Twenty-first-century parents have a lot more to worry about than the lunchroom bully. Social media has created a new world for young people to interact with, and while the potential for fun and exploration is enticing, Facebook and other online mediums can be a double-edged sword.

Tbh is the shortened version of “to be honest,” and it’s also the name of a polling app recently acquired by Facebook. Facebook is rolling it out as a fun way to turn the tables on cyber-bullying, but to be honest, we’re not sure that’s how things will go.  

Testing Tbh

Today’s social networks already offer a multitude of ways for users to interact and converse. If you’ve used one, you know that you’re just as likely to receive a critical remark or rating as a good one.

Tbh enters the fray with a formula that Facebook says will remove the negative aspect from a concept young users are already very familiar with: the online poll. Instead of collecting responses about topical issues, tbh asks questions about the users themselves.

For example, a tbh poll might ask you which of four friends is most likely to run for President of the United States, or which one makes you laugh the hardest. Once the responses are tallied up, the winner gets a notification and receives a reward in the form of a “gem.”

Good Old-Fashioned Fun?

Facebook tbh

After a few quick set-up questions including gender — the only characteristic shared with other users when you respond to a poll — you can begin interacting. None of the polling questions are outright negative, although some of them can be light-heartedly critical, such as “The one to finish a project the morning it’s due.”

If someone votes for you, you get a gem. Blue gems represent votes from male users, and pink gems are used for females. The more gems you get, the more polls and features you can access. Hypothetically, the question sets are diverse enough that everyone should get some recognition at one point or another, but you can imagine how a young user might feel if no gems arrive in their inbox.

Teenage Dream

Why has Facebook chosen tbh to invest in? The app occupies a top spot in the app store thanks to attention from the teenage demographic Facebook is struggling to keep entertained. The social media giant apparently got a good price, too — less than $100 million. The team from tbh maintains developmental control, and Facebook eliminates competition it would have faced by creating a clone.

But the real question is, will tbh be what Facebook purports it to be, or is this just a bid to cash in on a demographic with significant disposable income thanks to a helping hand from mom and dad? Is tbh really a pick-me-up, or is it just a popularity contest?

Mental health experts have doubts. What becomes clear after spending some time with the app is that it treats those with large numbers of friends fairly well, but users with fewer friends might not receive any feedback at all. That kind of experience could end up making these users feel more alienated than they were before.

Even though the app aims to be uplifting, tbh developers do accept suggestions for polls from users. That doesn’t mean that everything users send in will be approved for use in the app, but you can see the potential for something to slip through the cracks or get misinterpreted.  

Facebook Should Stick to Social Media

The case for tbh as a mental health tool doesn’t really hold water. It’s fine for Facebook to advertise the positive skew most of the poll questions have, but polling is a divisive practice by nature. The effect of social media on the mental health of young people is already questionable, and teens already face a never-ending popularity contest during their school week. Facebook lets them take it home, and now tbh has gamified it.

That is not to say the app won’t be successful. Adoption is already high, and it’s likely that the ad revenue generated through the app will be a huge success for Facebook. However, the social media giant could have elected to go quietly about its business and make a big-money play without sugarcoating it as a hand out to troubled teens.

Social media isn’t without its redeeming qualities. Think of the friends you’ve been able to stay in touch with using Facebook. That’s a great perk, but to think that a social media application that revolves around anonymous polling could have a significantly positive effect on the mental health of teenagers seems a bit lofty

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