It's tempting to think of Facebook as a place you go to feel good about yourself. After all, you're surrounded by friends, people "like" what you say, and it makes you feel like you're socializing, even though you're alone in your apartment not wearing any pants. But a new study has found that actually Facebook brings out the worst in people with low self-esteem.
The study, which will be published in Psychological Science, found that people on Facebook who don't have good self-esteem, "seem to behave counterproductively, bombarding their friends with negative tidbits about their lives and making themselves less likeable." Oops. Anyone else fighting the impulse to go delete every status they've ever posted?
Amanda Forest, the grad student who conducted the research at the University of Waterloo, said she and her coauthor, Joanne Wood, began the study expecting to find that "Facebook could be a really fantastic place for people to strengthen their relationships." One study they conducted found that people with low self-esteem assumed the same thing about Facebook and perceived it "as a safe place that reduces the risk of awkward social situations." Yeah, no.
The second bit of research focused on what people actually posted on Facebook. Participants provided their last 10 status updates, and a coder rated them for being positive or negative. The coder also indicated how much they liked the person based on the status updates. On the whole, people with low self-esteem posted more negative updates, and the coders liked them less.
What's interesting is when the low self-esteem folks posted something positive, the study found that they received more responses from their Facebook friends than they did for the less positive ones. Maybe because people try to reward happy thoughts from an otherwise negative soul? The opposite was true for people with high self-esteem. They got more responses to negative status updates, probably because people know if they're complaining something really must be wrong.
Despite the fact that they were clearly coming off as fairly unlikeable, the low self-esteemers felt comfortable making their feelings known on Facebook, which didn't help them become any more likeable. As Forest explains, "If you're talking to somebody in person and you say something, you might get some indication that they don't like it, that they're sick of hearing your negativity." But on Facebook, you never see the majority of people's reactions because they don't "like" something or comment on it unless they feel strongly.
So if someone finds you a bit of a downer, they're probably not going to jump at the chance to post that observation for everyone to see. You"ll carry on thinking you're doing just fine, having a good time, and then suddenly you notice you're no longer friends with someone. Defriending might be the ultimate way that Facebook gets you—though the study didn't cover it. Taking an obsessive inventory of everyone who's ever unfriended you ought to generate enough self-loathing to inspire at least a few negative status updates, and then you'll be in a vicious circle, spiraling out of control until eventually there'll be nobody left to "like" you at all.
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