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July 8, 2014 8:32 AM   Subscribe

New research finds a correlation between social network use and divorce rates. "We don't know whether Facebook is causing divorce or divorce is causing the use of Facebook," said a study author. A Facebook spokesman says it's "ludicrous" to suggest a link between the social network site and divorce.

"Results show that using [social networking sites] is negatively correlated with marriage quality and happiness, and positively correlated with experiencing a troubled relationship and thinking about divorce. These correlations hold after a variety of economic, demographic, and psychological variables related to marriage well-being are taken into account."

Other experts opine:
"When marriages go through rocky patches and people do seek support, temptation has never been closer. You can easily reconnect with an old boyfriend or girlfriend from college online. It all starts innocently enough, but the next thing you know you are meeting for coffee and the next thing you know you’re having an affair." (Jeff Landers)
Even the most mundane stories on social media provide an escape, says Abby Rodman, a psychotherapist in Boston, and people who bury their head in a computer screen risk paying less attention to the problems in their relationships. “If you are glued to a computer screen, you’re not looking into your partner’s eyes,” she says. “Instead of reading what’s going on with your partner, you’re reading about someone’s dog’s surgery on Facebook. It’s a clear message to your partner that you’re more interested in what’s going on elsewhere rather than what’s in front of you.” Being in a relationship takes work, she adds, but spending your time communicating with others via social media — including your spouse — is “relationship lite.”
Facebook has been associated with divorce before. Excessive Facebook Use Can Damage Relationships found a 2013 study. Facebook named in a third of divorce filings in 2011. Facebook a top cause of relationship trouble, say US lawyers. Facebook can predict your romantic partner, and predict if you will break up.

AskMe advice: What is the Facebook protocol during a painful divorce?
posted by stbalbach (104 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ugh, the media -- hell, most humans -- will never ever understand the correlation =/= causation thing, will they?
posted by aught at 8:35 AM on July 8 [12 favorites]


Glory days well they'll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl's eye
Glory days, glory days
posted by casual observer at 8:36 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


Here's a pdf of the first link for free: Social network sites, marriage well-being and divorce: Survey and state-level evidence from the United States.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 8:42 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


If only someone could conduct some kind of controlled experiment on the Facebook userbase to try and tease out the direction of that causality arrow...
posted by 7segment at 8:42 AM on July 8 [29 favorites]


It's true! I divorced Facebook over two years ago! And just the other day, Linked-in found some café receipts for the drinks I had with Metafilter, so I'm pretty sure that relationship is on a slippery slope as well.
posted by valkane at 8:42 AM on July 8 [9 favorites]


♫ Maybe next time he'll think before he tweets ♩
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:43 AM on July 8 [16 favorites]


I do like the Ghostbusters-like image of "divorce" slowly but surely pooling together in the sewers of Palo Alto to finally emerge as Facebook.
posted by gwint at 8:44 AM on July 8 [13 favorites]


the next thing you know you are meeting for coffee and the next thing you know you’re having an affair.

This kind of accident happens to me ALL THE TIME. Don't even ask about the time I accidentally did a larceny.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:44 AM on July 8 [25 favorites]


It all starts innocently enough, but the next thing you know you are meeting for coffee and the next thing you know you’re having an affair denying your own agency.
posted by biffa at 8:45 AM on July 8 [48 favorites]


You can't just go around logging in to every social network site
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:45 AM on July 8


An old girlfriend lives right downstairs from us, so I wouldn't even need facebook to reconnect! Dykedom is so convenient that way.
posted by rtha at 8:46 AM on July 8 [5 favorites]


This is a social science article on Metafilter so no one will read it, but in a vain attempt, please consult the abstract before you proudly declare that causation and correlation aren't one in the same.

These correlations hold after a variety of economic, demographic, and psychological variables related to marriage well-being are taken into account. Further, the findings of this individual-level analysis are consistent with a state-level analysis of the most popular SNS to date: across the U.S., the diffusion of Facebook between 2008 and 2010 is positively correlated with increasing divorce rates during the same time period after controlling for all time-invariant factors of each state (fixed effects), and continues to hold when time-varying economic and socio-demographic factors that might affect divorce rates are also controlled.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:46 AM on July 8 [33 favorites]


Wrap it up before you log it in.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:47 AM on July 8


Facebook is definitely the wrong way for people who should work on their marriages to spend time.
posted by michaelh at 8:49 AM on July 8 [6 favorites]


> "... please consult the abstract before you proudly declare that causation and correlation aren't one in the same."

I'm fairly sure that everything you highlighted has nothing to do with the question of whether Facebook causes divorce or divorce causes Facebook. Am I missing something?

No one is arguing that the correlation/causation disjunction means that the two things aren't even correlated.
posted by kyrademon at 8:51 AM on July 8 [8 favorites]


Hey, you have both names on the mortgage, joint checking accounts, etc.--why not a joint Facebook account?
posted by resurrexit at 8:51 AM on July 8


Many of the legit happiest couples I know are very active on FB, using it as a scrapbook for fun weekends, proud pics of junior's school project, etc.

Yes, there are people who use FB to project a happy life they do not really have. But many sincerely happy folks are FB regulars and it's either selective sampling or plain ol' sour grapes to leave that out.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:52 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


Instead of reading what’s going on with your partner, you’re reading about someone’s dog’s surgery on Facebook

How could they bury the lede like this. How is the dog recovering
posted by Greg Nog at 8:53 AM on July 8 [63 favorites]


Hey, you have both names on the mortgage, joint checking accounts, etc.--why not a joint Facebook account?

