Relationship status with Facebook: It's complicated

Facebook has been getting a bit of a bad rap of late. Businesses are annoyed they can’t get as much bang for their page boosting buck and the rest of us are moaning about advertising and concerned about the use of our personal data.

Seeing the dark side of social media has made many think twice about logging on. But if we really hate it that much why are 2.2 billion of us still using it? Bar a few taking Facebook breaks or disabling their accounts for an easy fix escape. Billions of us are still actively enjoying some Facebook action - scrolling, tapping, liking, loving and, despite the lost poke potential, still waving our way through life with at least 1.15 billion of us grasping onto our mobile phones to check in.

Given that there is a disparity between a general ‘vibe’ that people aren’t happy with Facebook and the actual usage figures, chances are then that if we were all asked to define the relationship we would probably opt for ‘it’s complicated’. But does it have to be?

What’s seems to be the problem?

If we were all to sit on a couples counselling couch with Facebook we would probably have very different issues to discuss. That’s because we’ve all created our own little micro communities on Facebook and use it in different ways. Our own Facebook bubble if you will.

Not only that, by the magic of those pesky, yet strangely convenient, algorithms that uncannily deliver an advert for the thing you googled yesterday. Your experience will vary based on your behaviour and the way you use it. That said, a quick call out to my network and there were some common Facebook gripes, which it’s fair to say probably apply across social media as a whole:

  • Too many ads - being flooded with adverts from a page you didn’t ‘like’, nor want to buy their products
  • Trivial updates - getting frustrated with people airing their problems on Facebook
  • Wasting time from FOMO (fear of missing out) - feeling the need to go on Facebook but then wasting loads of time on it
  • Negativity and Trolls - people using the platform in a negative or hateful way
  • Negative impact on mental health - encouraging cyber bullying and isolation
  • Privacy/security concerns - fears ‘big brother’ is watching

That all sounds pretty annoying and all valid reasons to be having a bust up with the platform, yet we come right back to the fact that billions of us are still using it, so it must be doing something right.

So, why do we keep going back?

We can’t live with it, we can’t live without it. No matter how many times we moan about it, we clearly love it. Let’s take a moment to breathe that reality in with some of those top Facebook usage stats:

  • There are over 2.20 billion monthly active Facebook users
  • There are 1.15 billion mobile daily active users
  • 1.45 billion people on average log onto Facebook daily
  • Five new profiles are created every second
  • We spend an average of 20 minutes on Facebook
  • Every 60 seconds 510,000 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses are updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded

Though there are other platforms occasionally strutting closely by and turning our heads, including Facebook’s cool little sister Instagram. They still don’t quite surpass Facebook’s popularity reaching millions but not yet billions. So, there’s clearly a universal appeal with Facebook that keeps bringing us back, but what is it? Is Facebook the ‘bad boy’ of social media?

We know it’s bad for us but we just can’t get enough. Well, according to Psychotherapist and Co-founder of employee survey app WeThrive Piers Bishop, it’s our intrinsic need to connect with other people: “There is no question that we need contact with other people, and that almost everyone feels unhappy when they are isolated. This is probably for evolutionary reasons - our children are born very immature and are highly dependent for years, so we need the company of others to protect them and bring them up. Consequently we have hormonal mechanisms that drive us to stay in our groups, and we feel unwell when separated.”

Of course this can be related to any social media platform, but the stats prove that the majority of people are on Facebook specifically. Therefore, it stands to reason that we need to be on there to connect with the majority of our friends and family or reach the maximum number of people. Others theories on our Facebook magnetism are that we all have a FOMO (fear of missing out) or a narcissistic ‘selfie’ induced need for approval. Not to mention the lurkers among us that enjoy watching the lives of others. All fair reasons for checking in but totally unique to each and every one of us.

Is Facebook actually good for us?

