Facebook is the world’s leading social media platform, which probably means it’s also one of the main reasons you hate your life.
A University of British Columbia study released over the Thanksgiving holiday found that Facebook posts contribute to negative feelings including lower self-worth, but mostly jealousy.
Previous studies have linked social media use to narcissism, depression, and anxiety, but haven’t quite uncovered why, according to Izak Benbasat, a information systems researcher and UBC business professor and co-author of the study.
The study, “Why Following Friends Can Hurt You” and published in Information Systems Research, evaluated survey responses from 1,193 German university students regarding their Facebook habits and emotions felt while using the social network.
Facebook does make people feel good: 38 percent of respondents said using the social network felt pleasurable. But when asked which emotion they felt most when using Facebook, “envy” was the most common response.
But students didn’t immediately identify with feeling envious, Benbasat told ThinkProgress. “If we asked people directly ‘What do you feel?’ only 25 percent mention envy.” That number jumps to 50 percent when asked about general feelings, he said, “The truth is somewhere in the middle.”
Posts about leisure and travel triggered those feelings of inadequacy and envy the most — 63 percent of the time, compared to 18 percent of the time when mentioned offline.
“Most of the time people on Facebook are trying to show their good sides, not their bad sides,” Benbasat said. “When envy goes up, emotional and social well-being comes down,” increasing feelings of loneliness, sadness and stress.
Millennials are particularly susceptible to feeling unhappy because of the disparities between one’s life expectations, economic reality, and disillusioned portrayals on social media.
Internet communication already reduces inhibitions, which can lead to aggressive, inflammatory, and violent language or behavior that wouldn’t be exhibited in person. The worry is that young adults and teens are most susceptible to these negative feelings evoked by social media use.
“From other studies, we know that feelings of envy are higher when you are younger” and dissipate when you get older, Benbasat said.
Facebook was previously linked to mental health. A collaborative study from Cambridge University and Stanford University linked Facebook ‘likes’ to personality traits including openness and neuroses.
To cope with those feelings, however, people sometimes react by making themselves look good in subsequent posts. “There is a reaction to when people feel envious they will post good, pleasant information about themselves.”
The study left some questions unanswered such as how long the negative feelings lasted after using Facebook, or how posts with text versus video or photo contributed to those feelings — topics that could be tackled in a follow-up study, Benbasat said.
Because increased social media use dampens moods, taking breaks or measures to balance that could help. According to a study published by the Danish Happiness Research Institute, people who stopped using Facebook for a week felt their quality of life improved 10 percent. There are also apps that work to counteract the damaging affects of social media by allowing users to track their mood.
But the takeaway from “Why Following Friends Can Hurt You” isn’t that everyone should drop Facebook, but bringing awareness and education to Facebook and its more than a billion users.
“There’s some positive. All technology has a positive side and a negative side from the beginning of computerization,” Benbasat said.
But the question is are people aware of the “affect their posting will have” on others, and if they do, is it deliberate and narcissistic? Moreover, he said, “If there is a downside to technology use, what can we do about it? How can we alleviate the problem?”