I've been told this happens in some households -- usually fundamentalist Christian ones -- but it's less a case of "joint Facebook account" and more a case of "the wife is not allowed to have her own Facebook account."
posted by griphus at 8:53 AM on July 8 [13 favorites]


Hey, you have both names on the mortgage, joint checking accounts, etc.--why not a joint Facebook account?

Ugh. No. They can just tag each other and share statuses. No joint accounts. Don't you think the fact that maybe half the parents between 30 and 45 using their kid's photo as a profile pic is sufficient individuality-squashing?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:54 AM on July 8 [5 favorites]


I didn't do much of anything on FaceBook until after I got divorced. I must be doing it wrong.
posted by TedW at 8:54 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


If your marriage is shaky and you log into Facebook everyday and see all your friends posting about how awesome their marriages are, I can see it having an impact on your decision to stay or go. Of course, most of your friends are full of shit, but I under those circumstances it would be easy to dismiss that important point.

Facebook is much easier to deal with when you realize it's basically performance art on a scale never before attempted.
posted by COD at 8:54 AM on July 8 [28 favorites]


I get to post 382093843 pictures of our kid to my wall every other weekend.
posted by bondcliff at 8:55 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


Facebook is much easier to deal with when you realize it's basically performance art on a scale never before attempted.

Nah. Facebook is blogging your life but with all of the selective distortions of the old time Christmas letter.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:58 AM on July 8 [10 favorites]


I'm fairly sure that everything you highlighted has nothing to do with the question of whether Facebook causes divorce or divorce causes Facebook. Am I missing something?

They don't, but invariably someone will point out that the correlation is spurious because there is an omitted variable in the estimation. Like age or something and that there isn't an effect.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:58 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


It would not surprise me in the least to find that people who do not feel socially isolated are more willing to leave bad situations.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:59 AM on July 8 [25 favorites]


I never understand the criticism of people whose FB walls are strictly the sunny stuff.

Do we not all have at least one friend who does post warts and all, complaining about weight gain, hassles at the Post Office, what a mess their house is, vague weirdness about hurt feelings and depression? Do we not all understand these people to be completely fucking intolerable?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:04 AM on July 8 [22 favorites]


I see plenty of people who use social media (in particular, Facebook) to, wittingly or unwittingly, stir the shitpot. They'll post their version of what's happening in their life/relationship in the hopes of garnering support and commiseration. Very self-validating and unhealthy for relationships, I think.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:05 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


Ugh, the media -- hell, most humans -- will never ever understand the correlation =/= causation thing, will they?
...
If only someone could conduct some kind of controlled experiment on the Facebook userbase to try and tease out the direction of that causality arrow


Ugh. If only more people would understand that corroborating a causal theory is not as simple as just running a controlled experiment (or finding a magical identification strategy), and that doing these is not necessarily even the most useful way to build support for a causal theory.

I've started to run into this as a reviewer in polisci as the idea of using clever identification strategies to ex post generate natural experiments is importing itself from econ. Apart from being kind of stupid in the bigger picture -- hey, let's study the shit out of whatever data make the identification approach work, no matter how trivial, and ignore the shit out of the other 99% of the universe -- I've started having to correct authors on the basics of scientific inference. If your theory is that X causes Y because of Reasons, and you have a big, clever, properly identified empirical model of some sort that shows that X causes Y, or even a controlled experiment showing that X causes Y, do you know what you have convinced me of? Fuck-all, because the meat of your theory isn't "X causes Y," it's "because Reasons." So show me the fucking Reasons.

A more generally helpful approach is to spin off multiple observable implications of your theory, ideally at different levels of aggregation and in what we might call different causal domains, and see if they all hold. Especially the weird or unexpected ones. Even if none of the specific observations are causally identified (though that wouldn't hurt), the pattern of correlational evidence can easily be more convincing than a causally-identified model of the biggest, dumbest, most obvious implication of your theory. In this case, there are almost certainly things about the world that would be true if Facebook causes divorce that would not be true if divorce causes Facebook, and vice versa. So which do you see?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:07 AM on July 8 [21 favorites]


High askme usage would seem to correlate with a lot of dtmfa divorves. If users are following.the advice.
posted by humanfont at 9:10 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


Regarding Facebooks protestations of "ludicrousness," methinks they do protest too much.

Facebook knows when you are about to start a relationship. Note, on the second graph at that link, Facebook is analyzing the "positive emotions level" before and after the commencement of the relationship. Since it has now come to light that other Facebook research indicates that they are able to affect "emotions levels" in both directions, it's actually entirely possible that Facebook could — inadvertently or on purpose — affect the propensity of people to begin, or end, relationships.

And they've probably researched that, as well. They have the data. But for obvious reasons, they will not post the result of that research.
posted by beagle at 9:10 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


They'll post their version of what's happening in their life/relationship in the hopes of garnering support and commiseration.

I've seen people post totally unironic "ugh my S.O. is so shitty and here's why" status updates, which never fail to remind me of the recurring gag in Arrested Development where Lucille constantly yells out "THAT BITCH!" when talking about Lucille 2 so that she'll hear it next door.
posted by griphus at 9:12 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


It is my understanding, from a study done some time ago, that FB was often cited in divorce proceedings as being involved in divorces. I do know of a case close to me in which a woman got involved with a guy, left kids and hubby, and then got dumped by her new FB love. Unhappy or just plain bored? check out old flames and friends on FB and begin writing...this leads to that. FB does not cause these splits but perhaps one can say it facilitates.
posted by Postroad at 9:13 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


I suppose that same sex marriage has been shown to have basically no effect on heteronormative marriage, we need to find something else to blame divorce rates on. I mean, before FaceBook, all marriages lasted until death! This is a well-known fact!
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:14 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


Facebook is definitely the wrong way for people who should work on their marriages to spend time.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:17 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


TedW: I didn't do much of anything on FaceBook until after I got divorced. I must be doing it wrong.