In short, it can be. While a study by the University of Copenhagen did discover that Facebook could harm your emotional wellbeing and overall satisfaction with life, it was more specifically discovered in those that feel ‘envy’ or spend too much time lurking. As such, the researchers did also find that the impact on wellbeing varied based on the way people use Facebook. The study concluded: "These findings indicate that it might not be necessary to quit Facebook for good to increase one's wellbeing. Instead an adjustment of one's behaviour on Facebook could potentially cause a change…”

Here’s the thing. Like any social media platform there will always be individuals using Facebook in a negative way, whether that’s ‘trolls’ spreading negativity, cyber bullies or friends using it to rant about inane things. On the flip side though there are also billions of people enjoying a positive experience on the platform. Meeting new people and remaining connected with family and friends. This is why Pier’s points out that when it comes to the impact of Facebook on our mental health the picture is mixed:

“If someone already feels authentically connected into a social group and uses social media to maintain, amplify and spread their connections it could be very positive. On the other hand, if you are feeling lonely and don’t have any real social connections, social media could well make you feel worse because you see other people enjoying something that you know you don’t have yourself…

“If the history of the impact of Facebook on mental health is written, I think it will be a pretty mixed picture. Those of us who do well out of Facebook (apart from Mark Zuckerberg) will have been using it like any other good tool: to improve the way we meet our own bio-psycho-social needs. Unfortunately there is no educational programme in place to help young Facebook users do that.”

In her article on our relationship with social media, mumpreneur and Founder of Mum’s Back Sally Bunkham also put it well when she said:

“When we are feeling fragile and insecure social media has the ability to lift us up, make us feel comfortable, supported, and happy that we are not alone. But if we are not careful it can also bite, knock us down and make us feel like a kid, bruised and injured in the playground.”

Whatever your experience, it’s important to get some perspective and remember that Facebook is simply a vehicle of communication. Our relationship with it really does depend on how we use it. It’s not creating the problem, but amplifying issues that would already exist in the real world. However, in turn it also has the potential to enhance the good bits, which is why harnessing that potential is the key to improving our experience and fixing our complicated relationship with Facebook.

So, why should we give Facebook another chance?

It comes back to connection and tapping into a sense of belonging and community. If used in the right way Facebook helps us to remain connected and can improve our human, real-world relationships leading to an overall boost to our mental health. Before Facebook it was easy to lose touch with old friends and distant family. Now we can check in, comment and show our love through a quick tap, keeping those friendship fires burning a lot longer.

For those concerned it reduces real world human interaction, there are digital groups that encourage meetups and create real friendships, opening the door for people that would perhaps be too shy to approach a group in reality. In fact, researchers believe that Facebook actually bridges social capital. Improving our ability to make friends and remain connected. An experience magnified by the increasing number of micro communities evolving within Facebook groups. Appealing to niche groups with specific hobbies, values and interests. Meaning we can now share private thoughts in a private space with supportive like-minded people that will understand and, well ‘get you’.

I also spoke to the Founder of City Girl Network Pippa Moyle for her perspective on Facebook and community building - incidentally someone I met via Facebook who became a close friend - she said:

“The City Girl Network is about finding true, authentic, IRL connection. Without social media platforms like Facebook, Meet Up, Twitter and Instagram. We wouldn’t have been able to reach nearly 5000 young women across 8 different cities within 2 years, and those women wouldn’t have found the friends, travel companions, housemates and business connections that they have today.

“Social media can be detrimental to mental health when it’s used as a promotional platform and you’re shouting into an echo chamber. It becomes about the likes, engagement, reach and whatever other KPIs you place on yourself - essentially, how other people see you.

“When it comes to combating loneliness and finding communities that work for you, Facebook and other social media platforms alike are amazing tools to use. If you see social media for what it was intending - a people connecting tool - the relationship can be far simpler.”

What we can’t fault about the platform is its continual mission to bring us all together. Reminders of old memories, friendshiperversary celebrations are all really cute ways to remind us what is important. Even if you’re still on the fence about some of the humans in your world - digital or otherwise - a few tweaks to the way you use it and your relationship with Facebook really doesn’t need to be complicated. Nurture your community and in time you will start to feel those honeymoon phase tingles all over again.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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