mark zuckerberg Facebook

Since Facebookwas born in the “distant” February 2004, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is under the magnifying glass of the social sciences. The most popular social network in the world has turned 15, and with over 1 billion active users it is still growing by 9% per year despite many scandals and controversies. A substantial part of the 45% of the world’s population who use social media today .

«The average person , in one year, spent on average over 474 hours on the media », stated an American study of communication, psychology and journalism by the University of Washington and Austin of 2012, i.e. when there were still “only” 800 million Facebook users (in any case already more numerous than the entire European population). Time spent in front of mobile phones, TVs, computers and tablets corresponding to 9.7 billion minutes a year. One and a half hours per day per person. Which isn’t bad, except that over the years the increase has been constant (by 5, 10, 15 minutes), reaching 2 hours and 23 minutes in 2019 (813 hours per year). The question is: will the increase stop or will it engulf the entire day?

Facebook in Italy experienced its boom after four years of presence in the United States, in 2008. Shortly afterwards, in the wake of a nascent political career at the time, Pippo Civatiwrote together with communication blogger Mattia Carzaniga, Love in the times of Facebook . It was the only existing Italian bibliography, a small essay to rely on regarding social “delusions” of self-representation. At the time, people looked at this “creature” in an ambivalent way, some with fear, some with curiosity: essentially Facebook was perceived, at the beginning, as a tool for spying and being spied on. The sensation was strong towards this sort of hidden and widespread gaze, from above to below, and horizontally, between mutual glances.

At that time – since the Internet began, a few years ago seems like an eternity – users were focused on building their own digital self, which was no longer a fantasy avatar inside a game, but natural people in the virtuality of reality. They could be defined as biographical installations , the outlining of an artisanal thought that manipulates the virtual, arriving, the most digital, at a sort of art of the self , multifaceted and multidimensional, thanks to the quantity of media made available, from photos to music, from video to words, potentially over a lifetime . The proof of this came from the changes that Facebook made to itself: no longer a banal profile, but a Diary, a real “memorial” support, a new media in all respects. It seemed clear that Facebook was born potentially destructive and constructive, but, beyond the manipulations from above and the invasions of privacy – a problem that has been “felt” from the beginning -, the core is that the user has a significant role in choosing which “soul” to favor.

To date, over 400 studies have been dedicated to Facebook – from the descriptive analysis of users to motivations, from the presentation of one’s identity to the influences on social relationships – and have the merit of providing a multifaceted picture of a recent phenomenon which, in any case, it is changing the way millions of people connect and share information.

1.47 billion people log into Facebook daily today. Before Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan and Philippe Verduyn of the University of Leuven in Belgium, both psychologists, no one had asked whether, in the face of such use, there is an actual influence on people’s subjective well-being. But the answer from the research, published in 2013 on The Economist, was already quite drastic: «the more people use Facebook, the more their life satisfaction decreases, making them feel worse, moment by moment». It may be trivial, but direct contact with people does not predict the same negative results. This may mean that, «on the surface, Facebook provides valuable resources for satisfying the human need for social connection. However, well-being does not improve, on the contrary, it seems that Facebook weakens it.” Subsequent research has unfortunately confirmed the same result: one of the most recent, dated 2016, was the so-called The Facebook experimentwhich compared two groups of users. The first was asked to suspend all activity on the social network , the second to continue as usual. Here too the results confirmed the same concept, only expressed positively: “leaving Facebook leads to greater levels of well-being”.

From self-construction to looking at others, according to social scientists from the University of Humboldt and Darmstadt in Germany (2013), the most common emotion recorded on Facebook is – again? – envy. An often “falsified” envy, induced by retouched photographs, amplified results and plagiarized status. «Real life encounters, on the contrary, are more Wysiwyg ( what you see is what you get )», what you see is what you get. At the same time, other negative emotions were recorded, such as the feeling of social exclusion, even involuntary, caused by our own friends, and a sort of inhibition of “intelligent thinking”, which makes us less susceptible to persuasion. And since today it is now clear that Facebook is nothing more than a gigantic advertising machine, because this has always been its business structure, remaining vigilant is an aspect to pay particular attention to.

