Our Friends and Facebook
But, it turns out that my own outlook may not be sufficient to assure resolution success. There is the potential that obstacles will exist. There is the potential that all will not be easy. And, I have just recently learned, there is every chance that those around me may exert influence upon both my choices and outcomes. Who knew? On January 1, 2020, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) asked “Are Your Friends Bad for Your Health?” That is a catchy headline, and the article is a worthy read.
The BBC author notes our compunction to make resolutions, and cautions us that the road that meets us may be an easier path if it is not trod alone. It alleges that we find our resolutions “easier when friends and family are making the same changes.” There is a part of us that intellectually finds solace in the company of others. Our connection(s) with them, the confluence of our goals, may allow us a collective motivation that is sustaining.
On a completely different level, the BBC concludes that we are prone to imitation of our “friends, colleagues and family” in a broader context. We are thus similarly inclined to “imitate habits that are bad for our health” because of the behavior of those with whom we surround ourselves. And, it contends that thereby “non-contagious conditions like heart disease, strokes and cancer can appear to spread from person to person like an infection.” Such a potential is indeed a somber note upon which we start our 2020.
The conclusions are not conjecture. They come from recent research conducted upon (allegedly unknowing) social media users. There is also citation to a medical study in England that has been ongoing since the 1940s, a significant longitudinal study nearing a centennial. This Framingham Heart Study focused on the impacts of social networks, since long before our society substituted computer applications for actual human interaction networks. This study is seen as supporting that if we have someone obese within our “circle,” our personal propensity for obesity also increases. Numerically, if the obese person is a friend we are “57% more likely,” a sibling makes it 40%, and a spouse 37%!
But, for the impact to occur, the obese person has to be someone about whom you care, or at least about whose opinions you care. The Framington study found no similarly increased likelihood of obesity if a person has an obese “neighbor they saw daily if they didn’t have a close relationship.” The inference is that valuing a relationship is critical to the presence of influence, encouragement, or discouragement.
If this news about friends who facilitate or encourage us to be fat is not disconcerting enough, the research concluded there are similar influence effects on “divorce, smoking and alcohol drinking.” As a result of the behaviors in which we engage based upon these encouragements, we may suffer one of the many “non-infectious conditions” that are our leading causes of death: “heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and lung disease.”
That is half of the story. But, just as we thought that we fully appreciated the perils of social media, the BBC reports that Facebook has been involved in similarly studying the effects of personal interaction. We must admit that a some of the people to whom we are connected on social media, while labelled “friends” are simply not. And yet, it is possible that they similarly have the ability to affect us, our moods, our interactions.
The BBC reports that these “circle” influences upon us have been studied with social media. It refers to “a controversial experiment secretly conducted on almost 700,000 Facebook users.” Imagine a social media platform conducting secret experiments on its “members.” That itself makes the BBC article worth a read. And, there may be a few who are wondering right now: (1) was I studied without my knowledge, and (2) what should/could I do about it?
It has been alleged that these social media platforms use computer algorithms to determine what we as users see or do not see when we engage the platform. There are those who feel that these formulas could be leveraged to influence how we think or feel. The opinions of some could be promoted and supported, while the opinions of others are either given less priority or perhaps even obscured entirely. The allegations have been made about search engines, social media, and our interactions with the Internet. It is troubling to think that mathematics could control what we see, and perhaps even what we think. Is it possible that they could influence or even program us?
This “controversial” and “secret” Facebook user study was performed by controlling what users saw on their Facebook experience as content was “selectively filtered.” The subjects of the psychological testing were split into two groups (the “subjects,” who remember were not informed, but who likely agreed to being test subjects in some drawn-out user agreement “terms and conditions”).
One group was exposed to fewer “posts displaying positive emotion,” and the other group was exposed to fewer posts “featuring negative emotion.” The scientists (purportedly) at Facebook then studied the responses of these subjects in each group. Those who were exposed to “positive posts were more likely to post positively themselves.” The same was true for those exposed to negativity. In effect, perhaps Facebook has proven not only that we can be manipulated, but that they have the power to do so. If the platform can influence our postings, could it influence our purchasing? Perhaps “controversial” is not the best adjective for this study?
We are influenced by what we see. Social media has studied us and knows of our proclivities, strengths, and failures. The people around us that matter to us, for whatever reason(s). We find and associate with people that we admire, appreciate, or value. And, those in whom we invest our trust then have some power to influence us. Thus, they can either help us with our New Years resolutions, improve our health, move us forward, or frustrate our best and highest hopes.
There are numerous points worthy of discussion. First, perhaps a worthy consideration for a resolution would be just how much we want to engage with the manipulative social media conglomerates. Second, perhaps we should all give some consideration to the potential that those around us could influence our very health. Recognizing that, perhaps with a consciousness of that potential, perhaps we should strive against the potential for negative influence? Perhaps we can instead look to our friends and “circle” for the good they each bring, and strive to consciously ignore and reject any potential negativity in their influence?
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