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Zuckerberg’s Dilemma: When Facebook’s Success Is Bad for Society 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with entrepreneurs and innovators at a round-table discussion in St. Louis on Nov. 9.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with entrepreneurs and innovators at a round-table discussion in St. Louis on Nov. 9. Photo: Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Facebook’s chief has signaled he will do what it takes to curb the social network’s negative effects—but how far will he go?

reports: When scientists started linking cigarettes to cancer, the tobacco industry silenced them—only acknowledging the extent of the truth decades later, under legal duress.

Imagine if, instead, they had given these researchers license to publish papers, or even taken the information to heart and crippled their own moneymaking machines for the good of their addicted users.

No one has accused Facebook FB 1.37% of causing cancer, but Mark Zuckerberg now stands at a similar crossroads.

In the face of pressure brought by a growing roster of Facebook investors and former executives, many of whom have publicly stated that Facebook is both psychologically addictive and harmful to democracy, the Facebook founder and chief executive has pledged to “fix” Facebook by doing several things, including “making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent.”

Mr. Zuckerberg has also recently told investors he wants his company “to encourage meaningful social interactions,” adding that “time spent is not a goal by itself.”

Facebook researchers have acknowledged that while direct sharing between individuals and small groups on Facebook can have positive effects, merely scrolling through others’ updates makes people unhappy.

Facebook researchers have acknowledged that while direct sharing between individuals and small groups on Facebook can have positive effects, merely scrolling through others’ updates makes people unhappy. Photo: ISTOCK

So here’s the multibillion-dollar question: Is he willing to sacrifice revenue for the well-being of Facebook’s two-billion-plus users?

Mr. Zuckerberg has already said the company will hire so many content moderators to deal with fake news and Russian interference that it will hurt profit, but whether he will go further and change the basic fabric of Facebook’s algorithms in the name of users’ mental health, he has yet to say.

[Read the full story here, at WSJ]

Clearly, Facebook, a company Mr. Zuckerberg started when he was in college, has changed so much that even its creator is playing catch-up to the reality of its globe-spanning power.

In June, he changed the company’s mission from “connecting” the world to bringing the world closer together. He said he used to think giving people a voice would make the world better on its own, “but our society is still divided. Now I believe we have a responsibility to do even more.”

In December, Facebook researchers surveyed the scientific literature and their own work and publicly acknowledged that while direct communication and sharing between individuals and small groups on Facebook can have positive effects, merely lurking and scrolling through others’ status updates makes people unhappy.

In a survey conducted in early 2017, the U.K.-based Royal Society for Public Health asked 1,500 young people to evaluate the five biggest social networks, to measure whether they are good or bad for mental health. The results showed all but one service had a negative effect on mental health. Facebook, Twitter , Snapchat and the Facebook-owned Instagram all pushed survey participants to contrast their lives with others, a phenomenon known as social comparison. The exception was YouTube, in part because the dynamic is usually one-to-many communication, with person-to-person socializing happening in comments … (read more)

Source: WSJ

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