How you were using Facebook all wrong and how to fix it

There may not be quite a few without a Facebook profile. And for those who don't, I'd say they are the lucky ones - they don't have to struggle with how to use it right. In this blog post, I try to guide you introspect a little on your usage of Facebook and suggest a few changes in how you could get better at it. And of course, all these applies to other numerous social media accounts, like Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, LinkedIn etc. Before getting started, I would like to ask you a few questions:

  1. What were your intentions when you signed up?
  2. Did you ever track how much time you spend on Facebook?
  3. Does using Facebook make you happier or more irked, once you are done?
  4. Do you use Facebook more as a source for news?
  5. Do you validate the contents that you find on Facebook?
  6. How mindful are you of your privacy with respect to Facebook?

If not done already, please go through the questions and prepare an answer before you proceed. Now lets get started getting in depth on those questions.

[Image Courtesy: Mike MacKenzie via Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikemacmarketing/35508195764]

What were your intentions when you signed up?

Most of whom I ask this question replied that they signed up with the intensions of keeping in touch with their friends, making new friends, and constructively engage with people. As you have guessed, let me ask you the follow up question- did you feel that it was how you ended up with? Most of us would have to confess that the answer is "no".

Most of the people would have ended up getting into political or societal arguments, stalking beautiful girls or hot guys, and reading blog posts like this. Of course most of us would have gained much on our friends count, but did you seriously make "real friends" ? Or were they mere instruments of acquiring more "likes"? Moreover many of us would have to admit that our friendly relations got much tense through Facebook over things that doesn't concern us much in real life.

Anyhow, let's see what we have lost and what we have gained. That brings us to the next two questions.

Did you track how much time you spend on Facebook?

This is something that at least some of us would have done. Many smartphones allow you to monitor app-wise usage over time. iPhone does show you a beautiful and detailed dashboard on your usage - whether you use through app or through browser. Android offers a little information, by dialling *#*#4636#*#* and selecting usage statistics. But this just gives you very little information on your usage, although there are rumours that this feature would be integrated in later versions of Android.

I recommend you to monitor this for a week. A typical pattern is a usage of around 1.5 to 3 hours a day overaged over a week, which makes it around 10 - 20 hours of your weeks time. Thats around a day in your conscious life. That infers you are spending one seventh of your useful life on Facebook, let alone other social media applications. What do you gain out of such an investment? Let's try the next question.

Does using Facebook makes you happier or more irked?

Before you answer, just think of the instances when you close the Facebook app after a period of usage. Were you happy for the time that you have invested? Or were you irked by the hate video that you just watched, or by the logically unsound post your "friend" has just shared? Or did you feel low over comparing your monotonous life with that of a seemingly exciting life of your old classmate?

Again, most people whom I asked said they were more irked or upset than happy. I found two categories for this feeling. One is that you tend to compare your life with that of others. Your life is very monotonous and boring, while your old friend seems to have a fairy-tale life from the photos and videos she post frequently. Now before you recollect such instances and let yourselves down again, just think once if you have posted any instances of your monotonous life. Of course not, you too have been posting from the exciting parts of your life, and you should understand that your posts also have been making somebody out there feeling low, may be the same one you though of having a magical life.

The other category is way too troubling. As one of the ace scientists working in my office once said, social media seems to have given a lot of people the voice they do not deserve. On social media everyone started being a political analyst, a scientist or a self-proclaimed comedian, let alone the online saints and preachers. People started creating and sharing content that they believe is true or curated to justify their position in the political, social or religious walks of life. When such contents contradicts with your perceived reality on those aspects, it conflicts with your beliefs and makes you feel defensive. Depending upon your maturity, you takes up on the thread and post your version of the story - and thus a loop of a vicious cycle of hate that is enough to unsettle the mental wellbeing of an individual, at least for a while.

And that brings us to the next question, on the "news" that you see on social media.

Do you use Facebook as a source for news?

This is true for many across generations. There are youngsters who gather all the wisdoms of the current affairs only through Facebook, and a bunch from the older generations who have either discarded conventional news sources for Facebook or augmented conventional sources with Facebook. This includes verified handles of popular news channels along with a few others aligned with your political, social or religious views.

