clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Why is Facebook admitting that social networks can be bad for our health?

It’s walking a fine line between doing good and building a massive business.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg onstage in front of a screen image which reads: “Never give up on the family of apps.” Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Facebook did something surprising: It admitted, in a corporate blog post yesterday, that using social media can leave people feeling crummy.

Facebook, of course, has built a multi-billion dollar business on the back of the world’s largest social network, which made the admission rather startling.

But there was a caveat to the claim: Facebook, which cited outside research throughout the report, says that using social media passively — described as “reading but not interacting with people” — makes users feel worse.

Engaging with content on social media — Facebook describes this as “sharing messages, posts and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions” — actually makes people feel better, Facebook claims.

So: Aimlessly scrolling through the News Feed is bad. But scrolling through the News Feed and clicking “Like” and leaving comments is good.

The conclusion to Facebook’s blog post isn’t surprising. Researchers have been saying for years that social media can leave people feeling bad. And Facebook’s solution — that the cure to fix social media is more social media — won’t shock anybody.

What is surprising, though, is why Facebook is suddenly weighing in publicly on the mental health concerns associated with using Facebook.

This whole exercise from Facebook came from the company’s relatively new “Hard Questions” blog series, which it started earlier this year to share thoughts on big-picture topics, like online terrorism and hate speech.

Yesterday’s post is a perfect encapsulation of Facebook in 2017 — a company that is constantly trying to walk the fine line between doing good and building a massive advertising business.

On one hand, Facebook is feeling more pressure than ever to be transparent about its business and take responsibility for how people use its product. Credit Russia for that one. In the wake of last year’s U.S. presidential election, in which Facebook unknowingly became a tool for Russian propagandists trying to sway the election’s outcome, the company and its executives have become hyper aware of Facebook’s impact on the world and have made great public effort to let everyone else know they’re hyper aware of Facebook’s impact on the world.

That explains things like its Hard Questions blog, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s manifesto this year about Facebook’s role in the universe.

On the other hand, Facebook is still a business with shareholders and corporate expectations. Telling everyone that using social media makes people feel bad is potentially terrible for business. Which is why Facebook is simultaneously pushing its solution: More, better Facebook!

Facebook, perhaps more than any other company, has been saddled with the nearly impossible task of building a product with a conscience. Part of that is because it’s used so intimately by so many, and these responsibilities come with the territory. The other part is that Facebook is run by people who have so openly and publicly accepted the challenge. Zuckerberg is not only aware of his massive responsibility, he’s embracing it.

Which brings us back to Friday’s blog post. Social media is bad, except for when it’s not. And Facebook, just like the rest of us, is still trying to figure out exactly where that line exists.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.