THCB

Facebook Is Bad For You. And Giving Up Using It Will Make You Happier

Giant Zuckerbergs
In the past few years, the fortunate among us have recognised the hazards of living with an overabundance of food (obesity, diabetes) and have started to change our diets. But most of us do not yet understand that Facebook is to the mind what sugar is to the body. Facebook feed is easy to digest. It has made it easy to consume small bites of trivial matter, tidbits that don’t really concern our lives and don’t require thinking. That’s why we experience almost no saturation. Unlike reading books and long magazine articles (which require thinking), we can swallow limitless quantities of photos and status updates, which are bright-coloured candies for the mind. Sadly, we are still far away from beginning to recognise how toxic Facebook can be.

Facebook misleads. Take the following event (borrowed from a Facebook friend). A bloke you knew in high school, whom you’ve not met or spoken to in real life since you left high school, has got married. He posts pictures of his wedding taken by a snazzy professional photographer. The pictures gather hundreds of likes and comments. Your friends shower your high school mate with congratulations. There are discussions about the bride’s dress, the tasty food, the fancy hotel, but absolutely no one knows that the reason they are really getting married is because the bride is pregnant with your mate’s baby. Facebook leads us to walk around with the completely wrong idea about our friends’ lives. So holiday pictures are over-liked. Stressful outbursts go unshared. A new job is immediately updated. Being fired is never made note of. Your friends might subscribe to a lot of “Causes”. In real life they do nothing about those causes.

We are not rational enough to be exposed to Facebook. Watching a video of your mother in a dance club is going to change your attitude towards your parents, regardless of your real relationship with them. If you think you can compensate with the strength of your own inner contemplation, you are wrong. Bankers and investors – who have powerful incentives to keep you hooked so that Facebook can make a profit – have shown that they cannot. The only solution: cut yourself off from using Facebook entirely.

Facebook is irrelevant. Out of the approximately 10,000 status updates, links or photos that you have accessed on Facebook in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of the “feed” is irrelevant to you. But people find it very difficult to recognise what’s relevant. It’s much easier to recognise what’s new. The relevant versus the new is the fundamental battle of the current age. Facebook wants you to believe that using Facebook Home will make your life better. Many fall for that. We get anxious when we’re cut off from the flow of the news feed. In reality, Facebook consumption is a competitive disadvantage. The less time you spend on Facebook, the bigger the advantage you have.

Facebook has no real power. Notifications are bubbles popping on the surface of the real world. Will accumulating facts about your friends help you understand what is happening in their life? Sadly, no. The relationship is inverted. The important stories are not shared on Facebook: people are actually desperately alone. The more “factoids” you digest about your friend, the less alone you think you will feel. But if more information about your friends leads to happiness, we’d expect Facebook users with the most friends to be at the top of the pyramid. That’s not the case.

Facebook is toxic to your body. It constantly triggers the limbic system. New pictures on Facebook spur the release of cascades of glucocorticoid (cortisol). This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones. In other words, your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress even though you are feeling good. High glucocorticoid levels cause impaired digestion, lack of growth (cell, hair, bone), nervousness and susceptibility to infections. The other potential side-effects include fear, aggression, tunnel-vision and desensitisation.

Facebook increases cognitive errors. Facebook feeds the mother of all cognitive errors: confirmation bias. In the words of Warren Buffett: “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.” Links your similar minded friends share exacerbates this flaw. We become prone to overconfidence, take stupid risks and misjudge opportunities. It also exacerbates another cognitive error: the story bias. Our brains crave stories that “make sense” – even if they don’t correspond to reality. Any of your friend who writes, “Terrorists should be bombed” or “Cut the rapists penises” is an idiot. I am fed up with this cheap way of “solving” the world’s problems.

Facebook inhibits thinking. Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. Facebook notifications are specifically engineered to interrupt you. They are like viruses that steal attention for their own purposes. Cute cat pictures makes us shallow thinkers. But it’s worse than that. Facebook severely affects memory. There are two types of memory. Long-range memory’s capacity is nearly infinite, but working memory is limited to a certain amount of slippery data. The path from short-term to long-term memory is a choke-point in the brain, but anything you want to understand must pass through it. If this passageway is disrupted, nothing gets through. Because Facebook disrupts concentration, it weakens comprehension. Friends who share too much have an even worse impact. Why? Because whenever a link appears, your brain has to at least make the choice not to click, which in itself is distracting. Facebook is an intentional interruption system.

