The recent boom of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have taken personal relationships and communication to an entirely new level. It takes seconds to see what your friends are “up to” by glancing at the continuous Facebook newsfeed filled with status updates and shared posts. I’ll have to admit… it’s a bit addicting. Maybe I’m just a nosey person, but I think most people would agree it is quite exciting to view the fun activities and experiences occurring in your friends’ lives! Social media has made maintaining friendships easier than ever, and allows for global connection at any time of the day. While viewing the thrilling status updates of your friends can be genuinely enjoyable, it can also be genuinely upsetting. Witnessing pictures your peers soaking up the sun on the beaches of Punta Cana, playing with their adorable babies, or achieving fabulous awards can make the mundane view from behind your desk seem all the more mediocre.
According to a recent study from Mai-Ly Steers at the University of Houston, “liking other people’s status updates and photos on Facebook could make you like yourself less.” The study measured the correlation between Facebook usage, depressive symptoms, and comparison rates amongst users; researchers found the more time spent using and comparing social networking lives leads to strong depressive feelings. The idea of social comparison is not new, but is made significantly easier through new technology. However, should users really feel the need to compare their lives to what is posted on social media? Looks can certainly be deceiving, especially when one has the ability to pick and choose what events qualify to be worthy of social media. Steers claims in her study:
“One danger is that Facebook often gives us information about our friends that we are not normally privy to, which gives us even more opportunities to socially compare,” Steers said. “You can’t really control the impulse to compare because you never know what your friends are going to post. In addition, most of our Facebook friends tend to post about the good things that occur in their lives, while leaving out the bad. If we’re comparing ourselves to our friends’ ‘highlight reels,’ this may lead us to think their lives are better than they actually are and conversely, make us feel worse about our own lives.”
In Marwick’s brilliant book, “Status Update”, she describes how society utilizes social media in order to cultivate status. Users create their “best selves” by posting the meaningful accomplishments of their lives, and neglecting to share the not-so-perfect moments. Maintaining an appealing online reputation is important for most users, and enhancing this online self includes posting updates that expound every day life. Online status updates fail to include the average and even disappointing moments of every day life; no one wants to share information that could harm the lofty image they have worked to create! While it is tough to forget, online “best” selves are solely a representation of the “best” moments of life that are unreasonable of comparison. Social media users that are already impacted with emotional difficulties can often feel more isolated when viewing the distorted lives of their counterparts; hopefully this research will lead to a greater realization of the destructive potential of social media websites that allow for social comparison, and instigate further research in the emotional effects of modern technology.
So the next time you are feeling less than adequate while scrolling through your Facebook timeline, remember: those adorable babies cry, beach vacations quickly end, and no one EVER mentions how many embarrassing attempts it took to achieve the perfect “selfie”.