via todd richmond

Facebook is in hotter water (again). A few weeks ago the WSJ broke a story about internal research at Facebook showing that Instagram had negative effects on users, particularly teen girls. It is one thing to create a product that has negative side effects – almost any capability can be used for positive or negative outcomes. But in this case, the story was the internal research being buried. Essentially this became Facebook’s (and perhaps more broadly, social media’s) “big tobacco moment.”

Well, as the saying goes, never let a crisis go to waste. Facing increasing blowback and scrutiny, Facebook decided to release the research results as a slide deck. But it wasn’t just the original deck – each slide has additional “annotation” by Facebook (presumably generated by the crisis team and not the researchers). Facebook’s angle is that the slides were presented with verbal context in a meeting, so when decontextualized that made the data look worse than it really was.

While slides often are used as talking points, the “annotation” reads as “spin” rather than clarification. The original WSJ story generated some discussions with friends, family, and colleagues. The fact that the research needed to be leaked to be seen was rather damning and as a result the TNL was planning to remove our Instagram and Facebook presences. We were not particularly active on either, but any support for the platforms becomes problematic. This latest attempt to spin research results was the proverbial digital straw that broke our back, and prompted the lab to pull the plug on both. You’ll notice there are no links to Facebook or Instagram feeds on the TNL website as they have been deactivated. Perhaps a Quixote moment, but action is a thing.

In speaking with friends, many agree that the behavior of the company is bad, but often that is followed by, “but I need (Facebook/Instagram) to keep up with my friends (or for my band, etc).” To me this begs a fundamental question – what parts of the digital world do we absolutely need? What parts are convenient but not necessary? What parts have we become essentially addicted to?

Hard questions, but probably an inventory that humans need to regularly take in the digital epoch.

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