By Ashwin Krishnan
Your friends are in a binge smoking session and you haven’t smoked in a week; they miss you – please join!
If that sounds like a corny line from the ‘60s when Phillip Morris or Reynolds were running full-page ads in newspapers or shouting hoarsely on AM radio (hope you remember that technology), you can be forgiven for your misplaced conclusion. What if I said that this is happening today – here and now! Aren’t you stunned? Here’s a hint: It’s called #EngagementBait. Replace ‘smoking’ with ‘Facebooking’! Do you get the picture? Yes, Facebook is an addiction and now we have the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ – Facebook itself – admitting to it. This is what two of their top researchers – David Ginsberg and Moira Burke – blogged on their own website on December ’17. They wrote, ‘when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information, reading but not interacting with people – they report feeling worse afterwards. Though the causes aren’t clear, researchers hypothesize that reading about others online might lead to negative social comparison — and perhaps even more so than offline, since people’s posts are often more curated and flattering. Another theory is that the internet takes people away from social engagement in person ‘.
Facebook springs to action
However, wait, there’s more to it. Facebook has a plan to “de-addict” you and restore your pristine mental state. The researchers added, ‘On the other hand, actively interacting with people — especially sharing messages, posts, and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions — is linked to improvements in well-being’. And if this was not enough, they put a nice cherry on the pie, ‘In sum, our research and other academic literature suggest that it’s about how you use social media that matters when it comes to your well-being’.
And that’s what I am going to do now for our collective health – dissect a little bit on how they want us to use Social Media versus how we should use it using our own brains.
How it begins and ends
Let’s state the obvious first. Most of us have a need (perhaps, compulsion) to use Social media during the time we are awake. The business model for Facebook is really about making sure you are spending more time on their app so they can track you, collect data, run analytics, reach into the deepest recesses of your neo-cortex to stimulate you to act in ways such that you don’t even realise you are being manipulated – like, comment, share, mute (the latest innovation), ad-click etc. Yet, we all act like we sleepwalked into a nudist camp when faced with a ‘shocking revelation’ about the Russian propaganda machine affecting the presidential election. We eventually end up pretending that we had never known that such power existed and that our minds could have been shaped by a deceptively simple ‘life-sharing’ app.
The title of the researchers’ blog is the beckoning email we get when we have not logged into Facebook for a day (god forbid, a week). ‘See what you have been missing. The virtual party is getting bigger and better and your pathetic real world that you live in needs to be banished now.’ More sooner than not, we fall for it and enter the ramparts of that quicksand!
A reality check
Before I offer suggestions (yes, I am not going to leave you hanging with only doomsday predictions), we should realise that this sophisticated machine is seldom holier than thou saviour deliverances that are designed to lull us into complacency that our well-being is foremost in their minds. An example of the same is the recent announcement that ‘Facebook will limit the engagement bait to clean up the NewsFeed’. Put simply, ‘LIKE this if you were born in August’, ‘SHARE this if you are a millennial’ sort of baits will be subdued as these scammers will no longer be able to artificially increase their ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ with theses subversive posts. Is this supposed to make us feel better?
Revisiting the process
Firstly, Facebook researchers state that idly skimming pages on Facebook leads to mental health issues. Then, it promotes that we should actively engage by liking and sharing posts/comments for our own well-being. Then, all of a sudden, “Facebook Artificial Intelligence” grew a conscience overnight after noticing that scammers who seek quick ‘Likes’ and ‘Shares’ were bad for business and so, it decided to suppress that. All this while, Facebook itself continues to ‘bait us’ by sending us emails about how many ‘Likes’, ‘Shares’ and ‘FB Live’ we have missed by being too engaged in the real world.
So where does that leave us? First, realise that no one except we ourselves can control our engagement. This means that the finger twitching, lip quivering urge to see which birthday we may have missed – a message that could make or break our day – can wait. This can be done maybe for the next hour, evening, night or tomorrow. Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp are not going away. They do serve a purpose but that needs to be aligned with our own moral compass. Our frequency, length, and purpose of engagement need to be etched in our hearts and brains. That is the only salvation. Otherwise, the insatiable urge to ‘like, comment, share and repeat’ will eventually consume our sanity.
Featured Image Source: Pexels