Facebook: An Anxiety Machine

Siva Vaidhyanathan’s article on the power of Facebook to disconnect us and undermine democracy raised many interesting points with which I agreed. I found his description of Facebook as a machine as an accurate and useful way of viewing the social media site, as it is carefully designed in order to elicit certain reactions just as a machine’s parts are created to serve a specific purpose.

While Facebook is designed to attract us and keep us on the site through positive feedback, its underlying model also attempts to hook us through less positive signals. It is also designed to produce anxiety in users by making them feel like they are missing out on something or that they need to check their notifications. I constantly receive notifications from Facebook for undeserving posts or news, because the notification and little red number at the corner of the app are intended to make me want to check for what is new. For example, I often receive notifications for new friend suggestions (which I’ve noticed are related to names I have some connection to through texting or my phone).

The level of inherent manipulation in social media and other computer programs concern me. Whether designed for ill-will intentionally or not, these edited fronts of technology seem to have potential disastrous outcomes for society. The quote from Sontag about photography being a new social rite is just one small example of many about the consequences of social media. Taking photos can be used as a way of editing reality, and since only the positive moments are captured on social media, we are given a skewed view of reality. This itself can create harmful mental effects by strengthening feelings of comparison, judgement, and anxiety of not living up to a certain standard.

The infographic below provides various statistics on how users interact with Facebook and show how effective Facebook is at attracting its users to the site.


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