Ha; in your instance divorce caused Facebook (after a fashion).

I similarly joined Facebook after a break-up (not a divorce, though). I had more time and wanted to reconnect with friends I had lost touch with. It was quite effective.
posted by mountmccabe at 9:18 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


Following up on my comment above, it turns out Facebook also posted some data about user behavior at and following breakups.
posted by beagle at 9:20 AM on July 8


At some point nearly every couple that comes to me for marital/relationship counseling/therapy brings up social media (usually FaceBook, but also texting, instagram, even social gaming) as a part of or a cause of the problem.

Yep, social media precipitates/facilitates/causes/accentuates the problem, just like going to the local bar, calling friends on the phone, going to the park in the afternoon, meeting people for coffee, having tea with the ladies, going bowling with the guys, etc, etc, etc...have for the past zillion decades...

Perhaps social media makes it easier, but these couples would have problems if they were Amish Luddites living off the grid, in the wilderness, above the Arctic circle, in a tent.
posted by HuronBob at 9:31 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


Facebook is definitely the wrong way to spend time.

I'm glad you haven't moved overseas with relatives and friends in awkward time zones that makes it difficult to communicate. You might then have reason to be not so sanctimonious on how people spend their time catching up on each other's lives.
posted by Talez at 9:32 AM on July 8 [18 favorites]


You might then have reason to be not so sanctimonious on how people spend their time catching up on each other's lives.

Yeah, I forgot how they got rid of every other non-Facebook communication tool on the Internet.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:34 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


I think the causation/correlation in this case is two-fold.

First, we have the classic 'correlation does not equal causation' argument. There are many different types of correlations… here is a very good primer on five common types of correlations. From the link:
"A confounding variable Z creates a spurious relationship between X and Y because Z is related to both X and Y.

This is the relationship seen in most “correlation not causation” examples: The amount of ice cream consumption (X) in a month predicts number of shark attacks (Y). Do sharks like eating ice-cream laden people? No.

This spurious relationship is created by a confounder that leads to increases in both ice-cream consumption and shark attacks: temperature (Z). People both eat more ice cream and swim in the ocean in hotter months."
Second, there is a problem at a higher level of analysis here: the thing being labeled as a potential 'causer'. Namely, Facebook. I get that Facebook is a metonymic shortcut for "all of the people who spend their time on this particular social network site doing social things", but all too often (and *especially* in media) this relationship is misrepresented. That is, they suggest that there is something inherent in Facebook itself that is causing this outcome (and not the people who use it, or use it in this way). In this case, Facebook has agency. It is the classic digital dualist argument, and its quite a dangerous, slippery road to go down. But once you start spotting these types of arguments, you see them *everywhere*. And again, sadly, here once more.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:34 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


I'm gonna buck the comment trend and say that this is hitting a little uneasily with me right now...I recently Googled a from-20-years-ago boyfriend and found him on LinkedIn, and dropped a "just saying hi" note. And he wrote back, and we've exchanged real emails and have been reminiscing. And some of the recent emails have been getting a bit...frisky on his end, and just today I checked to ask "uh, you said you were married, is it cool for us to be talking like this?" And he admitted that "well...no, but things aren't great with us anyway...."

And I just kind of thought "ah," and am probably going to be bringing up the guy I'm currently dating a bit more frequently as a result.

(then again, the guy is twelve time zones away, so even if he WANTED to act on this he probably couldn't.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:35 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I forgot how they got rid of every other non-Facebook communication tool on the Internet.

I go to bed at noon in my family's local time and I wake up at 11pm-midnight my family's local time. Between their work, my work, weekends differing we pretty much get a window of 7-10pm my local time Friday and Saturday night to communicate live. And people sometimes have shit to do on the weekend.

Without Facebook I'd have no way to keep up on everything day-to-day that's going on bar getting constant emails from every single person I know.

It's easy and convenient.
posted by Talez at 9:39 AM on July 8 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I forgot how they got rid of every other non-Facebook communication tool on the Internet.

Puritanism took a weird turn with the digital age.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:44 AM on July 8 [12 favorites]


Celsius1414--If I could do multiple "likes/favorites" Talez's comment I would. I have found it the best way to stay actively in touch with both friends and family in the US and Ireland--I also appreciate a number of the pages such as NPR, Reich, Moyers, etc. The simplicity of FB also means that persons of varying age, skill levels and backgrounds can use it comfortably. If you know a more efficient and effective mechanism for staying in touch with people, for whom you care, that live in different places, time zones, and vary in age, background, interests let me know.
posted by rmhsinc at 9:45 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


kyrademon: "> "... please consult the abstract before you proudly declare that causation and correlation aren't one in the same."

I'm fairly sure that everything you highlighted has nothing to do with the question of whether Facebook causes divorce or divorce causes Facebook. Am I missing something?

