In general, social interaction helps people create and foster relationships. Although, as social networks have expanded over the past decade, their downsides have become apparent. Connecting virtually can lead to a decline in face-to-face relationships and meaningful activities, a sedentary lifestyle, internet addiction and low self-esteem.

The average Facebook user spends almost an hour on the platform every day, and a recent Deloitte study revealed that the first thing many smartphone owners do when they wake up is open their social media apps.

study co-authored by researchers from Yale University and the University of California, San Diego, uncovered how Facebook use influences a person’s well-being. Analyzing data from 5,208 adults over a two-year period, the researchers found that the average Facebook user’s well-being over declined time.

Over the two-year period, the researchers collected data in three waves. Each time, they measured a person’s well-being -- based on factors such as life satisfaction, self-reported mental and physical health and body mass index. They compared that data to each person’s Facebook usage, taking note of when respondents liked others’ posts, created posts and clicked on links.


Also, to help paint a picture of a respondent’s real-world (not online) social network and compare it to that person’s Facebook usage, the researchers asked respondents to name up to four friends with whom they discuss important topics and up to four friends with whom they spend their free time.

Nothing beats an in-person social relationship, the researchers found. Real-world relationships were positively associated with a person’s overall well-being, while Facebook interactions were negatively associated with overall well-being. And, while the researchers expected the action of liking others’ Facebook posts to have the strongest negative impact on one’s well-being (because it initiates social comparison), they found that all three actions (clicking on links, liking others’ content and creating posts) were similarly associated with diminished well-being.

Overall, the co-authors found that the decline of one’s well-being is a product of not just the quality of their social media interactions, but the quantity of them (time spent on them) as well.

Social networking companies have recognized the opportunity for them to foster valuable, healthy, offline connections. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg published a letter in February 2017 describing his vision for Facebook as a platform that builds real-life support systems. Tinder has recently developed new products within its app to encourage users to meet in person.


“While screen time in general can be problematic, the tricky thing about social media is that while we are using it, we get the impression that we are engaging in meaningful social interaction,” co-authors Holly B. Shakya and Nicholas A. Christakis write in Harvard Business Review. “Our results suggest that the nature and quality of this sort of connection is no substitute for the real world interaction we need for a healthy life.”

Source: entrepreneur.com

Categorized in Social

n 25 October, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, wandered into unfamiliar territory – at least for a major politician. Addressing a media conference in Munich, she called on major internet companies to divulge the secrets of their algorithms on the grounds that their lack of transparency endangered public discourse. Her prime target appeared to be search engines such as Google and Bing, whose algorithms determine what you see when you type a search query into them. Given that, an internet user should have a right to know the logic behind the results presented to him or her.

“I’m of the opinion,” declared the chancellor, “that algorithms must be made more transparent, so that one can inform oneself as an interested citizen about questions like, ‘What influences my behaviour on the internet and that of others?’ Algorithms, when they are not transparent, can lead to a distortion of our perception; they can shrink our expanse of information.”

All of which is unarguably true. We know that search results – and social media news feeds – are assembled by algorithms that determine the websites or news items likely to be most “relevant” for each user. The criteria used for determining relevance are many and varied, but some are calibrated by what your digital trail reveals about your interests and social network and, in that sense, the search results or news items that appear in your feed are personalised for you. But these powerful algorithms, which can indeed shape how you see the world, are proprietary and secret, which is wrong. So, Merkel argues, they should be less opaque.

QED? Sadly, no. I hold no brief for Google or Facebook, but simply making their algorithms transparent would do more harm than good. The reason is that search results or news feeds could then be “gamed” by external operators whose objectives might be even more questionable – and would certainly be more opaque – than those of Google and Facebook.


That doesn’t mean that the companies are squeaky clean, by the way. In fact, at the moment, the European commission is trying to decide if Google is abusing its monopoly of search to favour its own commercial interests. But at least we know what its motives are. On the other hand, if hackers of the Russian security service, say, were able secretly to manipulate your search results then you might conclude that transparency was overrated.

As a slogan, “transparency” sounds good. Like the saying “sunlight is the best disinfectant”, it gives one a warm feeling, even if it’s baloney. But in the digital arena, at least, transparency is not necessarily the best way to achieve the accountability that Merkel rightly craves.

Just imagine for a moment that she were able to compel Google to publish its PageRank algorithm, the one that decides which pages are most relevant to your search query. Once upon a time, when Google was conceived by Sergey Brin and Larry Page, PageRank was probably a fairly compact program. Now, it’s an amalgam of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of individual modules expressed as many thousands, perhaps millions, of lines of computer code. Publishing it might indeed enable hackers armed with the right tools to find exploitable weaknesses in the code, but it wouldn’t do much to help the average citizen to figure out if search results were being skewed in some sinister or unscrupulous way.

So just publishing secret stuff doesn’t do the trick. In a way, this is the hard lesson that WikiLeaks learned. At the beginning, its animating philosophy was that if you published information that powerful and secretive organisations would prefer to keep private, then good things would happen. So WikiLeaks did indeed publish such material. But except in a few cases, nothing much happened, which is why, in the end, Julian Assange decided that the way forward was first of all to create editorial material such as the “collateral murder” video and, later, to team up with established journalistic outfits such as the Guardian, New York Times, Le Monde, El Pais and Der Spiegel to release a huge trove of US diplomatic cables.


But the German chancellor has put her finger on an important problem. Decision-making algorithms are already shaping our culture, our commerce and maybe even our politics. For the most part, they are opaque and those who deploy them are therefore unaccountable. In the long run, this is intolerable – for liberty, privacy, equity and maybe even for democracy. The good news is that the problem is not insoluble. But there’s no single solution, no magic bullet. Calling for transparency won’t do it. Sometimes, publication will be the answer; at other times, it will be a muscular inspection regime, or need legislative changes to enforce legal liability. But before we can get started on solutions, we need first to acknowledge that we have a problem. So two cheers for Angela Merkel!

Source:  theguardian.com

Categorized in News & Politics

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