Facebook is an Addiction Treadmill Most May Never Be Able to Quit

Facebook and subsequently Instagram thrive on interaction. The company is only profitable if it keeps you on its platform and it will do anything to keep you there, even at the cost of your own health.

That is, of course, the allegation that comes thanks to a damning report from the Wall Street Journal and strong testimony from former Facebook employee Frances Haugen. Through the evidence shown by both, it has never been more clear than in the past few weeks that Facebook and its entities are designed to keep you, the customer that also happens to be the product, plugged into its system at any cost.

Facebook is a giant entity that feeds on its user base and is unable to sustain itself without millions of people running on treadmills and keeping it alive. What was once a platform designed to connect people to each other is now a force that cannot stop itself from taking as much of that precious energy as it can in order to grow and remain powerful. As contrived as the metaphor is, Facebook is the Matrix and we are the batteries.

But unlike the Matrix which seemed content to allow its inhabitants to live boring lives as a sort of passive shepherd of a flock, Facebook actively digs itself into the minds of its users and clings to them, feeding them the kind of content they love to hate as it desperately tries to keep them scrolling and engaging. Consuming.

As Haugen said, “it is easier to inspire people to anger than it is to other emotions,” and Facebook has shown no indication it will deviate, seemingly willing to ride this strategy into the sunset, the well-being of those users that sustain it be damned. Why should it change? The money is coming so easy.

Finally breaking his silence on Tuesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg denied that his company put profit over users’ safety and argued that such a move didn’t make sense and was “deeply illogical.”

The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is deeply illogical. We make money from ads, and advertisers consistently tell us they don’t want their ads next to harmful or angry content. And I don’t know any tech company that sets out to build products that make people angry or depressed. The moral, business and product incentives all point in the opposite direction.

Taking what he says at face value, Zuckerberg’s argument makes sense. Of course, it is counterintuitive to allow Facebook to hurt its users. But as has been proven, taking anything Facebook or its executives say at face value is a path paved with lies: there are receipts. No matter what Zuckerberg says, the actions of his company speak louder.

One of the hundreds of reports that Haugen shared with Congressional leaders involves a test performed internally at Facebook. As reported by Vice, the study, entitled “Carol’s Journey to QAnon—A Test User Study of Misinfo & Polarization Risks Encountered through Recommendation Systems” was designed to see how bad its recommendation algorithm problem was.

After following a select group of known public figures and mainstream media outlets, it took less than one week for the algorithm to feed the user conspiracy theories.

Facebook had unequivocal evidence that this was happening, and while it publicly said it had done all it could to help stop the spread of dangerous conspiracies, this report and the words of other employees at the company show otherwise.

Facebook, as Haugen has said, is incapable of policing itself. It will repeatedly choose actions that improve profits over the safety of its users. One could argue that Facebook will actively choose methods that harm its users if it means easy access to engagement, because engagement equals money. No one knows what goes on inside of Facebook, except for Facebook, Haughen notes. That needs to stop, or this problem will only get worse as Facebook will regularly hide the results of studies that hurt its bottom line and publicly lie in order to continue to do so.

Nothing Facebook or any of its executives says can be trusted, because Facebook is only acting in its own self-interests. It will lie and claw and scream and fight for every precious cent. This is proven.

Facebook, and subsequently Instagram, are built on engagement. Engagement is not only addictive, it is easily manipulated. Unfortunately, for as many people who decry Facebook and its practices, there are millions who cannot stop themselves from opening the apps every time they look at their phones. That hit of endorphins after seeing that number of likes grow is just too powerful. The feeling of “FOMO” is too strong to keep the app closed.

With or without regulation, Facebook is a treadmill we seemingly cannot get off. Some will refuse to acknowledge that the information they see on Facebook is wrong as it is so gratifying to hear that the thoughts you believe in are right, even if they are not. Echo chambers are strong and self-sustaining, so much more so than being forced to face the fact that something you believe might be wrong.

A heavily sourced comic published by The Oatmeal in 2017 explains why human brains cannot handle hearing arguments contrary to their core beliefs. In short, a study at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute discovered that the part of the brain that responds to physical threats also responds to intellectual ones.

Hearing a divisive argument against a firmly held belief activates the same area of the brain as someone coming at you with a weapon.

According to Haugen and multiple documents she has shared from inside of Facebook, the social media company finds that set of core beliefs and worms its way into them, leeching off of them and building on them using the most divisive content possible to get a strong reaction out of you so that you stay on the platform and argue and click and make them money. In the process, it moves its viewers more towards the fringes of those beliefs and into conspiracies. It is unimaginably difficult to pull someone back from the depths of that hell.

Haugen says the entire reason she took the job at Facebook was that someone she cared about fell into that hole, and she wanted to stop it from happening again. She was not given the ability to succeed, so focused was Facebook on its profits. To prevent users from falling into these holes would be to actively reduce the money it could make. Facebook will never do this, not on its own. Again, this is now proven.

Beating Facebook and freeing yourself from it means being open to arguments outside of your echo chamber, and as just discussed, this is extremely difficult for people to do. Most won’t.

And as such, I don’t think that many will willingly get off this treadmill. It’s just too comfortable. It feels too nice. It’s too addictive. And so we will keep running, growing angrier and more divided as Facebook grows fat on our suffering.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.