No one is arguing that the correlation/causation disjunction means that the two things aren't even correlated.
"

Well it is true that after Zuckerberg had his first divorce he hit upon the idea of Facebook, so clearly we already KNOW the direction of causality goes from divorce->facebook->hookup->divorce
posted by symbioid at 9:46 AM on July 8


The existence of other methods of communication besides fb does not make judgey and sneering comments about how fb is a waste of time less judgey or sneering. It being a waste if time for you doesn't make that true for everyone and you are not speaking truth to power. It's the equivalent of "is this something I'd need a [blank]..."
posted by rtha at 9:47 AM on July 8 [7 favorites]


Do we not all have at least one friend who does post warts and all...

I have one friend who posted about his recovery from hemorrhoid surgery in graphic detail. Since I am a medical person it didn't bother me in the least, but for some people I'm sure it was TMI.
posted by TedW at 9:50 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


Facebook was absolutely a contributing factor in a former friend of mine's divorce. Not The Cause of it, but a factor.

Ever wonder what that person you hung out with fifteen years ago before you settled on your current relationship is doing now? Well, he did. And, mirabile dictu, she was a couple of clicks away on Facebook instead of having to go through the actual effort of looking up her married name, finding her address or phone number, making contact the normal way and having her respond in kind. And so they started sending notes back and forth on Facebook, followed by lengthy Facebook chats every night, followed by him deciding that he'd made a mistake getting married and he'd rather be with this woman instead, followed by her husband calling his wife and asking "Pardon me, but could you put a leash on your husband," followed by one divorce, one broken relationship, one non-fatal stabbing and, well, I could go on about it but I'm sure we've all been in that kind of situation, right?

Now. Was all of the above HIS OWN FUCKING FAULT for choosing to look outside of marriage, to end his own marriage, to homewreck his old flame's marriage and to not give a shit about anyone but himself? Yes, it was. The "FACEBOOK MADE ME DO IT!" defense would not hold up in most courts. Was that marriage in trouble whether or not he went online in search of his ex? Yes, it was.

But the point remains that Facebook made the chain of events much, much easier to happen by making it really easy to resume contact. As I've said before, the good thing about being on Facebook is that people you haven't seen for ages can find you and get back in touch. The HORRIBLE thing about being on Facebook is that people you haven't seen for ages can find you and get back in touch.

I'm not a Christian, but sometimes they have good ideas, and that whole "Lead me not into temptation" thing can be one of them.
posted by delfin at 9:52 AM on July 8 [7 favorites]


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_Spaghetti_Monster

Facebook/Divorce = Pirates/Global Warming?
posted by CrowGoat at 9:58 AM on July 8


I have a few friends who pictures of the contents of their toilet bowls, usually as proof of [eating horrible thing]. And then there's an overwhelming majority who post pictures of their newborns. Basically, it's an endless scroll of babies, punctuated by poop.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:02 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


Pft. You kids and your facetwitters and instabooks. MY mother left my father for a man she met on the Sierra Network....

More seriously, yes the data and analysis here are questionable. But I don't think anyone seriously questions that removing the geographical and social restrictions on reconnecting with old flames is a contributing factor to break ups. You don't need data for rough guidelines to basic human behavior., c.f. all of recorded literature.

And as a multi-occurance, multi-continent, expat, I can say that ditching Facebook has done far more to increase my actual interaction with my family and real friends via mail and Skype than Facebook ever did; that said, when you drop Facebook you quickly find out who your real friends are.
posted by digitalprimate at 10:05 AM on July 8


Perfectly understandable - a social network populated by generations that are far less empathic than prior generations. Less empathy + opportunity to connect out of pure self-interest via social networking = more relationship options. Simple math. Facebook is not alone, btw. Twitter and the rest (e.g. dating sites) also contribute to this. The easier it's made possible to wander, the more people will do it.
posted by Vibrissae at 10:09 AM on July 8


Do we not all have at least one friend who does post warts and all, complaining about weight gain, hassles at the Post Office, what a mess their house is, vague weirdness about hurt feelings and depression? Do we not all understand these people to be completely fucking intolerable?

God I love those people

(on Facebook)
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:10 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


I've been told this happens in some households -- usually fundamentalist Christian ones -- but it's less a case of "joint Facebook account" and more a case of "the wife is not allowed to have her own Facebook account."

The wife? I always figured it was the husband on the leash in those couples. He might see pictures of women in shorts or tank tops OR WORSE! Gotta keep that mind pure!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:13 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


followed by her husband calling his wife and asking "Pardon me, but could you put a leash on your husband," followed by one divorce, one broken relationship, one non-fatal stabbing and, well, I could go on about it but I'm sure we've all been in that kind of situation, right?

wait back up a minute
posted by kagredon at 10:14 AM on July 8 [17 favorites]


In the age of Lilith, we should expect to see people transcending their previous moral codes accepting the dogma of evil algorithms to predict the fall of civilisation and the ethics of socially constructed marriage norms, cave-dwellers choice, the rate of everything will increase thus we are witnessing the real time analysis of what has been happening all along but exponentially faster than before.
posted by BHPSTR at 10:15 AM on July 8 [7 favorites]


Uh.
posted by kagredon at 10:16 AM on July 8


I can say that my wife and I use Facebook but for very different reasons.

She does it to keep in touch with distant family and friends, for news feeds from various bands and artists she likes, and for pictures from people who've adopted graduates of kitten-cam sites she watches. Okay, it's mostly for the cats. But the other stuff happens too.

I have an account in my own name that I haven't posted anything to in five years. Once in a while I'll log in to see how many stragglers still have friend requests pending -- about a third of them are family, a third are people I knew from high school or college, and the rest I have no idea on earth who they are.

