OXFORD MEDIA SOCIETY
“Facebook’s on the way out”: How many times have you heard this all too familiar phrase? Beyond the Facebook-obsessed bubble of Oxford University, you find yourself being lambasted for requesting a new acquaintance’s Facebook name rather than their Snapchat or Instagram handle, before being informed that Facebook itself is so 2008, that you’re obviously some dunderheaded Stone Age monolith, and that Oxford’s favoured social network is on the decline.
While Facebook’s engagement ratings have decreased, particularly amongst younger users, and its brand took a hit following this popular perception of rapid decay, even having to rebrand to ‘Meta’ at the tail end of 2021 to shake things up, it is still the largest social media network, with 2.91 billion users globally. This puts it significantly far ahead of Meta’s other platforms, WhatsApp and Instagram, as well as its unassociated rivals, Snapchat and TikTok.
With this in mind, are you, the Oxford student, really stuck in the past in using a social network around which almost the whole administration of your university experience and social life revolves? Facebook is still the easiest and most effective platform for sharing events, promoting societies, for JCRs, university sports clubs, for arranging sports socials and crewdates and organising student campaigns – the list is endless. Facebook Messenger is a haven of instant communication, with all of your fellow students in one place.
And, if, like us, it’s digital journalism and news that floats your boat, your Facebook newsfeed is full of just that: News in the form of long reads and longer videos, rather than the 15-second concentration span succubus of Tik Tok content, which Oxford ethicist James Williams partly blames for the “endless flow of immediate pleasures… unprecedented in human history”, and particularly damaging to Gen Zers’ ability to learn conventionally and develop the protracted concentration spans necessary to thrive at school and, later, in the workplace.
But we are seeing a kickback against our desire for increasingly instant explanation of issues that are complex and by no means one-dimensional, manifested in the flourishing of content providers such as Substack and Tortoise Media. We at OUMS were lucky enough to welcome Farrah Storr, Head of Substack UK, to talk with us last term. More than anyone, Storr recognises the need to prioritise well-researched, well-planned newsletters as opposed to the unrehearsed paroxysms of opinion to be found in Twitter’s echo chambers.
There’s no denying that Facebook can also be an angry hothouse of keyboard warriors and behaviours that bring out the worst in human nature. It too has struggled to regulate malicious content in recent years, but its negative impact on mental health is less pronounced than that of Instagram. While across the board, increased social media usage predicts lower life satisfaction at 19, Instagram is the real harmer, with its promotion of impossible aspiration, encouragement of physical perfectionism, and comparative reels that snatch away individual joy.
One study shows that self-harm in girls between the ages of 10 and 14 has increased by 189% since 2009. Snapchat is no doubt jointly responsible for this, but many studies have shown that Instagram is the worst platform for mental health. After reducing personal usage of Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok to a cursory scan every other week and turning only to Facebook, I can personally testify to improved mental health. Facebook is less egotistical than Instagram, less career-hacky and finance-bro than LinkedIn, and it doesn’t wreck your attention span like TikTok. Using Facebook Messenger from your laptop is far quicker than WhatsApp on your smartphone. Sending actual written texts instead of Snaps mitigates self-consciousness and self-obsession.
My analysis so far has encouraged more use of Facebook and highlighted the benefits of a reduction of use across the other social media platforms, but it would never seek to discourage the innovation, creativity, and collaboration which all of these can promote. For OUMS, to take an apt example, Twitter and LinkedIn are often better gateways to contacting key speakers from the media industry and must not be neglected.
However, it is only when each platform is used reasonably that their true value in our daily lives can be capitalised on. But reasonable usage is not encouraged on the individual level by these companies. More can be done legislatively to combat Facebook’s aggressive personal data haul and manipulative pedalling of insidious algorithms, designed to keep us hooked on content and increase advertising revenues. On a macro level, Facebook has been variously described as a “global surveillance and propaganda machine” and a “cancer to democracy”. It has faced criticism for breaking competition laws, its alleged infringement of privacy, and its failure to remove harmful content.
Let us not forget what Mark Zuckerberg has framed to be the future of technology: the metaverse, bringing the unreality of virtual reality to real reality, while breathing life into the darkest corners of the internet. Telegraph journalist Louise Eccles took a recent voyage into the metaverse only to be confronted by trolls, hate speech, and sexual harassment. Or in a different vein, Elon Musk gives the most lucid criticism, “I don’t see someone strapping a frigging screen to their face all day.”
But for all its issues with privacy, data protection, and harmful content, putting the others aside and limiting most of my social media use to Facebook has been the best choice I’ve made in recent months for productivity, news, for its originally intended use of social networking, and crucially for mental health. Perhaps Oxford Students already suspect this, but try giving the other platforms a rest and let us know how it goes.