Facebook: Slow and TikTok: Fast. Can Research Keep Pace with Effects?

September 23, 2022

I read “Facebook Proven to Negatively Impact Mental Health.” The academic analysis spanned about two decades. The conclusion is that Facebook (the poster child for bringing people together) is bad news for happy thoughts.

I noted this passage:

The study was based on data that dates back to the 2004 advent of Facebook at Harvard University, before it took the internet by storm. Facebook was initially accessible only to Harvard students who had a Harvard email address. Quickly spreading to other colleges in and outside the US, the network was made available to the general public in the US and beyond in September 2006. The researchers were able to analyze the impact of social media use by comparing colleges that had access to the platform to colleges that did not. The findings show a rise in the number of students reporting severe depression and anxiety (7% and 20% respectively).

The phrase which caught my attention is “quickly spreading.” Sure, by the standards of yesteryear, Facebook was like Road Runner. My thought is that the velocity of TikTok is different:

  1. Slow ramp and then accelerating user growth
  2. Rapid fire content consumption
  3. Short programs which Marshall McLuhan would be interested in if he were alive
  4. Snappy serve-up algorithms.

Facebook is a rabbit with a bum foot. No lucky charm for the Zuckers. TikTok is a Chinese knock off of the SR 71.

Perhaps the researchers in Ivory Towerville will address these questions:

  1. What’s the impact of high velocity, short image-centric videos on high school and grade school students?
  2. What can weaponized information accomplish in attitude change on certain issues like body image, perception of reality, and the value of self harm?
  3. What mental changes take place when information is obtained from a TikTok type source?

Do you see the research challenge? Researchers are just now validating what has been evident to many commercial database publishers for many years. With go-go TikTok, how many years will it take to validate the downsides of this outstanding, intellect-enhancing service?

Stephen E Arnold, September 23, 2022

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