Malcolm Gladwell writes, "Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do things people do when they are not motivated to make a real sacrifice."

There are around two billion users of Facebook in the world. Active users. The average Facebook user spends around an hour per day on the site, clicking on links, sharing cat videos, bragging about accomplishments, gossiping, discussing Kardashians, checking in with friends, whatever.

Is this good for you and me? Is this good for business and personal health? Well, apparently not.

Note the Harvard Business Review article from last month (April 10) titled "A New, More Rigorous Study Confirms: The More You Use Facebook, The Worse You Feel." This two year longitudinal study was conducted by Holly Shakya, professor of public health at the University of San Diego and Nicholas Christakis, director of the Human Nature Lab at Yale. It seems to conclude that, to put it bluntly, Facebook is probably making you unhappy, unhealthy, sedentary, addictive, and self-loathing.

"Overall, our results showed that, while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Face book was negatively associated with overall well-being. These results were particularly strong for mental health: most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year. We found consistently that both liking others' content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction."

Without getting too far into the academic weeds here, Shakya and Cristakis monitored the mental health and social activity of 5,208 adults over two years. They recorded how often their subjects clicked "like," clicked other folks' posts or adjusted their status. They combined this information with questions about their subjects' life satisfaction, mental health, and body mass.

The researchers found that the more time individuals spent on Facebook, the more their sense of happiness and well-being eroded. These users who spent a large amount of time on the site also showed notable and measurable declines in mental and physical health. Furthermore, Facebook relationships seemed to diminish offline relationships.

(The Shakya/Christaes study conjectures that Facebook users may be comparing themselves to air-brushed, carefully curated images constructed by other users online. This "self-comparison effect" may diminish self-esteem.)

At any rate, participants who spent their time with real life, in-the-world friendships were broadly happier. Spending more time on Facebook relationships simply used up the finite time for deeper human interaction. In other words, friendship time-allocation--online and offline--is seen as a zero-sum game. You can't have both.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facbook's founder, published a letter in February of this year which promoted Facebook as a platform for creating real-life support systems. He calls Facebook time "frictionless sharing"--the removal of conscious effort from socializing. However, the Shakya/Christakis study seemingly debunks Mr. Zuckerberg.

Last Saturday the Wall Street Journal noted that two other recent studies have cast a generally negative light on social media use by young adults. "One, of 1,787 Americans, found that social media increased feelings of isolation; the other, of 1,500 Britons found that the websites-image-based sites in particular-exacerbated feelings of anxiety and inadequacy." The WSJ quotes Professor Cristakis saying, "what people really need is real friendships and real interactions."

While Facebook seems to diminish well-being, the Shakya/Christakis study doesn't define how this actually occurs. However, the study does compellingly ask the question: Is Facebook's little blue icon a virtual pied piper "liking" us down the road to a Gamorrah of unmindfulness.

British comedian and playwright Patric Marber says the following about social media. "We pimp our precious lives to the infernal gnashing babble--Follow me! Friend me! Like me! But don't ever know me." Thank you Patric.

Published on: May 31, 2017
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