Facebook works like a drug. As stories develop, we want to know how they continue. With hundreds of your friends’ storylines in our heads, this craving is increasingly compelling and hard to ignore. Scientists used to think that the dense connections formed among the 100 billion neurons inside our skulls were largely fixed by the time we reached adulthood. Today we know that this is not the case. Nerve cells routinely break old connections and form new ones. The more time we spend on Facebook, the more we exercise the neural circuits devoted to skimming and multitasking while ignoring those used for reading deeply and thinking with profound focus. Most Facebook users – even if they used to be avid book readers – have lost the ability to absorb lengthy articles or books. After four, five pages they get tired, their concentration vanishes, they become restless. It’s not because they got older or their schedules became more onerous. It’s because the physical structure of their brains has changed.

Facebook wastes time. If you check Facebook for 15 minutes each morning, then check it again for 15 minutes during lunch and 15 minutes before you go to bed, then add five minutes here and there when you’re at work, then count distraction and refocusing time, you will lose at least half a day every week. Good Instagram pictures are no longer a scarce commodity. But attention is. You are not that irresponsible with your money, reputation or health. Why give away your mind?

Facebook makes us passive. Facebook status updates are overwhelmingly about things you cannot influence. The daily repetition of notifications about things we can’t act upon makes us passive. It grinds us down until we adopt a worldview that is pessimistic, desensitised, sarcastic and fatalistic. The scientific term is “learned helplessness”. It’s a bit of a stretch, but I would not be surprised if Facebook use, at least partially contributes to the widespread disease of depression.

Facebook kills creativity. I don’t know a single truly creative mind who is a Facebook addict – not a writer, not a composer, mathematician, physician, scientist, musician, designer, architect or painter. On the other hand, I know a bunch of viciously uncreative minds who consume Facebook like drugs.

Society needs social cohesion — but in a different way. Meeting friends in pub is almost always fun. We need people to spend time together in real life rather than in front of screens. Only then can we have meaningful relationships.

Deleting your Facebook profile is not easy, but it’s worth it.

This write-up is an almost copy of this article with some relevant changes, in case you hadn’t realised. It seems news is not as bad as Facebook, after all.

Akshat Rathi is a science and tech writer, among other things, whose work has appeared in publications like The Economist and Ars Technica. You can follow him at his personal website, akshatrathi.com, or on Twitter at @AkshatRathi. This post originally appeared on Medium.com on April 16, 2013.

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69 replies »

  1. Yes, I think the author is absolutely right. Facebook wastes time, kills creativity, and many other social ills that comes with, as we use this “unproductive platform.” Rahti writes, “Facebook is to the mind what sugar is to the body,” this is so true. People are just wasting valuable time connecting with people that do not benefit them. The interactions can be reciprocal, however, there is no benefit.

    Rahti, argues, “In other words, your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress even though you are feeling good. High glucocorticoid levels cause impaired digestion, lack of growth (cell, hair, bone), nervousness and susceptibility to infections.” This is very informative, I also found research that links obesity rates with social media usage.

    What would I want to add– is that many small businesses used Facebook to promote their products and services. I think this is a plus for the small businesses, but a negative for the the end user.

    In the end, people have choices to make, but majority of us are not intellectuals, we are always blaming the world for the current situations that surround us. We should educate ourselves and be that person we want to be, not worrying about who is on Facebook.

    Here is two minute read, why Facebook is detrimental to our mental and physical health.
    http://www.gymhub.com/my-butt-got-bigger-using-fat-facebook/

  2. I totally agree, my mum spends at least half of an hour on and will not let me do my home work on it, grrrrrrrrr!!! keep up the good work.☺

  3. Absolutely great article . FB is for family and valued friends
    The only benefit to FB is connecting with old friends you haven’t seen or talked for a long time

  4. Maria,

    You’re awesome. I am going to start today. Facebook is like mental junk food, completely optional.

  5. That is really attention-grabbing, You are a very skilled blogger.
    I have joined your feed and sit up for in the hunt for more of your wonderful post.

