Facebook encourages people to fall out, professor of communication says

Andrew Griffin
A dog stands in front of a computer screen with a facebook page opened on it, on January 4, 2013 in Lille, Northern France: DENIS CHARLET/AFP/Getty Images

The way Facebook is designed means people are destined to fall out and suffer severe emotional wounding, claims one professor.

The site forces people to talk carelessly and not listen to each other, according to Glenn Sparks. And because people are "friends" with so many people, there are a lot of people to fall out with and users experiences traumatic scenarios as a result, the professor and communications expert claimed.

All of that happens because the site is terrible at letting people talk with nuance, he said. That means that people are unable to express their feelings about politics or other sensitive topics properly – and end up falling out.

“In face-to-face communication you don’t blast a political message in someone’s face; you have a conversation,” said Glenn Sparks, who is a professor at the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University. “Facebook is not a platform that fosters careful dialogue, nor is it a place to thoughtfully listen to other people. Text is an impoverished medium for expressing emotion, which is key for conversations. Lacking sensitive emotional expression on social media often contributes to a spiral of vitriolic communication.”

Facebook encourages people to be friends with lots of people. But it then turns out that they are exposed to people they don't really know and end up having vastly different political beliefs from, he said.

That means that people can end up "defriend" each other – something that can be intensely upsetting for the people involved.

“If people can remember that this is social media, they can remind themselves that it is designed to connect people, not polarize people,” said Professor Sparks. “But, when people post, they often fail to take time to respond. Posts are often formed quickly and impulsively, which can breed instability and set off unintended emotional reactions.”

People might find it better to not engage in conversations about those upsetting topics, or try talking about them offline instead.

“Many users have decided to not engage or get involved in Facebook political discussions, and people need to do what is best for their well-being,” Sparks says. “If Facebook political posts are often irritating, look instead for opportunities to engage and discuss with people face-to-face. Friendships and families can be strengthened as people look for ways to engage offline.”

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