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Facebook misconceptions make it perfect scapegoat

Facebook recently released their quarterly earnings report and with it some interesting stats that illustrate how vast their empire is, and how depressing our understanding of social media remains.

In June 2013, Facebook's daily active users reached 699 million on average, while the number of mobile daily active users topped at 469 million. Thanks to the success of the company's apps for smartphones, mobile income as a percentage of ad revenue totaled 41 percent, and is now poised to outstrip income from desktop platforms. Facebook ended the quarter with a big “Like” — US$10.3 billion in cash and short-term investments, leaving it very well capitalized, but also as a never-ending source of dislikes among parents, researchers and media watchdogs. How cool is that?

According to a recent study conducted by the University of Michigan and the Leuven University in Belgium, the social media powerhouse should be blamed as a growing cause of depression, particularly among teenagers who spend too much time online. As expected, the study concludes that the more someone uses Facebook, the less satisfied he (or she) is with life.

Yet, do you agree with the opposite statement — the more direct social contacts you have with others on the phone or in person, the more likely you are to feel positive? That doesn't make much sense either. Last year, a Taiwanese woman killed herself on her 31st birthday by inhaling poisonous fumes while chatting with friends on Facebook and none of them alerted authorities. Her postings just indicated she was unhappy with her boyfriend who had failed to return home for her birthday.

This sad example, however, demonstrates how our misconceptions of social media tend to dictate our perceptions. Even if we agree that those who might feel a discrepancy between the social interactions they have and those that they desire tend to spend more time observing other people's interactions, this study fails to clearly demonstrate whether the loneliness causes the clicking, or the clicking causes the loneliness.

Another example of overstatements regarding social media is the case of vacation photos in news feed, which researchers at Humboldt University and Darmstadt Technical University in Germany say are the most common causes of resentment and bitterness on Facebook. They found that “the most common emotion associated with Facebook use is envy, with one in three people feeling worse and more dissatisfied with their lives after visiting the site.”

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