Thinking About Facebook

Having lived with Facebook for 9 years it is fair to say we know each other well. I always supposed I enjoyed Facebook as a fun and practical way to speak to my friends, nevertheless, a Times article on the 22nd August 2016 blamed the social media platform for a depression ‘epidemic’ amongst people of my generation. It appeared that Facebook could have a far more serious impact than I ever would’ve thought.

To the individual, Facebook feels very personal. We define our identities through the way we present ourselves and express ourselves by the statuses we update. Yet (unbeknown to me) Facebook has transformed the way people understand and market the world. In advertising, Facebook and Google dominate marketing strategies with some 85 cents of every dollar in the US being advertised through Google and Facebook. The vast investment suggests that Facebook has a major impact on our behavioural patterns.

How are we responding to these mass marketing campaigns? Well, the language surrounding media analysists is terrifyingly serious. Instead of talking about ‘friends’ and ‘posts’ journalists analyse social media as having a ‘brand’ and an ‘audience’. I chose my profile picture because I thought I looked nice but psychologists have found out that a) people will judge this photo in under a second to decide their opinion of me and b) it is the most important staple of my ‘brand’. To me, the use of words such as ‘brand’ and ‘audience’ does not sound at all personal, yet the platform evidently plays a significant role on the individual.

The way in which we ‘brand’ ourselves is becoming increasingly intertwined with our sense of self. On average I will monitor my ‘brand’ once a day. Give yourself a moment to think through your social media activity – you will be surprised at how vast your knowledge is. For instance, my memory of this year’s Notting Hill Carnival is now unfortunately represented by a photo of me blowing a Guyana whistle with my shirt half unbuttoned. Through Facebook, I will always associate this photo with Carnival. Facebook photo’s help construct our memory and may even have greater significance due to the immediate pressure of publishing such photos. These are the memories that construct both my thoughts of the past and thus my own perceptions of myself.

Psychologically, this ‘brand’ has proved to be very impactful. When we receive likes dopamine is released making us feel energised and content. The lack of predictability over the fortunes of a post leads to a sense of excitement. More maliciously Walther argues that when we are feeling bad about ourselves we like to make downward social comparisons against those who we view as less successful or attractive as ourselves. Therefore, Facebook excites us into investing our time on it. Whilst it can enhance excitement, it can also absorb anger helping people to regain a sense of esteem.

Despite the fact I rarely post on Facebook I sometimes feel addicted. In the past, I have found myself on Facebook not quite knowing how I got there. It takes me seconds to press Ctrl-T and type in my password and about a minute to log myself off and get back to work. For a generation that has lived almost entirely on and through Facebook , it is about time we start questioning and thinking about the medium’s impact.

10 Sep 16