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Facebook study: 360M users mirror internet addiction

An internal Facebook study revealed that roughly 360 million of its users mirror behavior known as internet addiction, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

The news: Piling onto its ongoing PR calamities, Facebook’s research found that 1 in 8 of its users demonstrates compulsive use of the platform, reporting that it negatively affects their sleep, work, parenting, and/or relationships.

Enough from you: A Facebook team offered a range of suggestions to curb addictive behavior — such as optional features to encourage breaks and limit notifications — some of which Facebook implemented. The company, however, shut down the research team in late 2019.

Facebook’s response: Facebook, which recently restructured to become Meta Platforms Inc., said it’s working on plans to thwart “problematic use” as well as other challenges like body image and mental health. The company argues that addictive behavior is not just a Facebook problem but for many technologies, including TV, smartphones, and other social media.

“We have a role to play, which is why we’ve built tools and controls to help people manage when and how they use our services. Furthermore, we have a dedicated team working across our platforms to better understand these issues and ensure people are using our apps in ways that are meaningful to them.” —Facebook to the WSJ

More to come: The WSJ report is part of the publication’s Facebook Files series that has been a source of continuous headaches for Facebook and Meta. The series derives from thousands of internal Facebook documents that a whistleblower provided to Congress and various media outlets.

Programming addiction: Facebook makes its money on advertising — $84.2 billion in 2020 — but it can only sell ads when it keeps people engaged. Facebook and other social media do that by activating “the brain’s reward center by providing a sense of social acceptance in the form of likes and positive feedback,” according to therapist Melissa Stringer. Over time, some people grow to crave that affirmation, thus forming an addiction. When unmet, they can experience negative feelings or develop destructive behaviors.

In plain sight: We've known Facebook and other social media could be addictive for some people for years. Psychologists began writing about Facebook addiction back in 2014. But what’s new is the scale of the problems, how long Facebook has known, and that it decided to double down on engagement practices it knew would keep people hooked.

For example ...

Elevating anger: In 2016, Facebook created five new reactions to posts — emojis showing love, laughter, sadness, surprise, and anger. According to the Washington Post, Facebook’s ranking algorithm treated emoji reactions as five times more valuable because emotionally-charged content kept users more engaged. And as we know, keeping users engaged is key to Facebook’s business.

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