I have an account under a false name, but for good reasons. This is used for:

1) Gaming. Lots of iPod games connect to Facebook for various benefits, but I know I'd find it really fucking annoying if I kept getting DELFIN IS OUT OF ENERGY IN ANAL SHEEP RODEO SAGA, CLICK HERE TO SEND HIM A BOOSTER PACK! messages every hour on a real account. And so I do not enlist the help of actual friends and family's accounts; I enlist the help of others who have created similar dummy accounts.

2) "Hey, I wonder if Restaurant X has any specials going on today."

3) ...pictures from people who've adopted graduates of kitten-cam sites I watch. Yes, I lead an exciting and thrill-packed life.
posted by delfin at 10:16 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


A Facebook spokesman says it's "ludicrous" to suggest a link between the social network site and divorce.

The Facebook will study you. Do not attempt to study the Facebook.
posted by the jam at 10:29 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


In the age of Lilith, we should expect to see people transcending their previous moral codes accepting the dogma of evil algorithms to predict the fall of civilisation and the ethics of socially constructed marriage norms, cave-dwellers choice, the rate of everything will increase thus we are witnessing the real time analysis of what has been happening all along but exponentially faster than before.

Ha ha, sounds like my WIFE!! Am I right, men? ha ha ha, well, I'm off to the man cave
posted by Greg Nog at 10:34 AM on July 8 [7 favorites]


Yeah, the man cave of DARK ENLIGHTENMENT!
posted by valkane at 10:45 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


I have a few friends who pictures of the contents of their toilet bowls, usually as proof of [eating horrible thing].

WHAT THE FUCK
posted by desjardins at 10:53 AM on July 8 [14 favorites]


yeah those people are bad people who do bad things
posted by elizardbits at 10:55 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


I have a few friends who pictures of the contents of their toilet bowls, usually as proof of [eating horrible thing].

Yeah, a friend of mine did that as his profile picture. There are people in this world who don't care if everyone they ever knew and loved sees them as a big steamy dump.
posted by bondcliff at 10:59 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


Ooh, I have anecdata on this one! Coworker of mine got divorced after nearly TWENTY years and 2 kids after her husband looked up his high-school girlfriend on Facebook, started chatting, then left her and got remarried to said girlfriend. This all took about 6 months.
posted by sfkiddo at 11:00 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


I don't care if they stood up in my wedding and helped me move, I am defriending anyone who posts poop.
posted by desjardins at 11:03 AM on July 8 [13 favorites]


Also, when my social circle started turning 40, I had a lot of guys I hadn't talked to/thought about in years reach out to me via Facebook to tell me that they realized I was The One. Then I would have to say, "Dude, you remember we were never even dating back then, right?" Luckily, you can close that awkward chat window.
posted by sfkiddo at 11:06 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


I don't care if they stood up in my wedding and helped me move, I am defriending anyone who posts poop.


For serious. I don't care if they gave me a kidney or saved my cats from a burning building, shit pic sharing is just beyond the pale to me, and I'm pretty accepting of shit, both literal and figurative.

Honestly, I think what horrifies me most isn't the idea of looking at someone else's shit but the idea that somebody might look at mine. Which is such an on-the-nose metaphor for how many people (including most definitely me) curate their own social media presence it's not even funny.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:12 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


wait back up a minute

Long story short: I'll call my local friends Ricky and Lucy, and his ex and his ex's husband Ethel and Fred for clarity purposes.

Fred, who'd asked Lucy "Can you please keep your husband on a leash so he'll stop trying to break up my marriage" was told "I completely empathize with you and wish you luck, but since he's filed for divorce he's not really my husband any more, and his insistence on playing I Poked It First, So I Own It with your wife is _why_ he's not my husband any more."

So having tried that approach, Fred confronted Ethel about her adultery with Ricky. Confrontation turned to screaming, screaming turned to him picking up a kitchen knife and stabbing his wife in the heat of passion. She survived, I presume he went to jail. I'd severed all ties with Ricky before it escalated that far once I found out he was cheating with Ethel AND Ethel had a kid, so I got all of the above second-hand. Something about my own parents breaking up due to adultery makes me a wee bit sensitive to that kind of thing.

Anyway, in retrospect, Facebook played a role in setting those events in motion, but the fact that he had a plaque with John Galt's Credo on it over his desk was probably the biggest factor.
posted by delfin at 11:15 AM on July 8 [14 favorites]


Social media signal to noise ratio is problematic. What is more important, that your sister 12 hours away is raising homophobic racist Randian children that wrap themselves in the skin of baby Jesus, or that you have a loving family - some of which might even be sitting 4 feet away from you on a couch?

In the 80's and even the 90's you only had to put up with your racist relatives twice a year for holidays and then it was done - now you can lose yourself in their idiocy at your own expense every day.

Over the end of last year and this year my wife and I have really worked to curtail extraneous FB usage. It is for the better.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:18 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


I truly don't understand why people put up with BS on Facebook. I deleted my account a couple years ago, signed up again after a year and only friended people I actually wanted to read updates from. No racism, no political bullshit, ever. My stepsister has been sitting in my friend queue for about a month now because of this policy.
posted by desjardins at 11:33 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


In the 80's and even the 90's you only had to put up with your racist relatives twice a year for holidays and then it was done - now you can lose yourself in their idiocy at your own expense every day.

Every now and then you wonder how people don't notice how much they're projecting their own lives onto everyone else.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:37 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


I am recently divorced and wouldn't say that Facebook contributed to my decision to leave my husband, but I was kind of shocked at the number of ex-boyfriends and guys I knew in college (including married ones) contacted me to say hi and try to make plans to get together almost immediately after I changed my profile back to my maiden name.

