Facebook is, no doubt, an effective medium. But it is increasingly becoming a platform for people to boast or showcase their achievements. Get on to Facebook and you are inundated with photos and posts depicting other people’s seemingly perfect families and lives. Reading walls and walls of these, however, has the tendency to make you miserable if your circumstances are not that favourable or if you have fallen behind your peers.
As researchers observed, boastful Facebook posts can induce feelings of envy and lead to unrealistic social comparisons that in turn bring down your mood and level of wellbeing. It can even lead to depression.
In The blog, Dr Mercola puts the various studies together: A new study of more than 1,000 people in Denmark revealed causal evidence that “Facebook affects our well-being negatively.” Facebook users who took a one week break from the site reported significantly higher levels of satisfaction and a significantly improved emotional life, the study revealed.
Such gains were greatest among heavy Facebook users, those who used the site passively (lurking but not necessarily interacting with others) and those who tended to envy others on Facebook.
If you’re a regular Facebook user interested in increasing your wellbeing, it might not be necessary to quit the site for good, however. The researchers suggested that making adjustments in your usage behaviour could be enough to prompt positive change:
“To make things clear, if one is a heavy Facebook user, one should use Facebook less to increase one’s wellbeing. And if one tends to be envious when on Facebook, one should avoid browsing the sections (or specific friends) on Facebook causing this envy.
And if one uses Facebook passively, one should reduce this kind of behaviour. Due to habits, practicalities and potential ‘forecasting errors,’ it may be difficult to change one’s way of using Facebook. If this is the case, one should consider quitting Facebook for good.”
People expect to feel better after using Facebook but don’t
The aforementioned “forecasting errors” the researchers spoke of refer to a past study which found that people expect to feel better after Facebook use, “whereas, in fact, they feel worse.”
This makes perfect sense, because if everyone expected Facebook to make them feel awful, they’d probably stop using it. Yet, on some level, many realise that using Facebook puts a damper on their mood.
Part of this is due to a feeling of having wasted time, according to a Computers in Human Behaviour study, which also found that Facebook activity (but not internet browsing) is associated with a dampened mood.
Another study, conducted by researchers from Lancaster University in England, examined studies from 14 countries to explore the connection between Facebook usage and depression.
“The relationship between online social networking and symptoms of depression may be complex and associated with multiple psychological, social, behavioural and individual factors,” they noted. It was found that negative comparisons with others on Facebook were predictive of depression because they increased rumination.
Likewise, frequent posting on Facebook was also associated with increased rumination and depression. Women were more likely to become depressed than men due to Facebook usage. In addition, Facebook users were more at risk of depression if they displayed the following: Were envious after observing others; accepted former partners as Facebook friends; made negative social comparisons; made frequent negative status updates.
Social comparison may be the root of Facebook’s evil
University of Houston researchers also explored Facebook’s emotional effects and found a link between usage of the site and symptoms of depression, which, among men, was associated with the tendency to make social comparisons (i.e., to compare yourself with others).
In a second study, however, it turned out that social comparison was significantly associated with depressive symptoms in both men and women.
It had previously been shown that upward social comparisons (comparing yourself to someone more successful or attractive than you) tend to make people feel worse, while downward comparisons may make you feel better.
This study found, however, that both types of social comparisons on Facebook, as well as neutral comparison, were linked to a greater likelihood for depressive symptoms.
Study author Mai-Ly Steers, Ph.D., told Forbes: “You should feel good after using Facebook … However … the unintended consequence is that if you compare yourself to your Facebook friends’ ‘highlight reels,’ you may have a distorted view of their lives and feel that you don’t measure up to them, which can result in depressive symptoms.
“If you’re feeling bad rather than good after using Facebook excessively, it might be time to reevaluate and possibly step away from the keyboard.”
Separate research also hinted at the downfall of making social comparisons via Facebook. In the study of 269 pregnant women, those with a Facebook account had higher body image concerns than those without a Facebook account.
Researchers wrote in the journal Midwifery: “Of those with an account, increased Facebook use was associated with increased body image dissatisfaction, particularly in terms of postnatal concerns for how their body would look with 56.5 per cent reporting that they frequently compared their pregnant body to other pregnant women on the site.”
To be fair, Facebook isn’t all bad, especially if you’re able to use it in moderation and keep others’ posts in perspective.
Some research has even found that viewing your own Facebook profile may improve self-esteem (although other research contradicts this, suggesting that seeking reassurance via Facebook leads to lower self-esteem, “which in turn predicted increased feelings that one does not belong and that one is a burden”).
Facebook wants you to spend more time on their site
Facebook isn’t content to have the average user spend “just” 50 minutes a day. They’d rather it become a platform that’s on all day to become basically a background for your life. As The New York Times reported: “Facebook, naturally, is busy cooking up ways to get us to spend even more time on the platform.
“A crucial initiative is improving its News Feed, tailoring it more precisely to the needs and interests of its users, based on how long people spend reading particular posts.
“For people who demonstrate a preference for video, more video will appear near the top of their news feed. The more time people spend on Facebook, the more data they will generate about themselves, and the better the company will get at the task.”
It’s important to be aware too, for yourself and your children, that using Facebook exposes you to a lot of advertising — advertising targeted to your habits and interests.
Facebook uses sophisticated tools to track your interests, who you talk with and what you say. This includes information about your age, gender, income level and a phenomenal number of other specifics that allow advertisers to target exactly who they believe will click on their ads. While some ads may be harmless, others, like drug ads, can have more sinister effects.
So, while social media sites like Facebook can provide a wonderful platform for friends and family to socialise and share photos and events, it is important to keep their use in perspective. Pay attention to how such sites make you feel, and if you feel worse after browsing Facebook, consider signing off permanently.