Researchers at the University of Missouri surveyed more than 700 college students to learn how feelings of envy caused by fixating on other people’s social media posts can transform into a more profound depression. “Surveillance use,” as the study’s authors describe it, represents the most damaging kind of user interaction.
We spoke with several Facebook users around the country to get their thoughts on the pervasive phenomenon.
I love telling Facebook that I did something awesome, and get jealous when I see others doing cool things on Facebook. My friend… disabled his Facebook account – and has stayed off Facebook for years now – all because it made him feel inferior. (And he has nothing to feel inferior about.)
– a nonprofit director in New York City
Yes, I engage in surveillance use of Facebook and have felt envious (but not depressed) at times when seeing others’ posts re: travel, relationships, beauty (i.e. glamorous selfies), and exciting social outings…. Rather than depression, my feelings have been more of “fomo”- the fear of missing out…. Comparing ourselves to others is always dangerous. But comparing ourselves to a simulacra of someone else’s life is impossible!
– a higher ed administrator in the metro-DC area
While researchers are busily studying Facebook, the social network has been studying us. You might recall last summer’s scandal, when Facebook engineers tinkered with the news feeds of nearly 700,000 users. The manipulated content was part of a psychological experiment that looked at how a “happier” or “sadder” newsfeed would affect a user’s emotional state – and by proxy, user behavior.
Public outcry aside, the underlying premise of these studies is one and the same: other people’s virtual mementos can hold enormous sway over our own real-life thoughts and feelings. In some cases, this realization can generate a movement toward social media literacy, etiquette and a kinder, gentler approach to online interactions. Dr. Edson Tandoc, one of the researchers that conducted the University of Missouri study, also nudges readers to remember this key point:
Users should be self-aware that positive self-presentation is an important motivation in using social media, so it is to be expected that many users would only post positive things about themselves.
So the next time you find yourself woefully lacking the car, house, engagement ring, corner office, or newborn that stares out at you from the computer screen, remember that there are scores of psychological factors at play – not only for you the viewer, but for the person doing the posting.
Photo Credit: Antoine K via Flickr