There’s a lot of discussion about the effect of social media on human behavior and psychology. That’s to be expected, given that any new technology, especially in the area of communication, tends to have profound effect on how we think, interact, and identify with others.
NPR’s Morning Edition had a brief but fascinating piece on the subject. It’s not the first to explore the influence of social media, and it most certainly won’t be the last. Below is the transcript:
Posting on Facebook is an easy way to connect with people, but it also can be a means to alienate them. That can be particularly troublesome for those with low self-esteem.
People with poor self-image tend to view the glass as half empty. They complain a bit more than everyone else, and they often share their negative views and feelings when face to face with friends and acquaintances.
Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, wondered whether those behavior patterns would hold true online. They published their findings in the journal Psychological Science.
“People with low self-esteem tend to be very cautious and self-protective,” says one of the researchers, psychologist Amanda L. Forest. “It’s very important to them to gain others’ acceptance and approval. … So given that, we thought people with low self-esteem might censor what they’re saying to present a kind of positive and likable self-image on Facebook.”
She and fellow psychologist Joanne V. Wood collected the 10 most recent status updates from 177 undergraduate volunteers who had completed the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale. A team of objective “readers” then rated the updates based on how positive or negative they were.
People with low self-esteem posted far more negative updates than those with high self-esteem. Forest says they described a host of unhappy sentiments, from seemingly minor things like having a terrible day or being frustrated with class schedules to more extreme feelings of rage and sorrow.
Furthermore, I don’t think being bombarded with the apparent success and happiness of everyone else will improve your own self-worth. Speaking from experience, people with low self-esteem often have a tendency to overstate the joy of others, feeling as if the rest of the world is normal and well-adjusted while they struggle to get by. Facebook only amplifies this perception further, as being in large groups – be they physical or digital – exacerbates the sense of loneliness endemic to many emotional and mental problems.
But what about if you don’t suffer from low self-confidence and the like?
On the other hand, those with a healthy dose of self-esteem often wrote about being happy, excited or thankful for something.
When researchers asked people rating the updates if they wanted to get to know those who wrote the negative posts, the answer was a resounding no.
Researchers even looked at actual Facebook friends because, Forest says, “you might think that a real friend would care if you’re expressing negativity.” It turned out actual friends didn’t like the negative posts, either. The posts actually backfired, neither winning the author new friends nor generating good feelings.
As the saying goes, “laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone.” People have a natural aversion to negativity, which is what makes depression even more frustrating: not only do you have to struggle with your own internal emotional problems, but you’re unable to express yourself or seek out help without feeling burdensome or annoying.
This kind of rejection might also have to do with the nature of Facebook, which many people view as the wrong place to share personal or emotional matters. Even though social media has become so ingrained in the everyday lives of millions of people, there is still a widespread perception that because it’s the internet, it’s not a serious and appropriate venue for communicating such things. Plus, there is the usual inclination to assume that such comments are merely “attention baiting.”
But this issue gets trickier.
Even for people with high self-esteem, aspects of Facebook can be difficult, according to mental health professionals — for example, if other people get lots of “likes” or thumbs-up on their posts and yours don’t, or if friends post photos that you’re not in.
The bottom line for everyone — no matter how much self-esteem you have — is to be selective about what you put on Facebook, says Dr. Mike Brody, a psychiatrist at the University of Maryland and in private practice. Especially since posts live in cyberspace forever.
Exactly. I’d also add that people need to build up their confidence and work on their insecurities. If not, avoid Facebook, or any other site for that matter, that will make you feel more unhappy then you already are. Keep in mind that social media, like most things, is a double-edged sword: for all it’s faults, Facebook and its ilk is great at connecting you to like-minded people. There exist groups and forums where people with certain interests, conditions, or ideas can come together and relate. You just have to learn how to adapt to the web and make the most of its benefits, while avoiding the pitfalls as best you can.