Your data is at risk on Facebook, but so is your mental health

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Facebook is a treasure trove of data, chronicling the most intimate details of the lives of its users. It’s also very difficult to give up. That, consumer advocates and social scientists suggest, is a really bad combination for the 2 billion-plus monthly users, if not the company’s bottom line.

The company is under international pressure to review its data collection techniques. A data firm hired to support President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign allegedly harvested private information from 50 million Facebook users without their permission. The Guardian reported the data was collected through a personality quiz app called thisisyourdigitallife, which also collected data on the test-takers’ Facebook friends.

Facebook said it suspended the accounts of two people who worked with Cambridge Analytica, a data firm with ties to Trump’s election campaign. The biggest social media company on the planet said Friday that Cambridge Analytica broke Facebook’s policy on how third parties can obtain and use data.

This comes as Facebook’s FB, -5.70%  chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has said he wants the platform’s news feed to prioritize family and friends over brands, so people can have more meaningful interactions. But is that such a good thing for users? As the old marketing adage goes: If the service is free, you are the product.

Zuckerberg has yet to make a comment on the latest controversy. The company said in a statement that it hired a digital forensics firm, Stroz Friedberg, to conduct a comprehensive audit of Cambridge Analytica. However, at the request of the U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office, which has announced it is pursuing a warrant to conduct its own on-site investigation, Facebook said Stroz Friedberg auditors stood down.

“We remain committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information,” Facebook said.

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Mark Zuckerberg wants to prioritize family and friends over brands. But is that such a good thing for users? As the old marketing adage goes: If the service is free, you are the product.

But will people be spooked enough to adjust their settings to restrict data collection or even give up their accounts entirely? Facebook’s users can’t seem to get enough of themselves — or each other. People stay connected with friends and family near and far, share intimate photos, reconnect with friends from college and high school, and even rekindle relationships. Last year, the most popular social network on the planet even rolled out an artificial intelligence suicide prevention program. It aims to detect posts or live videos where someone might be expressing thoughts of suicide.

But a slew of studies have said too much Facebook is bad for you. Here are some of the effects on excessive engagement on the site:

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People spend up to 50 minutes a day scrolling through Facebook

American users spend an average of 50 minutes a day browsing Facebook, Instagram (which Facebook owns) and Messenger, the company has said. And all that time adds up. Marketing site Mediakix calculated all the time spent online for an average user with Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube GOOG, -0.71% Over the course of a person’s life, they would spend 5 years and 4 months on social media instead of interacting with the real world. That only comes second to the 7 years and 8 months people spend watching television in their lifetime.

Over the course of a lifetime, people spend 5 years and 4 months on social media instead of interacting with the real world. That’s only second to TV.

Last November, Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook and founder and chair of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, told Axios that Facebook is a behemoth that sucks up people’s time by playing on their weaknesses. “It’s exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with because you’re exploiting vulnerability in human psychology,” he said, calling it a “social validation feedback loop.” Parker joked that he would likely have his Facebook account blocked, Axios reported. (Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.)

Also see: Instagram users: we’re the most narcissistic of them all

Liking and clicking is not positively associated with improved mental health

“The use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being,” a 2017 study by researchers at Global Public Health at UC San Diego and Human Nature Lab at Yale University found. “These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year. We found consistently that both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction.”

‘The use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. These results were particularly strong for mental health.’

The researchers looked at data from more than 5,200 adults and examined how their well-being changed depending on their Facebook usage. They looked at life satisfaction, self-reported mental health, self-reported physical health, and body-mass index. They measured Facebook use in terms of liking other people’s posts, creating one’s own posts, and clicking on links. The researchers then compared this to “real-world social networks” or four friends with whom they spent their free time.

Also see: Lonely people share too much on Facebook

MarketWatch photo illustration/iStockphoto

One study suggests Facebook alters your brain chemistry.
Scientists suspect a link between endless browsing and addiction

This 2017 study published in “Behavioral Brain Research” looked at 62 participants over a five-week period and found that a higher daily frequency of checking Facebook was “robustly linked” with smaller gray matter in the brain’s nucleus accumbens. This is one part of the brain associated with rewards and, research shows, “has been implicated in aspects of human drug addiction, including the ability of drug-paired cues to control behavior.” In other words, there’s a theory as to why some people say checking Facebook is addictive.

Scientific studies on brain activity shed light on why some people say endlessly checking Facebook is addictive.

It may also be linked to selfishness. A 2014 study in “Social Networking,” a quarterly academic journal, found that posting, tagging and commenting on photos on Facebook were associated with respondents’ self-reported narcissism for both men and women. And posting frequent status updates and sharing links with a greater frequency were specifically linked with more narcissistic tendencies in women. The participants were rated on the Narcissistic Personality Index, a standard psychological test.