A new study claims it has found the ‘missing link’ between Facebook use and feeling down in the dumps
Social media’s reputation has taken quite a battering recently, with seemingly endless criticism of our obsession with cyber-reality hitting the headlines this year (not to mention some pretty thought-provoking artwork, photography, commercials and music videos on the subject).
Scientists have warned us that Facebook messes with your brain and can cause depression and loneliness, while selfies have been linked to narcissism, addiction and mental illness. One study even concluded that becoming obsessed with capturing the perfect image of yourself is more dangerous to your health than using cannabis (although if you read True Activist regularly, this probably won’t surprise you much). Now, a new study by Sauder School of Business at the University of British Colombia has found that Facebook can contribute to a “decrease in mental well being,” and the key factor is envy.
Professor Izak Benbasat and his team just released a paper that claims to have found the “missing link” between social media use and adverse mental health issues. Entitled ‘Why Following Friends Can Hurt You: Empirical Investigation of the Effects of Envy on Social Networking Sites’, it warns that social media use can invoke jealousy, which contributes to overall negativity and could lead to some of the more serious mental health issues mentioned above. Benbasat explains:
“Social media participation has been linked to depression, anxiety and narcissistic behaviour, but the reasons haven’t been well-explained. We found envy to be the missing link. It’s important for people to know what impact it can have on their well-being. Parents and teachers should take note as young people can be particularly vulnerable to the dark side of social media.”
Benbasat and his co-authors surveyed 1,193 Facebook users at a German university. They asked students a series of questions about their Facebook habits and cross-referenced them with the feelings they reported when using the platform. The team found that looking at how amazing someone else’s life is can throw us into turmoil about our own existence- what they refer to as a “vicious cycle of jealousy and self-importance.”
Benbasat claims holiday photographs are the most dangerous kind of Facebook post, but it could be anything: your colleague has a new baby when you’ve been trying for years, your friend is celebrating a promotion but you’re stuck in a job you hate, some guy you hardly remember from high school never stops posting about how in love he is, and you’ve just been dumped.
The question is, wouldn’t we have these feelings of envy if social media didn’t exist? Possibly yes, but maybe not on the same scale. Using social media means connecting with a much larger number of people than you ever would in your daily life. And while it’s unlikely that social media will ever go away, Benbasat warns that we should be aware of what scrolling down that newsfeed could do to our mood. Ultimately, though, even he admits his team’s study probably won’t change a thing:
“Sharing pictures and stories about the highlights of your life – that’s so much of what Facebook is for, so you can’t take that away,” he said.
What do you think? Is this a lot of fuss about nothing, or do you think we would all be happier without social media? Who is to blame for feelings of jealousy: the poster, the voyeur, or platforms like Facebook which passively encourage this kind of negative comparison? Let us know your thoughts below!
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