Facebook often feels like gym class in elementary school to me. It has all the same scenarios, really: Friends and activities that boost our self-esteem and well-being, and others who just make us feel like we’re the last one picked for the kickball team all over again.
For starters, there are those students who are adept in athletics and want to show off in front of other students. Let’s call them the braggers on Facebook–you know, the ones who are always posting about how “perfect” their kids are, and how unbelievably happy or in shape or wealthy they are. They just got a huge promotion, won a local 5K race, went on para-sailing in Hawaii and bought a really expensive new car.
Then there are those students who are more active than others in PE. They enjoy the camaraderie and being let loose to play. Those are the Facebook users who are constantly updating their status and “liking” everyone else’s–even “friends” who they don’t really know. All of which is nice, but it makes you wonder: Don’t they work?
And we all remember those students in gym class who were socially awkward. You know, the ones who were shy, lacked confidence and were insecure about changing in the locker room because they didn’t want anyone looking at them. Maybe they were the one who accidentally scored in the wrong goal at the last soccer game or split their pants on the trampoline (that actually happened to me once). These are the Facebook users who are equally awkward online. They don’t know what to post, but with the pressure of putting something, anything, out there, they end up saying something that makes you go, “Huh?”
And just like in grade school, the type of person we are on Facebook and the type of “friends” we have on there can affect how we feel about ourselves, according to three new studies. That’s because social media has become a grounds for comparing ourselves to others and measuring our self-worth–all the things that, like it or not, gym class did for us back in grade school.
In research presented earlier this month at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychologists (SPSP) in San Diego, researchers found that adding new friends initially can make us feel cheery and connected, but over time, having a lot of friends is associated with feeling worse about our life. It’s not that Facebook itself is harmful–just like PE class wasn’t harmful, but it provides a place for people to indulge in self-destructive behavior, such as showcasing their own weaknesses or comparing their lives to others.
Take status updates, for instance. Most people know that their Facebook friends tend to craft these updates so they put their lives in the best light, according to the researchers. We know this; we know people embellish, brag and try to show that they have the ideal life. But when it comes down to it, seeing these status updates still make us feel bad. It’s a “downer” to look at these, the scientists concluded. That’s because, hearing someone talk about how great their life is only makes us question why ours isn’t equally as great.
The researchers concluded that the more friends we have online, the more vulnerable we were to this type of self-comparison. A small number of friends (less than 354) was shown to have a lower probability of viewing others as showing off. Also, the more we log on to Facebook and read these look-how-great-my-life-is status updates, the worse we felt about our own life and our own achievements.
All of this comparison to others can take its toll. The researchers discovered that the more we viewed Facebook and compared our lives to others, the more likely we are to suffer from depression, low self-esteem and negative attitudes.
The bottom line: You don’t have to dump your Facebook account or start defriending people who are using this as a platform to brag or showcase their every achievement. Just be aware that showing off on Facebook happens, and it doesn’t mean we are any less of a person. Just like being picked last for kickball didn’t mean we were either.