    Also, I’ve shared your site in my social networks

  6. I don’t buy the argument that I often see as a reason to keep facebook that you often see, just like in these comments about needing it to check in on family and friends that are spread out.

    The question I would ask is “were you in contact with these people prior to facebook?”

    I have noticed that the people I was in contact with prior to facebook, I still remain in contact with since I have permanently deleted my account.

    There is something to be said about keeping your circle tight…and I find that when I do bump into the acquaintances that were on my friends list, it truly feels like how catching up is supposed to be like, complete with no “i saw that on facebook” comments.

    In the six months that I have been free of a facebook account, I have maybe counted 4-5 times where I kind of wish I had my account back….but I have counted many times over that the moments where I say to myself “i am glad i am not on facebook”.

  7. I understand your point that we are literally wasting away a lot of our time on Facebook and I also understand that spending time physically with your friend is worth more than reading his status/posts and I totally agree on the point that we spend too much time on Facebook everyday and that it severely disrupts our attention span, however, I do have a couple of points to argue with,
    (1) I have found Facebook particularly useful to connect with professional clients, most of my clients have a lot of e-mails being sent to them and hence, at times, if I mail beforehand, they do not notice because it gets buried under the others, however, I found Facebook particularly easy to connect with them and allows me to predict their free time when I can knock them to get the work done.

    (2) I have a lot of friends and family who live abroad, I am from a third world country myself and we do not have the luxury to use Skype/Viber on the go because data charges are extremely high, but I have often found Facebook to be particularly more useful when keeping updates of those friends/relatives.

  8. You are SO right on Akshat. Facebook made it big about a year before I graduated college. Sadly, I became quickly addicted like an overeater in front of a slushy machine. Posting glamorous photos and pretending that reality was rosier than it was got the better of me. I’m Facebook free for over a month and I’ve finally landed a great job, my home is spotless and my marriage is better than ever. Just sayin!

  9. I could use your logic in the opposite political side. However, as I’ve been seeing, those that are tolerant supposedly are not really tolerant. They want to shut people down, tear down signs that they disagree, get towns to enact new laws that squelch free speech. In some ways, it’s actually beneficial to understand that there are others on the other side.

    FB and Google (left side) are prime examples of what I describe above. No matter what the speech is, it’s labeled ‘hate’, therefore it needs to be shut down. THe problem is…. much of it isn’t hate, but an argument for another position.

    Is there hatred? Sure… there’s hatred everywhere, every stripe, every nation. Been since time, will be here until time as we know it is no more.

    Sometimes we can have a discussion about those things. Unfortunately, most get caught up in the my side has all the answers, therefore…. you need to be shut down.

    As far as FB is concerned, it is a time consumer and for most people a huge distractor. That’s on the person mostly, although… like TV commercials and FB and Google. Both censor to the ‘nth’ degree depending on the issue. Now, with ‘Net Neutrality’, won’t that be even better?

  10. I have permentaly deleted my account and i feel so much better in my brain. I feel like I’ve gained my life back. I now have a sense of reality.

  11. Facebook is for family and valued friends. The rest of you can mind your own business. And by all indications, it is free as long as I have an access device, etc…

  12. Any of your friend who writes, “Terrorists should be bombed” or “Cut the rapists penises” is an idiot. I am fed up with this cheap way of “solving” the world’s problems.

    Well, first you need to fix the sentence, as “friend” is clearly supposed to be plural.

    Next, those arguing terrorists should be bombed are correct. Had ISIS been bombed about a month ago when they were gathered by the thousands on a highway heading further into Iraq several thousand of their victims would still be alive today. Several mass grave sites would contain dirt, not bodies. Bombing them now, however belatedly, is saving the lives of Yazidis (whom ISIS was trying to exterminate), Christians, Jews, gays, and Shiite Muslims. It is preventing mass executions, stonings, beheadings (to include of children), crucifixions, female genital mutilation, women taken into slavery, and convert-or-die mass brutality impacting whole villages.

