the negative effects of facebookAmong the negative effects of Facebook is how the social networking site is changing the way we communicate. Before I get into that, let me start with a quick story.

In 1963, Ray Kroc appeared on national television to proudly serve up McDonald’s one billionth hamburger. By the time he died 21 years later, just 10 months short of the sale of the 50 millionth burger, he and his company had forever changed the way we eat by bringing fast food to American families.

Recently, another behemoth company forecasted a similar milestone, albeit with significantly less fanfare. In April, Facebook indicated in its Form S-1 that it expects to have more than a billion users by year-end. In the same filing, the social media giant also reported that its 901 million existing users post more than 300 million pictures and a staggering 3.2 billion comments every day.

Numbers like these boggle the mind and are just one indication of the fundamental shift that social media has brought about in terms of how people interact and share information. Just as the Big Mac and other fast foods forever changed how and what we eat — and sadly not for the better — Facebook and other social media channels are redefining how and what we communicate with potentially equally negative consequences.

Down the Path of the Golden Arches: A Closer Look at the Negative Effects of Facebook

Since its launch in 2004, Facebook has become a popular distraction for some and a bonafide time waster for many, with Americans spending more time on Facebook than any other US website. In fact, according to a Nielsen study, the average American spent more than 14 minutes a day on Facebook in March. That may not sound like much, but over the course of a month it adds up to more than seven hours. Similar to how fast food became habit forming (as addictive as heroine some reports note), social media sites like Facebook appear to have grown into something that we crave just as much if not more.

No matter whether you’re addicted, in a 12-step recovery program, or among the few who have managed to abstain altogether, we are all impacted by the behaviors that companies like McDonald’s and Facebook encourage in our society. In Mickey D’s case, that has meant coming to value convenience, low cost, and potentially taste, over nutrition, with enormous consequences for the health of our country. For Facebook and other social media channels, by contrast, it has meant fundamentally shifting, perhaps even bastardizing, how we communicate.

There’s no lack of examples of how communication has changed as a result of social media. We’ve seen sentences communicating complete thoughts devolve into esoteric sound bites laced with a dizzying array of fragments and acronyms. We’ve watched emoticons replace words as a tool for expressing feelings. Perhaps most importantly, we are witnessing how social media is helping to foster a society that values frequent communication more than meaningful communication. That phenomenon is what has helped Justin Bieber, with his more than 21 million Twitter followers, garner a higher Klout score than the President.

We are now also communicating different types of information that are often are far more personal in nature. We freely like or dislike anything and everything, provide an array of details and images from our private lives, and overshare a variety of information that was once unthinkable for public consumption. Most recently, our friends at Facebook have even given us the ability to share our organ donor information. Just as we’ll gobble up any new item on the menu at McDonald’s, with little regard to what we’re actually eating, we’ll seemingly share any information that Facebook gives us a new and novel way to communicate no matter how personal.

Want Fries with That?

The net impact of these changes remains to be seen. For communicators and content marketers, however, they have at a minimum heralded a paradigm shift in strategy. For example, today our communications need to be shorter and more frequent, since people increasingly value quick hits that allow them to glean important information and then quickly move on. Similarly, our communications need to be far more visual to capture our shrinking attention spans, a reality that is playing itself out in the form of infographics, viral videos, and picture-oriented social media sites such as Instagram. Our content also needs to be more personal to appeal to a new generation that has come to expect access to more intimate information.

These aren’t necessarily bad things and in fact some of them are actually quite good. But then again, I’m sure back in 1963 no one really thought about the implications that a hamburger chain would have on the health of a nation. As social media continues to alter our communication, the long-term implications, particularly for those young enough to never have known anything different, could be significant. Maybe as with fast food, the solution lies in moderation.

So, the next time you’re at McDonald’s, consider passing on the fries. And, the next time you’re on Facebook, think about paying a bit more attention to what you’re communicating and how. After all, the negative effects of Facebook may be far greater than you realize.

photo by: Parenting Patch

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