Monday, 30 June 2014
Facebook, emotions and me
Yesterday The Guardian newspaper was shared over and over again all over Facebook with its headline Facebook manipulates users emotions. It got me all riled up, angry about how an organisation could cause such damage to ordinary people.
This blog post was going to be about the manipulation of our emotions, and no doubt will include some element of rant about that, but as I've started writing I've realised something else:
The organisation which. manipulated my emotions yesterday was The Guardian newspaper!
Think about it.....
.... I wouldn't have known about Facebook and it's actions without the newspaper article. It was the article which affected my emotions yesterday.
So often this is the case; I'll watch the news or read a paper and either laugh about something silly or feel angry and inspired to write or do something, or more usually feel completely despondent about the state of the world we live in. The news is a huge factor in my emotional state on any particular day and when I'm in a depressive state I try to avoid the news in order to remove it's impact on me.
With this is mind I now ask myself if Facebook manipulating my timeline is such a huge deal for my emotional state. Certainly it isn't the sole influence, but seeing as how it's my main communication tool it has the potential to be a dominant factor in my day.
In order to make any real sense of this I'm going to summarise my emotional life and my use of Facebook.
My emotional life
I live with Bipolar. Having only been diagnosed 18 months ago and having experienced problems with medication I have two states which I live in. I'm either in a depresssive state which is normally "quite down" but sometimes extremely depressed or even suicidal; or I'm in a manic state which ranges from "on top of the world" to "able to change the world". I'm having mixed success with medication and have improved from not knowing how I'll wake up each morning, to not being sure how I'll feel next week. I have unstable emotional patterns, that's the crux of it, and it's exhausting to live with even on the good days. My dominant position is one of being quite depressive which means I can easily be affected by bad news or stress or exhaustion.
My Use of Facebook
I check Facebook pretty much everyday. I like to check in with my friends and see how they're doing, I interact with about 20 people every day. I also use Facebook in my prayer life - I belong to prayer groups, in my ministerial life - talking to ministers around the world, and in my voluntary roles - looking after pages and groups. I spend at least an hour of each day on Facebook, often many hours, and it is the main way I communicate in my life and ministry.
Do I think Facebook could affect my mood?
Yes, and I'm not particularly vulnerable on 9/10 days.
I think that being shown lots of positive items and images on a manic day could fuel my mania and make me believe that I really could do some awesome things. Luckily I don't have damaging mania so this wouldn't be a huge problem except for the fact that where there a mania there's soon a depression.
More critically I think that being shown lots of sad images or items could really push a depressive mood into ad downward spiral. And let's be clear, that can lead to suicidal thoughts!
How do I feel about Facebook manipulating me?
I feel angry.
I'm angry that someone, anyone, thought it would be interesting to try.
I'm angry that they didn't think about how it might affect people in either minor or devastating ways.
I'm angry with myself for becoming so reliant on one free piece of software to communicate in so many aspects of my life.
Guess what - I'm angry!
But more importantly....
I use Facebook to hear from my friends, peers, colleagues and family. If Facebook is manipulating what I see then it's a third party in many of my relationships and that's never a good thing. It suddenly means my communications more closely resemble Chinese whispers than true communication.
So what are my options
1. Leave Facebook.
Don't be stupid. At times of despair Facebook has been the way I've reached out and found tools to help me cope. And quite apart from that it would mean I'd have to spend at least twenty times as long trying to communicate with people and that I'd probably loose contact with huge numbers of people.
2. Be aware
Be aware of my moods before and after using Facebook and therefore try to notice if Facebook has affected my mood. This will then allow me to I identify if my mood is real or induced. It's something I've done with news, as mentioned above.
3. Get Mike to write a Facebook alternative
He could, he's bright and capable, but let's be clear it's not going to happen. He doesn't have the time and more importantly he doesn't have the interest. He's never understood why anyone would be on Facebook anyway.
We live in the Facebook culture.
We use Facebook messenger rather than email.
We share photos on line rather than holding holiday photo silde shows.
We raise awareness and money for charities on Facebook.
We enact social change through Facebook.
We therefore choose to live with Facebook despite its inadequacies and it's highly unlikely that's going to change any time soon.
But at least we now know that we need to watch ourselves in and on and around Facebook. It's a tool, let's not give it more power than it needs.