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Internet

Best buy: on Facebook and Instagram

Back in 2012, many observers scoffed at the billion-dollar price that Facebook paid for Instagram. Who’s laughing now? That acquisition seems more and more prescient as time goes by—as M.G. Siegler remarked recently, “The smartest thing Facebook ever did was buy Instagram.” The social networking giant managed to secure its own life raft, long before most of us noticed that the seas were getting choppy.

Now, Facebook itself is sinking. My friends, at least, have long since stopped posting there. The conversations that do happen on Facebook tend to be politically-charged and impolite. As Seigler notes, many teens never even join the service. At the same time, the company faces increasing pressure from government watchdogs—both for its role as a Russian lever in the 2016 election and for alleged censorship of particular political viewpoints.

Happily (for Zuckerberg & Co.), Instagram has avoided these problems. The service’s exclusive emphasis on photo-sharing—formerly Facebook’s best feature—has made it irresistibly sticky—even to the Snapchat generation. Plus, because Instagram only does photos (i.e., no text posts and no links), its conversation threads are less political, less controversial, and generally less fraught than on Facebook. Meanwhile, the branding firewall between the two companies has prevented Facebook’s regulatory controversies from engulfing Instagram. Six years post-acquisition, many users still don’t know it happened.)

Facebook’s strategy has worked perfectly on me, at least. I visit Facebook only rarely—and often only for a few seconds each time. There just isn’t much there for me.1 But Instagram remains a daily habit; who doesn’t love seeing snapshots of friends and family?  ■


  1. To be fair, I may not be the best anecdotal example, since I’ve worked hard to detach myself from Facebook these past few years. I’ve deactivated my account multiple times, I refuse to install the app on my phone, and I run content blockers to prevent the news feed from showing up on the web.

Categories
Internet Tech

“The more people use Facebook, the more unhappy they are”

‘You are the product’ by John Lanchester

“The researchers found quite simply that the more people use Facebook, the more unhappy they are. A 1 per cent increase in ‘likes’ and clicks and status updates was correlated with a 5 to 8 per cent decrease in mental health. In addition, they found that the positive effect of real-world interactions, which enhance well-being, was accurately paralleled by the ‘negative associations of Facebook use’. In effect people were swapping real relationships which made them feel good for time on Facebook which made them feel bad.”

Lanchester forcefully makes the case that Facebook is a net evil—bad for your mental health and bad for society as a whole.


Cynical about Facebook’s motivations, its suck on my time, and its effects on my well-being, I’ve tried to untangle myself from the service lately. I first deleted the app a few months ago—a divorce that didn’t take, since I reinstalled within days. My second attempt proved more successful, however, and I haven’t used the app since late spring. I do occasionally get sucked into checking Facebook via the web, but that happens less and less frequently. I’m slowly psyching myself up for a permanent account deletion.

What keeps me from pulling the trigger? Family photos, of course. It’s hard to resist the spurts of dopamine I get when friends comment on pics of my adorable two-year-old. That same mild addiction also makes it tough to quit Instagram (which is owned, of course, by Facebook itself.)