facebook is making us unhappy - when photos of vacations and restaurants and conflict-free families are actively depressing us - we'll likely rationalise that behaviour.

Because we haven't given up hope

Facebook fulfils important functions: it connects us with others, lets us easily exchange information between each other, and helps us get social support when we need it.

Toma noted that throughout history, society has had adverse, fearful reactions to new technologies, and with each new invention, we've adapted our social protocols and behaviour accordingly. - REUTERS


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