There are two apparently conflicting opinions when it comes to Facebook and the affect that it can have on our well-being and happiness.
Facebook makes us feel better…
Many researchers believe that the internet can increase feelings of happiness, social support and being connected to others (Deters & Mehl, 2012; Ellison et al, 2007; LaRose et al, 2001), and some research suggests that Facebook use can reduce feelings of loneliness (Deters & Mehl, 2012).
Facebook makes us feel worse…
Other researchers believe that Facebook use can lead to feelings of sadness, envy, inadequacy and increased loneliness. You might be thinking ‘how can you feel lonely on a social networking site – it’s designed to connect you to other people. Surely logging in and seeing all of your friends newsfeeds should combat loneliness not lead to it?’
Well, maybe in some scenarios but not always! For example:
- Imagine if your Facebook ‘friends’ are not really ‘friends’ at all – perhaps they are acquaintances at best, strangers at worst! Calling shallow relationships ‘friendships’ could lead to feelings of being alone. Refer to my previous blog post on Facebook ‘friends’.
- Or maybe you log in and all of your friends (real or otherwise) are posting photos of the parties they have been to, or happily chatting away about their new date, their engagement, marriage or pregnancy. Meanwhile, you are going through a dry spell on the social front and haven’t been having much luck in the dating department either. Rather than sharing your friends positive feelings, witnessing their happiness may actually make you feel down about your own life.
- Perhaps you are feeling a little tight for cash lately and you log on to Facebook and your newsfeed is filled with photos and statuses about your friends latest shopping sprees or their new car, new house, new pet etc. This could lead to feelings of sadness, frustration and envy.
So what’s the deal?
You are probably wondering how some research suggests Facebook increases loneliness and some suggests that it decreases it… Good question!
The answer may lie in how individuals use Facebook.
Burke, Marlow and Lento (2010) found evidence to suggest that active Facebook use can be beneficial, whereas passive Facebook use may be detrimental. i.e., users who logged in and participated by commenting, uploading their own content or posting a new status tended to see positive effects of their use. Whereas, those users who logged in and simply browsed the content, without interacting, tended to see more negative effects.
It is likely that these effects are tied to the individual’s feeling of social connectedness:
Interacting + conversing with your Facebook ‘friends’ = more likely to feel part of the group + more socially connected = reduced loneliness + positive emotion.
Browsing/Lurking + no interaction = increased chance of feeling socially excluded = increased loneliness + negative emotion.
So, should you embrace Facebook or avoid it?
Facebook, like many other things, is a combination of positive and negative. No-one can tell you whether it is a good or bad thing for you personally, except you!
If you enjoy Facebook and you generally log off feeling happy or at least relaxed and not riled by the things that you have seen online – then keep using it. Alternatively, if you find yourself in a foul mood everytime you log off or you find yourself thinking “I wish I hadn’t bothered” then perhaps you need to reevaluate whether Facebook is worth having in your life or at least limit how much you use it!
Alternatively, how about thinking about how you use Facebook, e.g., are you an active or passive user? Perhaps by becoming more involved you will increase your feelings of social connectedness with the others in your network and this may in turn increase your enjoyment of the site.
Either way, if you have previously experienced feelings of sadness or envy after using Facebook perhaps it’s not advisable to log in when you are feeling depressed about yet another bad date or not being able to afford that luuurrrvveeelllyyy pair of shoes that you want… 😉