Hey, kids. Tradge news. I know you thought that your 700 raccoon-eye duckface bathroom self-portraits were establishing you as a rigorous thinker and a pillar of the internet — the Christiane Amanpour of "What's in my purse?", if you will — but, turns out, you're just another "toxic narcissist."
A new study from Western Illinois University found a direct link between Facebook use and entitled, narcissistic behavior among American college students. Broadly, the more Facebook friends you have, the more of a complete dick you are. From the Guardian:
Researchers at Western Illinois University studied the Facebook habits of 294 students, aged between 18 and 65, and measured two "socially disruptive" elements of narcissism – grandiose exhibitionism (GE) and entitlement/exploitativeness (EE).
GE includes ''self-absorption, vanity, superiority, and exhibitionistic tendencies" and people who score high on this aspect of narcissism need to be constantly at the centre of attention. They often say shocking things and inappropriately self-disclose because they cannot stand to be ignored or waste a chance of self-promotion.
The EE aspect includes "a sense of deserving respect and a willingness to manipulate and take advantage of others".
Okay. Obviously the worst thing about this study is that it doesn't mention me A SINGLE TIME.
But really, while it's not doing much more than confirming what we already suspected — study finds that narcissists are narcissists! — this data raises some gnarly questions. Does social media have the potential to transform normals into shallow, self-absorbed, immoral, authoritarian assholes? Or does it merely provide an addictive, very public outlet for people who, in simpler times, displayed their narcissism in less visible ways? Like shouting status updates through their gold-plated speaking-trumpets ("Fie! I simply despise waiting in line at the cobbler's!").
It's not news that young people are narcissistic. I mean, human babies are the most narcissistic fucks on the planet. But that's a personality flaw that tends to diminish as people grow older and smarter and start encountering actual, you know, problems beyond "OMG, my iPad charger is SO GAY." So does it really matter? It's not as though, if they weren't furiously uploading thinspo to Pinterest, all these kids would be volunteering in the Sudan. And even though the whole Kony 2012 epidemic was obviously super obnoxious (finally, a way to make African child soldiers all about MEEEEE!!!), legions of 15-year-olds reposting that stupid video seems at least slightly more productive than the previous iteration — which was, I guess, hushed clutches of self-satisfied rich people sitting in parlors discussing the "Negro problem." At least it's visible. At least it's something.
Soraya Mehdizadeh, who conducted a similar study at Toronto's York University in 2010, told Scientific American that Facebook's echo chamber of attention could [actually, possibly, maybe] be [kind of] a [slightly] good thing [maybe]:
"If individuals with lower self-esteem are more prone to using Facebook," she says, "the question becomes, ‘Can Facebook help raise self-esteem by allowing patients to talk to each other and help each other in a socially interactive environment?' I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing that people with low self-esteem use Facebook."
And, as we noted the other day, a 2008 study concluded that though the narcissists are numerous and obnoxious, their numbers don't seem to be growing. So there's that.
The internet's lack of individual accountability lends itself to a level of emotional transparency that we don't normally have access to, and that can be super helpful. Trolls feel comfortable trolling, terrible people feel completely safe revealing how terrible they are, and the rest of us get a bird's eye view-and how and where to best avoid the fuck out of both.
Image by Jim Cooke.