This year, in particular, public opinion on Facebook has soured, following founder Mark Zuckerberg’s U.S. Senate hearing in April on data privacy and disinformation. The month before, Zuckerberg signaled a major change ahead in a lengthy mea culpa posted to the company’s blog. “As I think about the future of the internet, I believe a privacy-focused communications platform will become even more important than today’s open platforms,” he wrote. “Today we already see that private messaging, ephemeral stories, and small groups are by far the fastest growing areas of online communication.”
Dr. Margaret Duffy, a professor of strategic communication at the Missouri School of Journalism, doesn’t think it’s so easy to backtrack. Social media sites at their core tap into complex human behaviors. In 2015, media outlets splashed headlines across the web that using Facebook could cause depression, based on a study by Duffy and other researchers from the University of Missouri. They found that when people go to Facebook to lurk on others’ profiles, they can develop feelings of envy, which can trigger depression. “The evidence continues to be strong that social media, in general, has a deleterious effect on individuals, especially people who might be somewhat vulnerable,” Duffy said. Since their study, more data has supported the notion that anxiety disorders have spiked in younger generations, and that teenagers are becoming increasingly isolated and depressed. The upward trend correlates with the rise of social media, though researchers are still studying causative links.