Facebook’s Dark Side

Saturday, June 24, 2017
Glendale, California



Facebook’s Dark Side

Seeking readers for my blog, I reluctantly became a personal FB member a few weeks ago. My darling editor, Andrea, had helped me connect my blog to FB a few months ago. Just recently, though, she suggested activating my personal FB page so as to invite friends to read the blog.

It seems to be helping me attract readers. I therefore reluctantly offer thanks to FB.

However, FB has a frightening dark side.

I identify five risks of FB usage. Likely, more exist.

First, FB promotes a shiny, reflective narcissism. I understand it offers ways to send personal messages between users. For the most part, though, the platform encourages users to display their positive life events.

I’ve been reading some recent posts on my personal page. I applaud my brother’s working on his backyard. I’m delighted at my niece’s travels and friendships.

But where’s the personal touch? Call me a misanthrope, but I always throw our xeroxed holiday messages from friends or family. You don’t want to talk directly to me? I’m one of a large group of persons receiving your group-announcement?

No thank you.

Pick up the phone and let’s talk if you want to. Or, even better, let’s meet. I don’t want to hear the group announcement. It’s too impersonal.

When I receive those, usually en masse most Decembers, I toss them into the trash. I don’t even bother to shred them, because who cares who sees it?

(I do think these kind of mass communications work well for medical emergencies; it helps to learn about a friends health problems with they cannot contact you personally and their friends and relatives lack the time to pick up the phone or visit.)

Also, how often do you see posts of negative events? I have yet to see a picture of a funeral, or of a dying relative in hospice care, or of a dog about to be euthanized.

No wonder FB has been accused of eliciting depression. I’ve seen it in my own practice. A 17-year-old young man just began consulting me. He feels lonely, alienated, depressed. He quit FB because it made him feel worse. He wonders if it even caused his distress.

He often sits alone at home, playing video games. When he used to look at FB, he’d see friends and acquaintances attending parties, dining in nice restaurants, and enjoying concerts. He saw pictures of small-plate, gourmet food.

What could be more narcissistic? Even Trump — king of public narcissists — fails to show us his food. (Although I do recall a picture of a chocolate cake he devoured at Mar-a-Lago after ordering the bombing of a Syrian air base).

Second, and despite the messenger features, FB discourages dialogue. Instead, individuals show their successes off to one another. FB expertly facilitates such mirroring behavior.

Intimacy requires a more personal presence, an emotional one. It involves a give-and-take, a capacity to listen to others and share feelings, reactions, thoughts. Ideally, it includes the positive and the negative. Would you maintain an intimacy with a friend who only revealed her successes, fun times, and victories?

Third, FB controls the medium. Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda chief, once remarked:

If you control the media, you control the people.

We’ve all now heard of the false news reports disseminated on FB. In preparing this posting, I realized that FB could ban it to ensure a uniformly positive attitude towards it. How Orwellian.

My son-in-law, Jim, a post-doctoral physicist, shares my admiration for FB. We discussed it over dinner in DC a few weeks ago. (Should I have attached a picture of the food?) He worries about FB’s control, noting some groups of his colleagues only communicate via FB. He might have to rejoin the monopoly to get information he needs.

Fourth — and I have also observed this in my clinical practice — FB invites compulsive behavior. I had one particularly avoidant patient who spent six to eight hours a day looking at FB. Like the young man I mentioned above, it also harmed her self-image. She feared social interaction; she felt inadequate compared to her friends. The gourmet food, rock concerts, and parties she saw on FB aggravated her inadequacy. How sadly ironic FB contributed to her social avoidance and her low self-esteem at the same time.

Fifth, last, and arguably most disturbing, FB collects information about us. We are FB’s product. Yes, we enjoy a certain social connectedness, if a narcissistic one. But FB collects information about our social, cultural, educational, and consumer habits. It sells this information to companies large and small. It invades persons lives.

You think you use FB?

No, FB uses you.

FB offers a few positives. It does allow a kind of social connection, albeit a narcissistic one. Perhaps most importantly, it serves as a powerful political tool for organizing protests and other forms of resistance. I suppose it’s not all bad then.

Here’s some unsolicited advice:

Since, like alcohol, FB numbs, facilitates inwardness, and discourages real intimate relating, use with caution. 

Since, like erectile dysfunction drugs, FB provides a safer, less-vulnerable way of interpersonal relating. Consult your doctor before using. 

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