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The Threat of Facebook: Connecting or Comparing?

People have been leaving Facebook in droves over the past several months, and a Huffington post article released earlier this year listed 11 reasons you should quit Facebook in 2014.  Though Facebook isn’t bad, and for many of us has allowed us to connect and re-connect with friends and family, the reasons are valid.

They range from the very true: “Facebook makes it impossible for you to stay ‘private”

…to the more humorous (yet also true): “Your parents (and even grandparents) are now watching your every mood…or they’re posting photos of you that you would never want anyone to see.”

But some of these reasons, like #6, show that time spent on Facebook could affect your outlook on life and consequently, your mental health:

6. Facebook makes you feel less positive about your life.

A recent study from Utah Valley University found that people who use Facebook all the time viewed their lives as more negatively.  Of the 400 students questioned, “those who have used Facebook longer agreed more that others were happier, and agreed less that life is fair, and those spending more time on Facebook each week agreed more that others were happier and had better lives.”

A second study done by Timothy Wilson at the University of Virginia showed that the more time people spent browsing Facebook, as opposed to actively creating content and engaging with it, the more envious they felt.

In other words, the more time we spend Facebook “stalking”, the more likely we are to compare our lives to the lives of our friends.  And unfortunately, our lives always seem to fall short. Why is that?

The researchers pointed out that people manipulate their images on social media to project whatever they wish, which often means a more superficial image, or just the best moments.  And, no matter how well we do it, if everyone is putting out these superficial images, it is certain that many of our friends will appear to be in cooler places doing more exciting things, whether they are getting engaged or eating at that hip new organic  restaurant downtown with their best friend.

A Tufts student said:

 “I realized that with Facebook, I was always presented the shiny presentation of people’s lives as they wanted it to be presented. Despite my knowledge that those were not real representations of people, I would still find myself comparing myself to other people’s lives, and that’s a really horrible way to think about yourself. It’s a very quick road to unhappiness.”

So how can we avoid being slowly crushed under the weight of comparison?  There seem to be two options:

  1. Leave Facebook completely – a road that many have chosen.
  2. Limit your time – If you’re like me and aren’t ready to take the plunge, consider limiting the amount of time you spend on Facebook, or maybe take a brief hiatus from the social networking site.  A break may help you remember what things you enjoy doing, and restore a more positive outlook on life.

As singer/songwriter Ellie Holcomb said, “comparison is the thief of my joy.”   Let’s not let Facebook encourage us to compare, and instead hold on to the joy we each have as unique individuals in our distinct situations doing worthwhile things – whether or not those things get shared on Facebook.

  • ifer0105

    Interesting! I wonder if social media literacy will start becoming something we teach our kids. In the same way that in high school I learned all about models and photoshopping and the ways the industry manipulates the vision of reality, I think perhaps there are ways we can teach kids about reality v, social media. Also ways to use the different features on facebook to hide users or content that makes you feel bad. It seems like social media like facebook is probably not going anywhere and we need to know how to use it.

  • gtripicc

    I feel that I have this dilemma all the time. Should I just quit Facebook since I don't share much and get annoyed by the inflated view others post? Should I stay because I've moved away from family and friends and it's easy to stay in touch? I think Facebook has become so commonplace that leaving all together has become unrealistic for many people. Also, I think the fact that your profile never gets completely erased makes people even more likely to stay active. In order to make my account more functional, I have started following my favorite companies, news sources, brands etc. so my newsfeed becomes a mixture of information. I have also added my important friends to "Favorites" so I can selectively view their updates without swimming through other people's statuses. Everyone should make considerations for what would make their Facebook interactions more positive, since it's not an easy habit to shake.

  • amandamezer

    This is an excellent point. My personal dilemma is that my career is very social media based, so I have to balance what will be best for my career, what will be best for my personal life and how to keep in touch with friends and family. If people are leaving facebook and going elsewhere, will that trend disappear in the future too? I know MySpace was quite popular about 10 years ago, but suddenly everyone was on facebook and not on MySpace. Are we chasing trends? If people are leaving facebook, does that mean they are getting off social media or are they going to another company? If they are going to another company, wouldn't the problems of being on facebook be the same for these other companies?

  • Smazzucca926

    I think these are all excellent points. It really is a hard decision to leave Facebook, especially when you use it to stay in touch with family and friends who live far from you! It seems to me that there are certain people that I'm friends with on Facebook that go way overboard with manipulating the way they present their "perfect life," and those are the ones that may make me want to compare myself to people, or just get annoyed to have to read another post about their amazing lives. So, I've tried to pare down my friend list and news feed, which has helped me manage these types of problems. I think the point above about this being a problem on multiple social media platforms is a good one, though. It's easy to single out Facebook, but we'll need to be mindful of that on other outlets as well.

  • evardell

    Interesting discussion! I also wonder what makes Facebook unique in terms of comparing yourself to other people. People have been striving to "Keep up with the Jones'" for generations. What makes Facebook magnify this effect? I feel like this train of thought can be carried through many of the negative sides of social media, including online bullying, etc.