However, all this does not mean that there is no happiness on Facebook. Otherwise we would be crazy to use it every day: as demonstrated by other researchFacebook posts can also bring joy to oneself and others. It could be observed that the majority of people experience positive emotions who use it to stay in touch with close, therefore loved, but distant ties, rather than to sterilely show themselves to a generic external world. “Stay in touch with the people in your life” which is the claim , the slogan, as well as the essence in which Facebook placed its authentic usefulness. After all, emotions today on Facebook are just another piece of that marketing that since the 2000s has only had one concern: “which emotion goes viral the fastest?”. Between joy and depression there are many others: pride, disappointment, disbelief… the conclusion of a 2014 Chinese study (Beihang University) was that «joy moves faster than sadness or disgust , but nothing is faster than anger.”

Anger which therefore not surprisingly reigns on social media today , and is explained by social sciences as a natural effect given by physical separation and anonymitythat the Internet serves on a silver platter. Furthermore, many other factors play a role, such as the simplicity and speed of the network itself which certainly does not help self-control and which, on the contrary, combines perfectly with the impulse of anger. Not to mention that the Internet environment by its very nature is a territory of disputes: the more time we spend on it, the more provocations we will find. Above all, we have always known that expressing anger makes you feel good. He throws her out. But one should never forget that the how is just as important as the what. After all, if we managed to give the world of the Internet its rightful role as virtual life, important but marginal, we wouldn’t even have to stay here and worry about its “bad things”. Will it be better to vent indirectly on the Internet or directly in reality?

Perhaps as with art, the cathartic effect must only be identified for the Internet. After all, in English there is already a linguistic distinction between simple anger ( rage ) and Internet anger ( internet rage). There is a further problem however. The exploitation of the Facebook advertising machine also allows great emotional manipulations which are now carried out daily by haters and trolls appropriately trained to obtain various effects. At that point the anger is distorted, magnified or specifically created to debase or directly kill other points of view. From mobbing to bullying, from harassment to hacking , up to the use of social media for the advancement of extremist, terrorist and propaganda causes (also through automatic bots ) which in the most striking case cast a dark shadow on the 2016 American elections which led to Donald Trump ‘s victory, documenting how foreign trolls bombarded American social media with fake news , including the incredible Pizzagateto the detriment of the Democrats… the problem comes precisely when the Internet is able to shape public opinion, because that also affects real life.

Empirical medical sociology research from the University of Regensburg, Germany, conducted on 5,851 Facebook posts (profile messages, comments, photographs, etc.) already in 2013 showed how users tend to associate risky health behaviors with positive attributes , such as “talents” or social skills, to present themselves in an interesting way to their online audience. Since then the trend has not changed, indeed it seems to become more and more dangerous, but not because the Internet is dangerous, “creating” dangerous behaviors itself, those already exist and are renewed in reality; the problem is the great mass transmission capacity that the Internet possesses. Like the more recent phenomena of extreme selfies and parkour or the Blue whale phenomenon , which induces kids to self-test deadly “tests of courage”. Just as with every new drug, perhaps self-produced: if before it was tested in four walls, now a video is enough to urge other people to do the same. This falls more and more into the discussion of one’s self-representation, sometimes solid, sometimes even unconsciously dangerous.

Without going that far, dangerous behaviorsthat can be assumed on the Internet and social networks , also concern (50%) the simple posting of personal information, especially when interacting with strangers (45% of users), perhaps confusingly placing them among true friends (35%). And especially if this information concerns sex. Every year a “ challenge” (challenge) comes to the mind of some “genius” and then spreads on the Internet. If in 2014 the bucket challenge , that of the bucket of frozen water on the head, still had a social purpose (to raise money to cure ALS) and no danger in sight, every year the bar is raised just for the sake of danger or simply as a result of naivety. So in 2019 you try to choke or be choked ( choking challenge ), eat inedible stuff ( shell-on or tide pod challenge ) or apply toxic substances to your skin ( lip glue challenge ), get sunburn ( sun burn challenge ) or directly into the flames ( fire challenge ), carry out activities blindfolded ( bird box challenge ). The last one, the vacuum challenge , the challenge of the vacuum cleaner sucking up all the air inside a bag in which you have been stuffed inside, paradoxically implements what every parent, at least in the past, feared for their children ‒ “never play with plastic bags, if the oxygen runs out there’s no fun”. And it is perhaps the most worrying precisely because it is not so much the children who lead it, but the parents themselves.

In conclusion, what can we say except that, as usual, the problem is not the medium, the invention, the media. It never was. TV didn’t kill cinema which didn’t kill radio which didn’t kill books, and so on. Everyone’s audience shrinks, but the media continues to coexist. The key is always and only in the use made of it. How and for how long is still up to us to decide.

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