This Facebook Feature May Be Helpful for Your Post-Breakup Mental Health

Social media is a minefield of heartache when you and your ex call it quits. Here's how to protect yourself.

By Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D.
February 20, 2020

Social media gets a pretty bad rap when it comes to its impact on our mental health. And while there are definitely advantages to connecting with other people via online platforms, digital connectivity can also be a major source of stress and anxiety. If you’re already having a rough day and then open Instagram and see all your friends and acquaintances traveling to amazing places, eating perfectly styled meals, and attending Pinterest-perfect parties, it can be easy to feel left out and inadequate. On the flip side, sometimes it’s better to be out of the loop on social media — like after a breakup, according to new research out of the University of Colorado Boulder and published in the journal Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interactions.

“Before social media, break-ups still sucked, but it was much easier to get distance from the person,” Anthony Pinter, a doctoral student in the department of Information Science and lead author of the study said in a statement. “It can make it almost impossible to move on if you are constantly being bombarded with reminders in different places online.”

For those living with anxiety and/or depression, the constant reminders on social media of an ex moving on and living his or her best life can make a bad mental health situation worse. Fortunately, there are ways to minimize the pain.

In 2015, Facebook introduced a feature called “Take a Break,” which kicks in when you change your status from “in a relationship” to “single” and asks users if they want to hide their ex’s activities.

The good news is that it’s extremely effective in helping people steer clear of their former love’s comings and goings.

The bad news is that if you’re not someone who made their relationship “Facebook official” by changing your status to “in a relationship” at the beginning of your coupledom, the “Take a Break” feature won’t do its thing and news of our ex will keep rolling through your feed. Even if you “unfriend” them, they may still pop up in photos with mutual friends, or — worse yet — Facebook may recommend them as one of the “People You May Know.” This is a modern phenomenon known as “algorithmic insensitivity.” 

“Algorithms are really good at seeing patterns in clicks, likes and when things are posted, but there is a whole lot of nuance in how we interact with people socially that they haven’t been designed to pick up,” Assistant Professor Jed Brubaker, a co-author of the study, who has also studied the ways in which the dead can resurface in people’s online lives and how algorithms can misunderstand gender and race, said in a statement.

While the researchers recommend trying all the standard moves to ensure an ex-less feed, like unfriending, untagging and blocking them, such maneuvers are not foolproof. If you really don’t have the stomach to see your former love floating through your digital universe, Pinter suggests that you “take a break from social media for a while until you are in a better place.”

About the writer:

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer as well as an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University. She has written for print and online publications, including The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe AtlanticRolling StoneCNNFodor’sLifehackerReader’s Digest and Playboy.

Outlier Disclaimer

This site is for educational purposes and not a substitute for professional medical care by a doctor or otherwise qualified medical professional. The information provided by Outlier Magazine is on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services.

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