    When faced with truly demonic evil like ISIS (or the Nazis or a Pol Pot), sometimes war really is the answer. And yes, bombing terrorists is the smart thing to do if one is trying to stop their monstrous actions — and prevent them doing it on a larger scale tomorrow. People who saw off heads and post it on social media tend to not be persuaded by Twitter hash-tag campaigns and stern blog posts. Bombs and boots on the ground, on the other hand, tend to get their attention.

    Rest assured, if you tried to reason with ISIS in person, your execution might be the next video they post.

  13. This is not satire, as one reader suggests, and it misses the point about the real value of Facebook: human connection. It is a not about power, education or news you can use. It is about finding commonality and staying in touch with people in your life. And that, to me, has great value.

  14. Amen. Like most everything else in life, Facebook is optional and we can control it. Were it not for FB, I would miss out on interaction with many old friends around the world. Could I make a better use of my time at times? Certainly, but so could he have and it’s my choice and my journey.

  15. Facebook has got me laid at least once for sure, so it’s at least some what useful.

  16. Paulette, Pretty much all professionals have a “Facebook” page. When you look, it’s really for marketing. No pictures of grandma’s 86th birthday. In othewords, you might want to try it for you writing’s sake – and see how it goes.

    But why do we have just one forum – Facebook – that is just too broad.

    One reason I hate Facebook is that it makes everyone think they are someone without having done anything. An author has written a book – they’ve earned the right to be listened to. Facebook, makes people do what “famous for being famous” celebrities do – post comments, when they’ve not done anything meaningful, and time-consuming with their lives. It’s the common man’s way to be “famous.”

  17. I thought I had made “friends” … until I started discovering that their interests and their social and poltiical beliefs were so far to the right … I felt like a dope who was duped…I only keep the account active only to post to from other sites….more observations from other sources just how unhealthy Facebook continues to be…Mark Zuckerberg is not a hero of the 21st century… just uncover the thousands of closed groups devoted to HATE…freedom of speech? Hatred crosses my personal boundaries.

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  20. If my family and friends were HERE during the day while I am working, I would take a break and talk to them. But… hmm… they’re nowhere to be found! Oh, wait a minute… there they are! They just replied to me on Facebook!
    Facebook is not a REPLACEMENT of face to face interactions with friends and family… IF USED RIGHT, it is a way to involve them in your life MORE when otherwise they would not be available.
    I am generally closer to those I love because of Facebook than I would be if Facebook did not exist.
    It’s like ANY technology including fax, cell phone, smart phone, TV, etc etc. I’m sure when the RADIO came out, people bitched about all the time wasted sitting around listening to Amos and Andy rather than TALKING TO EACH OTHER.
    Chill out peeps. If Facebook is an addiction you can’t control, get rid of it. If credit cards are destroying your personal finances, chop em up. If you have to drink an entire fifth of vodka just because it’s there, then by all means stay away from alcohol. I tend to think I can control my mind and be a reasonable person despite all these evil distractions.
    Don’t blame the distractions. Blame yourself. Control THEM. Letting them control or change you is just stupid.

  21. The only benefit to facebook is connecting with old friends you haven’t seen or talked to for a long time, but then again that is also the same benefit to a cell phone or home phone. Facebook is for self centered people to create a monument to themselves. This is how the post’s go on facebook “Me me me me me me me me me me me me me me” and no one gives a shit. How about some actual human interaction. Some fresh air. Go outside sometime. I’ve seen people on facebook for hours and hours, documenting everything they think at that moment. It’s not what you’re doing because you’re on facebook, that is what you’re doing. Status: Sitting in front of computer for hours. Nobody gives a damn about your facebook life.

  22. I am friends with many creative people. They’re out there. And Facebook can be an easy outlet for creativity to many people you care about.
    Perhaps Anne Rice’s form of creativity worked better when Lestat was a boy.

  23. This article wasted my time, inhibited thinking, and was toxic to my body.

    PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY, people. Anything is damaging if you do it too much. Video games. TV. Smart phones. Credit card use. Gambling. Etc.

    Set limits, don’t be an idiot, and you can have a little FUN with Facebook.

  24. “{Social Media like FACEBOOK and TWITTER and others will go down in history as the most powerful force for change in modern times}”
    That’s utter rubbish. Sticking a Dr. in front of your name doesn’t make your argument more credible. The author is very right about social media, they have more negatives than positives, way more.