I think for a certain group of people, Facebook is a way to pick up girls/guys.
posted by elvissa at 11:43 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


Yeah, a few years back within about 24 hours of changing my status from 'relationship' to single' an ex boyfriend (who treated me like total crap during and after the disaster that was our relationship) contacted me out of the blue. Ugh.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:49 AM on July 8


About 4-5 years ago my wife went on a pretty intensive diet and exercise regimen. As something of a Facebook superuser at the time, she regularly posted updates of her progress, including lots of photos of her rapidly decreasing size and continually more toned body.

It was absolutely shocking, the number of dudes from her past, many of whom she had no contact with for 20+ years, who suddenly decided it was vital that they now be in regularly, daily contact with her on FB. It didn't ruin my marriage, thankfully, but there were definitely a few conversations of the "Honey, do you think it's maybe a little inappropriate that the same guy posts sexually suggestive messages on your wall like 30 times a day?" variety (not that it was her fault that the guy was being a creep).

It may not be technically accurate to claim that Facebook causes an increase in divorce, but I can definitely see how it can help move things along in that direction.
posted by The Gooch at 11:54 AM on July 8


Plus, couples often fight over the amount of time each is spending on Facebook. Especially couples with young kids or infants.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:57 AM on July 8


Facebook : divorce :: guns : murder/suicide

If your marriage is already floundering, Facebook is just a shortcut to the inevitable emotional affair, physically cheating, etc. Happens, as mentioned, in six months instead of a year or two.

On the whole, I actually think that's a good thing in some ways. Better to rip off the Band-Aid than take it off slowly, you know?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:58 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


I wonder effect ask and the DTMFA brigade has?
posted by srboisvert at 12:14 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


This is a social science article on Metafilter so no one will read it, but in a vain attempt, please consult the abstract before you proudly declare that causation and correlation aren't one in the same.

These correlations hold after a variety of economic, demographic, and psychological variables related to marriage well-being are taken into account. Further, the findings of this individual-level analysis are consistent with a state-level analysis of the most popular SNS to date: across the U.S., the diffusion of Facebook between 2008 and 2010 is positively correlated with increasing divorce rates during the same time period after controlling for all time-invariant factors of each state (fixed effects), and continues to hold when time-varying economic and socio-demographic factors that might affect divorce rates are also controlled.


This a social science article, so people in that discipline probably won't understand the level of skepticism from outsiders about things like the assumption that it's actually possible to control for enough things to demonstrate a correlation between divorce and Facebook (as opposed to, say divorce and spending-too-much-time-on-the-internet) or the assumption that people who are and aren't going through a divorce will be equally truthful in surveys that touch on topics that might have contributed to divorce.
posted by straight at 12:22 PM on July 8


I'm fairly sure that everything you highlighted has nothing to do with the question of whether Facebook causes divorce or divorce causes Facebook. Am I missing something?

You're missing the sheer delight of slapping down another MeFite!
posted by aught at 12:41 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


I wonder effect ask and the DTMFA brigade has?

I think most people are just asking permission to break up with the other person, but there are some that seem oblivious to the seriousness of their partner's abusive behavior, and AskMe is doing them a big fucking favor.
posted by desjardins at 12:46 PM on July 8 [5 favorites]


Facebook knows when you are about to start a relationship.

No, Facebook does not know when you are about to start a relationship. Nothing in the linked graphs indicate that Facebook has any ability at all to predict if you are about to start a relationship or not.

Facebook doesn't have the proven ability to manipulate your emotions, either. The much-ballyhooed study from last week did not measure anyone's mood and only found incredibly small changes in word usage in status updates.

This makes it incredibly unlikely that they have the ability to manipulate your propensity to start or end a relationship.
posted by leopard at 1:06 PM on July 8


OK I read the paper.

They do a fixed effects regression, which basically means they don't try to predict the overall divorce rate within a state, they try to predict the variation in the divorce rate over time within each state.

Now some may argue that this is a brilliant maneuver to control for the host of variables that we can't directly observe that affect state divorce rates. Personally, I see them using an obviously increasing variable (Facebook penetration) to predict a variable that generally declined from 2008 to 2010 (I don't have the divorce stats handy, but it looked to me from a quick Google search that national divorce rates fell during this time period). Shockingly, they find a negative relationship.

Am I missing something?
posted by leopard at 2:14 PM on July 8


Yes.

If the divorce rates fell during this period and Facebook use increased, that would mean Facebook is related to more marital satisfaction and less likely divorce, which is not what was found here. Assuming that was just a miscommunication, the first article mentions "rising divorce rates" within the first paragraph. If I know anything about America, I'm going to believe the person who says divorce rates are on the rise.

Regardless, you shouldn't expect a negative correlation just because the variable of Facebook use increases overall while the divorce rate decreases overall. That doesn't account for the independence of each person's Facebook use and marital status. Even something as broadly correlated as height and weight can be thrown off if your sample is full of lanky beanpoles and the motorized scooter-riding morbidly obese.

And not to harp on your previous comment but "I'm going to kill myself" and "I'm not going to kill myself" is also an incredibly small change in word usage.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 4:19 PM on July 8


As louis ck said, happy marriages don't end up in divorce.

