Facebook Causes Misery

Facebook is to blame for a veritable Medusa’s raft of negative emotional outcomes, according to a study conducted by researchers at two German universities, including envy, resentment, low-self esteem, loneliness, frustration and anger, which can be neatly summed up under the general designation “misery.”

According to Reuters, researchers from Humboldt University’s Institute of Information Systems and Darmstadt’s Technical University surveyed 600 Facebook users and found that one third felt worse after visiting the site. The study, titled “Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction?” will be published in February.

The most prominent negative outcome was a feeling of dissatisfaction with their own lives, which was most commonly triggered by -- surprise-- people posting photos of their fabulous vacations online (needless to say, most people choose to represent their vacations, as other aspects of their lives, in the most positive light possible; thus you tend to find few pictures of, say, the bathroom wall as viewed during epic bouts of intestinal distress). The second most common trigger of negative emotions was seeing how many birthday greetings, “likes” and comments other users receive.

Different groups had different triggers: thus people in their mid-30s were most likely to have feelings of envy after seeing other users’ pictures of their happy families. Female users were most likely to feel envy based on other women’s physical attractiveness.

This isn’t the first study suggesting Facebook can trigger feelings of unhappiness and low self-worth. Last year I wrote about study by the University of Salford in Britain which found negative outcomes from social media use including feelings of insecurity or lack of confidence when users compared their achievements to their friends; fully two-thirds of users with negative outcomes said the psychological distress made it hard to relax or fall asleep after being on a social media site. Last year I also wrote about a study by Utah Valley University sociologists which found that students who spend a lot of time on Facebook are relatively more likely to perceive other people as having better lives than themselves.

As always, my advice to anyone afflicted with these feelings comes straight from the Tao Te Ching, as translated by Stephen Mitchell:  “In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present. When you are content to be simply yourself and don't compare or compete, everybody will respect you.”

2 comments about " Facebook Causes Misery".
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  1. Susan Breidenbach from Broadbrook Associates, January 22, 2013 at 2:43 p.m.

    Not competing flies in the face of our survival instincts. But we should channel these instincts productively, by comparing and competing against only our own previous best efforts. There have been some studies suggesting that social media is forcing more honesty on people--you can only maintain an exaggerated facade for so long, and then you have to start living up to it. Facebook types of platforms can have the same benefits as journaling--holding you accountable to yourself by constantly facing up to what you are--and, more to the point, are NOT--accomplishing. We humans are still adapting to this digital age, but this genie is not going back into the bottle. Responding negatively to what we see on social media may be a signal that we need to change and grow--which is always uncomfortable, not matter how ultimately beneficial. Don't shoot the messenger! Reaction to social media content is kind of a 21st-Century version of the tests in Martin Seligman's work that show whether an individual is emotionally optimistic or pessimistic at the core. Anyway, thank you for getting us thinking about a very important topic.

  2. Hannah Paramore from Paramore|Redd Online Marketing, January 22, 2013 at 3:31 p.m.

    It's not Facebook that's causing the misery. It's our own lack of self-confidence combined with people's tendencies to do the most unattractive things on FB, like bragging, spying, and emoting.

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