  25. I’ve just taken a month “leave” from FB and still was compelled to tell so in my update. “See you in 2014”! Ironic. Now I get to look up interesting things on Google, things I want to know about, with my own brain as a filter. A question though, I am an Author (publishing in 2014) and I need my Author page for promotion. I’m already on LinkedIn, refuse to twitter and am building a website. Why not use FB to promote my book(s)?
    Sincerely, Paulette Anne Miller, Author

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  27. Why are you guys friends with people on facebook that you don’t care about, think are “narcissistic” or who tolerate one-way communication? My “circle” of friends on FB is rather small — it is a collection of my best friends, college friends who are dispersed around the world, and family. I love FB mostly for sharing pictures, but also as a way to connect with friends that live far, far away and I do not have the opportunity to see in person. We send messages, chat, share pictures, comment on pictures, just like we’re in person, and it’s wonderful! I don’t think people are that different on facebook than they are in real life. I treasure my friends, and we have a healthy exchange on facebook. Perhaps the key is to be more discriminating about who you let be a “friend” on facebook — and limit it to your actual friends!

  28. Yes I do agree that Facebook kills time but at the same time it is upto us when we use it. One more thing, Facebook is not only for news feed, it includes games which serve as a good passtime.

  29. You’d be better off if you spent that time on real interactions with your family and friends.

    Every minute that could go to Facebook would be better spent with people in real life.

  30. Facebook is alright, if only you know how to use it. Facebook is alright if you have enougfh friends beside it, Facebook is NOT alright if you don’t have much friends and seeking for it or seeking for attention. Amen.

  31. Amen broter… This are exactly the reasons i dont have Facebook. In the process i have learned who my real friends were. The others have become mere “contacts”

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  33. @Jacob

    Facebook was not the catalyst or the medium for the Arab Spring or the breakdown for a potential war between Israel and Iran. What was the cause was the Internet.
    Ironically enough I think Zuckerberg says it best while addressing the Arab Spring, ““It’s not a Facebook thing, it’s an Internet thing,” he said when asked about his site’s influence on the Middle East’s popular uprisings. “I think Facebook was neither necessary nor sufficient for any of those things to happen.”
    Just because people click that they support certain causes, doesn’t mean they leave their houses to actively engage in that cause. Facebook is nothing more than a distraction, that can cause individuals to live below their potential. Also, it is a stalker’s delight, in addition to a data miner’s dream! So enjoy Facebook and enjoy your information being sold to the highest bidder.

  34. While there is much truth in your article I disagree with the statement that Facebook makes us passive. Several factors including the widened freedom of assembly and freedom of expression provided by Facebook have enabled it to become a great mobilizer of people. The political revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt in recent years have clearly shown how quickly and effectively a nation’s frustrations can be channeled into action via Facebook. During the Egyptian revolution, a citizen-journalist could post a video on Facebook that would be shared by 60,000 people within a few hours. What took place online soon spilled out onto the streets until change was brought about. The article, “Revolution 2.0: Democracy Promotion in the Age of Social Media” further illustrates the motivating power of Facebook in these revolutions. Sedra, its author, states, “Facebook and Twitter certainly aren’t solely responsible for the growing wave of revolutionary ferment in the Arab world; pent-up frustrations had been bubbling for some time. But they helped to channel that frustration into action. The first major demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt were organized via Facebook and Twitter, with activist leaders directing followers where to congregate and how to avoid blockades. Those gatherings then snowballed, drawing in citizens from all walks of life.” At the very center of this quote is the word action. We see the power of Facebook to organize a people and to orchestrate action. Such gathering power has never been seen. I argue that Facebook holds great power and inspires action.

  35. Anne Rice is on facebook, to quote ” Facebook kills creativity. I don’t know a single truly creative mind who is a Facebook addict – not a writer, not a composer, mathematician, physician, scientist, musician, designer, architect or painter.”

    She is one of the greatest fiction writers of all time. I kind of agree with this some statements on this article but not all of it. Its a good confirmation though that Facebook really does waste alot of time. Thanks for writing this.