My cousin's wife cheated on him with a guy she hooked up with via Facebook, but that marriage was doomed from day one.
posted by empath at 4:51 PM on July 8


Johann Georg Faust, the authors carry out two separate analyses. One is an aggregate level analysis that tracks divorce rates by state from 2008 to 2010 and the other is individual level analysis based on survey responses. Only the aggregate level analysis is exposed to the time variable; the surveys were collected over a period of a few months in 2011-2012. So I don't see how the individual level analysis provides a defense that the charge that the authors failed to control for a common time trend in the aggregate analysis. The correct way of controlling for time would be to actually control for time, by including a dummy variable for the time period.

And if you regress a decreasing aggregate variable on an increasing aggregate variable, you are likely to see a negative coefficient, regardless of the individual level effects, which may very well average out to 0 or some undetectable quantity. The negative coefficient is certainly not in itself strong evidence of any connection.

Finally, saying "life is great" sarcastically is very different from saying the same exact words nonsarcastically, but that doesn't mean a study that shows that people don't change their word usage at all is compelling evidence of a dramatic change in what they mean. The study in question was not tracking suicidal tendencies or even depression or just sadness, but it's interesting how many people like to imagine that it did.
posted by leopard at 5:43 PM on July 8


Also, I forgot to mention that divorce rates only appear in the aggregate analysis; the survey analysis does not measure divorce rates at all, only measures of marital satisfaction.
posted by leopard at 5:52 PM on July 8


Fair enough. I was wondering why you would bring up regression and then make a comment like that; the way your post was framed, I interpreted it as speaking about the variables in a broader scope. And that Guardian article actually cites a declining divorce rate while the MarketWatch article cites an increase for the same time period, so color me surprised.

But my point about word usage was simply that we can't tell what these small changes are a broader implication of without examining each one in detail, as per your example. Theoretically, an extremely strong effect that makes everyone suddenly give all their posts a sarcastic tone would show up as people not changing their word usage, even though the effect is still there. I really don't care what the results of the study were, though. Of course they weren't tracking depression, but that doesn't mean they didn't have some effect on it.

On topic, my viewpoint is that blaming your divorce on Facebook is like blaming it on your e-mail or your phone. They're all just forms of communication, but the depth and immediateness of your contacts on Facebook probably doesn't make things easier. Still, it seems people have a hard enough time negotiating the private, public, and Internet versions of themselves without negotiating the private, public, and Internet versions of their relationships as well.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 7:37 PM on July 8


Ugh, I'm really sleep deprived. The authors find a positive relationship between Facebook penetration and divorce rates (duh), so if divorce rates are falling this would actually be more surprising, but if divorce rates are rising then this would be less surprising. I apologize for the related inanity I posted above.

It's too bad the data in the paper isn't easily available (especially since the state-level data is basically from public sources), but it appears that divorces in America hit a 40-year low in 2009. (This is why it's absurd to suggest that "Facebook may be responsible for causing divorce in one out of five divorces" -- see the data here.)

The table at the bottom of this page suggest that only a handful of states saw their divorce rates increase from 2008 to 2010. However, the definition of divorce rate in the table is different from the definition used in the paper (the denominators are total population versus number of married women) so there might be a fairly different pattern that the authors are looking at.

Without the exact data it's hard for me to draw firm conclusions. However, I do want to reiterate that the Facebook variable is so clearly linked to the unfolding of time that it's horribly inappropriate that there is no time dummy variable in the state-level regression.

Further points:

The divorce rate within a state is much more stable than the Facebook penetration variable, which went up in each state several-fold. Since FB's growth is so explosive across the board, while divorce did not clearly increase over the period, it cannot be the case that the analysis shows that growth in Facebook penetration leads directly to higher divorce rates; rather, the claim must be that above-average Facebook growth leads to above-average changes in divorce rates (and that below-average Facebook growth leads to below-average changes in divorce rates, which are likely decreases). This is a less dramatic claim and not one that seems particularly compelling to me. The fact that Facebook's impact on the overall divorce rate is invisible -- Facebook penetration went from 0 to over 100 million while the number of divorces in the country went from 880,000 to 870,000 -- makes me suspicious of the claim that differences in Facebook penetration between states really drive measurable differences in changes in divorce rates between states. But again, without the data it's hard for me to offer much more.
posted by leopard at 7:41 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I just assumed that was a mistake or miscommunication, but you left the "Am I missing something?" question just dangling out there like a low-lying fruit.

Divorce rates and Facebook use are certainly not two variables I'd want to try to reverse engineer into the authors' data set, though. It's actually a little surprising that anything published off big data isn't made more publicly available, considering all the temptations we hear about people using the data to tell a story rather than the truth. Even better, Facebook could practically outsource their research by making the data open to access.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 8:03 PM on July 8


Can one of you explain (in the plainest language possible) how they controlled for the particular economic and sociodemographic factors in effect between 2008 and 2010?
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:05 PM on July 8


Ok, I downloaded it, thanks to the fully awesome Joseph Conrad Is Fully Awesome. They used average state unemployment rates from the BLS, which counts part-time and temporary workers as employed. "Unemployment" is defined as being unemployed and available, and having actively job-searched over the past four weeks. Those definitions could only be rough indicators of the general economic and social instability we saw then (and continue to see).

I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that during this period, people generally might have preferred to hunker down into their marital bunkers/property, while the economies of late-FB-adopting states might be more vulnerable to macro changes, leading to greater employment instability (maybe missed by those state averages). not hard to see how that combined with new FB users' increased opportunity/access to comforts (like het up nostalgia) could lead to greater divorce rates in those states.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:31 PM on July 8


(but massive assumptions in that)
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:35 PM on July 8


On preview, it looks like you got access to the paper, so I won't go over the details. (There were going to be a few.) Sorry I can't really provide discussion about the unemployment measure without just reiterating that I'd like to see what the raw data looks like for studies like this.