The problem with this is that you are bombarded with news all time. In contrast to the earlier times when news used to have a fixed time slot, you get the news almost instantaneously. Although this may seem a good thing first, there is a significant psychological issue as a result of the mind continuously engaged in an environment outside of your immediate concern. This is particularly true in situations like this, in the wake of an ongoing health and social crisis.

An even scarier issue is regarding the reliability of the news that you read (or watch) online.

Do you validate the contents that you find on Facebook?

May be you do, but many people don't. Particularly true for the older generations who are just recently "uplifted" to the world of social media. For many Facebook users, it has become the single source of truth (well not really, it is in fact a combination of Facebook, WhatsApp and a few more). Many of you would have faced a situation when you are presented with a completely illogical statement with its source as Facebook or WhatsApp and the presenter seems to be in approval.

The social media channels have resulted in a more dangerous pandemic than COVID-19 - the spread of fake news. Technology providers around the world are trying their best to solve this worst ever crisis in the times of data and no viable solution has been found yet. The onus is actually on you, the users, to validate the content you read and spread it judiciously. Remember, with greater powers, come greater responsibilities.

How mindful are you about privacy on Facebook?

I had earlier written an article on Facebook eavesdropping to your personal conversations. Recent reports say Facebook probably doesn't have to. There are numerous other ways in which Facebook gets all things it need about your online activity (I still believes that Facebook in fact listens to your conversations). A recently launched Facebook feature called "Off-Facebook Activity" lets you see at a very high level what all data Facebook has collected about you outside of your life in Facebook. And it would be a lot scary, once checked, for most of us. A detailed account on the privacy issues in Facebook and measures to fix it would warrant an altogether separate post.

Facebook does this mostly through something called "Trackers". To cut the long story short- did u see a Facebook like button below this post? And you must have seen Facebook comments below the articles on many pages, or may be a Facebook page like button like the one you see topmost on the sidebar of this blog. When you navigate the web with the same browser in which you are signed in to Facebook, it comes to know that you have visited that site through these trackers. That way, Facebook creates a graph of all that you do online - even outside Facebook.

And what does it use all this information? It uses it for showing you advertisements. Just for an example, suppose you are a person who frequents in a particular dating website with Facebook trackers built into it, Facebook would infer your interest and could start recommending you other dating applications or websites. Such targeted advertisements are known to have significant psychological effects associated with it.

How do you then get to use Facebook right?

Facebook is indeed a great tool to socialise and be creative. There are many who use it in a positive way to promote businesses and creative endeavours. There are still many who really uses Facebook to connect with friends rather than to piss others off.

When you use Facebook (or any social media for that matter), be mindful of the intentions with which you have signed up and just do that. Connect with people, see photos and videos they post, but take it with a pinch of salt. You are seeing only one part of their life, and there's nothing to be envious about that. Refrain from unhealthy political discussions and arguments, DO NOT share or spread hate, and do validate anything that you share with others. And do set a limit on the time you use social media - this is again easily possible on Apple devices through app activity limits.

A particularly important thing is to be aware about who your audience are. Set the appropriate privacy options for each of your posts or shares such that it is visible to only your intended audiences. You don't want the photos of your children to be seen by those random people who have acquired as "friends" on Facebook throughout your life, right. Do not hesitate to unfollow or request to see their posts less often for people who makes you feel irritated or low on Facebook. This way, you would remain friends, but their posts won't unsettle you any longer.

How do you stop Facebook from its privacy misadventures? It's pretty difficult and would demand an altogether separate blog post. Even if you do not have an account, Facebook is rumoured to be creating virtual profiles that map to specific person. But to cut a major part of such data collection, an easy step is to use a tracker blocker. This feature is inherently available in the latest versions of Firefox and Safari. So a good way out is to change your browser immediately, preferably to Firefox if you use Windows or Linux as the operating system. If you are using a Mac, Safari is probably your best option.

All said, the onus is definitely on the users to use Facebook (or any other social media platform) the right way. I repeat the popular quote - with greater powers, comes greater responsibilities. Be a responsible user, make your life and the life of others much better.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please do like and share, and help me reach a larger audience. Also, please do let me know your opinion and suggestions on this posts as comments below.

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