Social Media Health Impact

By on December 22nd, 2017 in Blog Post, Health & Medical

The Wall Street Journal reports that “Facebook Concedes to Effects on Health.” The social media health impact acknowledged is related to mental health, not the concern of sitting for hours (web potatoes?), lowering our IQ, impact on eyesight, or thumb-fatigue. Facebook researchers posit that this is a risk for folks who are “lurking” on Facebook rather than interacting with others.

One key to reversing this is for Facebook users to become “active,” sharing, and most critically receiving feedback from friends, family, and connections on Facebook. Of course a risk is putting your virtual self out there and getting nothing back but silence. Given the billions of Facebook participants, it is easy to see that some will feel isolated, and perhaps take actions that reinforce that isolation.

Suicide is also a topic of the Facebook post. For this a direct quote seems to be most relevant:

“Suicide prevention tools: Research shows that social support can help prevent suicide. Facebook is in a unique position to connect people in distress with resources that can help. We work with people and organizations around the world to develop support options for people posting about suicide on Facebook, including reaching out to a friend, contacting help lines and reading tips about things they can do in that moment. We recently released suicide prevention support on Facebook Live and introduced artificial intelligence to detect suicidal posts even before they are reported. We also connect people more broadly with mental health resources, including support groups on Facebook.”

There would seem to be real potential with the increasing awareness at Facebook, the data they hold, and the tools that might be brought to bear on improving the health or well-being of users. It is interesting that Facebook also has both direct and implicit psychological profiles (as reported by the New York Times) of their users, and many non-users as well. (That lower case “f” logo you see on many sites is not just a hint to share on Facebook, it is a direct connection to Facebook that lets Facebook track your web activities even if you are not a Facebook user.) This level of profiling would allow Facebook to connect with at-risk users well beyond suicide prevention. If “Hello, Barbie” can befriend children and help them grow, then presumably Facebook with it’s perspective on each individual could do the same.

So what when should Facebook (or other entities with comparable insight to individuals) engage them? What outcomes might be appropriate, ethical, or problematic? As the NY Times article suggests, some of the use of this information is for highly focused advertising/influence. It seems there should be some positive objectives beyond promoting products or influencing elections.