For those who can't access it, their state-level data comes from census reports and such (e.g., for income, they just took measure of the average personal income level for a given state). The same goes for characteristics like ethnicity; they just used the percentages from census data. That's the data from 2008 to 2010. The individual-level data was actually cross-sectional and collected some time starting in 2011 using individual surveys.

This is usually Blasdelb's job, but if I ever out myself as having read a paper that you don't have access to, feel free to ask. (Just not in public.)
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 8:50 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


cotton dress sock, they try to predict the divorce rate in a state/year as a function of the following state variables:

Facebook penetration
population with internet access
per capita income
population with bachelor's degree
unemployment rate
population % African-American
population % Hispanic
average household size
population % ages 18-64

They can get these variables for each state for each year, mostly from government sources like the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But they do one more thing. Different states have consistently different divorce rates -- say Arkansas is typically at 8% while Massachusetts is at 4% -- and maybe there are other variables they're not controlling for that explain those differences, like religion or something. And maybe Facebook penetration is correlated with those variables, so what looks like a Facebook effect is actually a religion effect, but we wouldn't know because we didn't control for religion. To get around this, they (basically) subtract the 3-year average divorce rate in the relevant state from each state/year divorce rate. So instead of trying to explain why Arkansas was at 8.2% in 2008 while Mass was at 3.7% in 2009, they're trying to explain why Arkansas was 0.2% higher than usual in 2008 while Mass was 0.3% lower than usual in 2009. The idea is that something like religion or any other hidden variable would affect each year equally so by taking out the average we can take those variables out of the picture and can focus on the list of variables above.

They supposedly find a strong and statistically positive effect of Facebook penetration on divorce rates. My question is, if this effect is so strong and clear, why did overall US divorce rates fall as Facebook took over the country?
posted by leopard at 8:53 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


Beats me. I don't think the effects are standardized, though, so it may just be a weak effect in a large sample. If these really are unstandardized, then I guess 1 unit of "Facebook penetration rate" is worth about 0.2 divorces per 100 married couples? It may just be that their results were consistent, but not necessarily strong.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 9:13 PM on July 8


Thanks to both of you! Gah, now I'm sorry I put the kibosh on your reply, Johann Georg Faust. leopard, thank you for a very clear explanation :) Agree, shame we can't get thoughts from you both on the raw data here (and elsewhere, I'm sure).

I'm a student, but haven't looked at regression yet, so I can only sort-of 'read' the stats bit: what I'm wondering is, in their analysis, would the authors have isolated and looked at relationships between average income and unemployment rates over time, and then compared that to divorce rates?

Thank you for the offer, Johann Georg Faust! I do have access at the moment -- it was more that I haven't done Stats 2 yet, and did Stats I too long ago.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:28 PM on July 8


My question is, if this effect is so strong and clear, why did overall US divorce rates fall as Facebook took over the country?

It's late and I'm on mobile, but your previous post has a link to the CDC divorce rates, which show that from 2000-2008 the divorce rate was dropping by a pretty steady 1.8% per year, and that from 2008-2011 the divorce rate was basically flat (actually a small increase of 0.4% per year). There are obviously many other things happening in this time frame, but going from a steady decline to even just a slower decline could be consistent with Facebook having this effect.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:58 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


yikes, never mind, sorry, out of it!
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:01 AM on July 9


My question is, if this effect is so strong and clear, why did overall US divorce rates fall as Facebook took over the country?

Because whatever factors are causing divorce rates to fall are stronger than the impact of facebook usage.

Let's say that 'hours driven' is correlated with odds of being in a fatal traffic accident, but at the same time, car safety is increasing. It might be the case that everyone is driving more hours, that driving more hours is correlated with traffic fatalities, but safety standards have improved so much that traffic fatalities have still decreased over time.
posted by empath at 4:19 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


Thanks Homeboy Trouble and empath, that's helpful. A couple more points: the paper's estimated state-level effect is that a 20% increase in Facebook penetration in a state (the median annual increase in their study) is associated with a 4% increase in the divorce rate. Since the average divorce rate is under 2% in raw terms, that comes to an increase of less than 0.1%. Also, the relationship between economic variables and divorce is probably pretty tricky (the financial crisis probably placed a lot of stress on marriages while at the same time making people less secure to divorce) and so any general increase from 2008 to 2010 that isn't straightforwardly linked to improving economic conditions would wind up being attributed to Facebook in their analysis.
posted by leopard at 6:02 AM on July 9


As a marriage educator I can say that the rules, backed by research, are the same as always:

No third parties in disagreements (except for mutually agreed counselors)
Avoid "alternative monitoring" activities
Don't threaten the safety of your commitment to one another
Make your spouse feel like a high priority
Build your spouse up in the eyes of others

That kind of thing. Some folks will always, in spite of (or in lack of) good sense break those rules. Social media does make it a lot easier, creates a more or less permanent record of it, and can serve to amplify and accelerate the damage from it.

But you can still, as always, just learn and follow the rules.
posted by cross_impact at 6:14 AM on July 9


Wow, that seems even more sketchy than I thought. Surely there are a bunch of things that track more or less with Facebook penetration and would be hard to control for that could also have effects on people's relationships. Does Facebook penetration correlate with smartphone adoption, for instance?
posted by straight at 10:53 AM on July 9


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