Social Media and Wellbeing - The Role of Design

By MentionableHonor via Wikimedia
The word is out this month - a recent study [1] has hit the news and sources like the Economist, the BBC and Huffington Post are reporting again that social media (like Facebook) is bad for us.  It's the cultural phenomenon dubbed "compare and despair" that seems to be at the heart of what makes social media bad for our wellbeing.

Of course, research on the ill effects of Facebook use isn't entirely new, it's been trickling in for a while.  And clearly there are also aspects of social media that can be good for wellbeing. As we have seen, happiness can spread through a social network [2] and good news is shared more often than bad [3].   In other words, as with any other technology, there's good and bad and it depends on how we use it (or as many have advocated, on how we stop using it).

But it's not just about how we use it, it's also be about how we design it.

Changing our societal approaches and attitudes towards technology is undoubtedly critical, but leaving everyone to "battle" against technologies designed to work against their willpower is neither fair nor sufficiently effective.  Why are humans having to battle against technologies they have created for themselves?  Can we call that human-centered design?
For those of us who are designers, developers and researchers of technologies, it's both our responsibility, and our incredible opportunity, to disentangle those aspects of social media that are detrimental to wellbeing from those that support wellbeing and use this information to change the way we design these environments.   It is also in the hands of consumers to demand we do so.
The message of positive computing is that technology itself needs to be recruited into our efforts for greater wellbeing.  We shouldn't have to be well in spite of technology, it needs to be our partner in flourishing.