  36. Absolutely brilliant article. Been pondering for a few weeks to deactivate my account after nearly five years & have been facebook free for two days now (ok not much of an achievement but considering that I used to log in 15-20 times a day it’s a good start)! Can honestly say that I’m not missing my 900+ ‘friends’ statuses either.

  37. I can’t stand facebook. To me it can be compared to having to physically read every single email of spam that hits your email, just looking for the one tidbit of relevant information you might possibly find useful. I think your article is extremely accurate criticism. I have not deleted my account but I do let it sit there as unused as a VHS tape.

  38. Great article Akshat! Let me start off by saying that getting people to use Facebook wisely is like asking an alcoholic/addict to manage his or her habit with moderation. For the people who responded negatively to your concrete examples, I have three questions. 1. Are we in agreement that most people who spend time on Facebook are narcissistic? 2. Do most narcissistic people want to be viewed as highly successful people? 3. Who are the five most successful people you know and how many of them spend time on Facebook?

  39. ONE-WAY: That’s the worst part of Facebook. Relationships are Two-Way. Facebook has turned our Friendships into One-Way observational experiences. I hate posting about myself into thin air. It’s narcissistic. “Communication” needs a destined and specific audience. Unless you’re a rock star on stage performing to 1 large crowd. But Friendship is very different to Performance – it is two-way.
    I’m sick of reading news of loved ones – as if they were features in People magazine. Loved ones, if they really love me, will communicate their news directly, in a two-way fashion.
    Facebook is ironically, killing “Friendship.”

  40. I am not one to broadcast my life — and am more private so while having it over the course of 7 years and changing employ;ment along the way — I just don’t think it’s healthy. I totally get into a regimen and find myself logging in without thinking twice….and, worrying that I’ve lost a “friend” from my network….

    Anyhow, I canceled it last week and feel ok about said. That’s all I’ve got for now…thank you.

  41. mark, i totally agree with all that you wrote. FB is fine in moderation. i had 5,000 (!) very creative, interesting FB friends. it became an addiction. i too
    work @ home, i am a painter. all those interesting FB interactions you describe translated, for me, into hours of interrupted time studio time. you sound like you’d be a great FB friend but, shutting it off was a wise decision that i have not regretted.

  42. Another point regarding the dearth of creativity on Facebook… it’s possible you need new friends.

    I have had some very interesting discussions on Facebook, aided by pictures, links, etc. It helps me galvanize, or instructs me to soften, my positions on issues by hearing from people mostly outside my normal professional sphere of influence.

  43. Is it a waste of time to check in from time to time to see what my friends and family are up to, and to share a joke or two?

    If you personally believe that, then by all means shut down Facebook.

    To me, and working often from home, it’s a nice way to check in on people I care about, and maintain my sanity/breathe a little bit between long stretches of working my butt off.

  44. Hi Akshat…
    You are right upto some extent. I do agree that Facebook is killing our time and killing our creativity.
    Most of the time we login to our system to do some productive work but endup with wasting of our time on Facebook.

    Its a great waste of time but at the same time it help us to keep in touch with our near and dears. We can share our updates and we can get information about our friends.

    We must make a balance between our other priority work and FB to keep us productive.

  45. my brain knew intuitively that FB was not good for me. i pulled the plug a year and a half ago and have not regretted it. for a while i viewed FB as cultured and informative because of the books, films, and art that friends directed me to. then i realized that it was all a bit shallow. i was certainly wasting a lot of time. and yes, it is deceptive. my beautiful FB album, depicting a family wedding week on an exotic island, was in reality one of the saddest weeks of my life.

  46. Social Media like FACEBOOK and TWITTER and others will go down in history as the most powerful force for change in modern times. Their speed of democratized information exchange is nothing short of miraculous.The repressive status quo including repressive nation- regimes know this but can’t figure out how to contain it. (nor should they)

    Dr. Rick Lippin
    Southampton,Pa

  47. This is satire? I don’t think so. It’s criticism. But at least it’s not plagiarism. It’s also a fairly compelling argument for the uselessness of both news and Facebook.

  48. Facebook has worst effects on the personal lives of everyone , Facebook is harming the health beyond the measures.

    Well, I agree with you that Facebook has worst effects most of the times on many lives, but to be very frank I don’t think it is BAD for all. All we need to do is to work & use it in very proper and safe way.

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