Is Facebook Emotionally Toxic? (Op-Ed)

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It’s happened to all of us: the steady decline into a Facebook hole, during which you spend hours of your life pouring over pictures, reminiscing about the past, reliving old experiences. Stuck in a bout of internet induced nostalgia.

This enticing line of behavior hasn’t been helped by new Facebook features, like the “On This Day” memories, through which the platform provides unprovoked links to the past. These show photos, statuses, or other posts you shared or were tagged in a year ago, two years ago, and so on.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather not have a daily reminder of the cruel and ceaseless passing of time, and my own impending doom. These digital memories might have the potential to bring us joy, but—at least for me, personally— they also toy with my emotions, at times plunging me into unexpected depths of heartsickness for friends or experiences which have fallen by the wayside.

However, I still look. Is it curiosity that drives me to do so, or is it just pure masochism?

The advent of social media has undoubtedly proved to be a defining characteristic of the millennial experience. It’s also infiltrated just about every other demographic: according to the most recent data from the Pew Research Center, 71 percent of all American adults use Facebook. Out of that, 87 percent report that they remain connected to friends from the past, like high school or college peers.

What I’d like to know, though, is whether or not these artificially maintained connections are actually good for our emotional wellbeing. Were we really meant to be able to peek into the lives of people from our past? To photographically document and instantaneously access each and every life event?

It seems like a natural progression that some friends and acquaintances might get left behind, as we mature and grow. And, further, that some experiences might simply be forgotten because they didn’t make enough of an impression on our psyches to be prioritized as important information to access and hold onto.

“If we delegate the task of putting space between ourselves and our exes to an algorithm, will we begin to lose the necessary skills to process and move forward on our own?”

So is an online cache which provides constant access to both of these things throwing off our brain chemistry, in regards to which people, places, and things really matter?

Douglas P. Kenrick’s article “7 Ways Facebook Is Bad For Your Health, How Staying In Touch May Be Driving You Nuts” lays out the multitude of ways that the social media platform might just be an utter mindfuck.

Kenrick wrote for Psychology Today, “Facebook comes with its psychological costs—many of them invisible. Indeed, a recent study found that heavy Facebook users experience decreases in subjective well-being over time.”

The ways in which this happens are indeed insidious, and varied. One of the problems that Kenrick lays out is precisely that Facebook can lead you to stay in touch and informed about people who you’d rather forget.

Like exes, for example. Kenrick writes, “Facebook users who reported visiting their former partner’s page experienced disrupted post-breakup emotional recovery and higher levels of distress.”

Well, duh.

This is something that Facebook actually recently attempted to address by creating a feature which allowed users to control how much interaction and visibility they have to their exes profile once a relationship ends.

If a couple changes their relationship status on Facebook indicating that they’ve split up, users are met with a series of prompts asking if they’d like to block this person from their feed, limit the posts that this person will see, and edit or remove tags from posts and photos that involve that person.

That’s well and good, but wouldn’t it just be easier and more effective to put all of your exes stuff in a box when you break up like they did in the good old days? And, furthermore, if we delegate the task of putting space between ourselves and our exes to an algorithm, will we begin to lose the necessary skills to process and move forward on our own?

It seems that social media is here to stay, and as the internet grows and becomes more functional and powerful, it’s likely that networking sites will continue to evolve. Whether this will result in platforms that are enlightening, or emotionally toxic, remains to be seen.