Facebook is a world phenomenon that may be causing unnecessary psychological distress. With over 1 billion month active users, Facebook continues to grow each year. From 2012 to 2013, the site saw a 22 percent increase in traffic. Nearly 50 percent of 18 to 34 year olds check Facebook immediately upon waking up. Seven million integrated applications and games, including the wildly popular Farmville, make it possible to spend one’s entire day browsing the multinational website. While a space online wherein one can network with their most presentable façade is highly profitable, making a little over 5 billion dollars in 2012, little is known regarding how the site may affect users’ mental state.
An article written on PsychCentral references a few recent studies that point to the negative psychological impacts Facebook can have on daily users. One study reportedly tracked the association between self-esteem and time spent on Facebook, finding that some users’ lack of self-confidence translated into a near-obsession over how they were presenting on the social networking site. A few studies mentioned by the author, Marissa Maldonald, revealed that sites with constant feedback, like Facebook, can create anxiety. Many users reported feeling inadequate, which caused stress, yet, in an apparent Catch-22, an inability to access Facebook’s news feed became a source of anguish as well.
In another paradox, a study found that, while many prefer to view others over the internet, doing so may actually increase social anxiety upon meeting other individuals. Researchers suggested this increase in social anxiety may arise from an unconscious mental comparison between the individual viewed and the individual doing the viewing. For some, this mental comparison via Facebook becomes a source of overwhelming psychological distress. Maldonald cites another study in which a correlation is made between the time spent on Facebook and a feeling of loneliness. The study appeared to prevent the results from being influenced by a trend that one might assume in this case – that those who are more depressed would then turn to Facebook.
Another study posted by Science Daily found an association between an individual’s sense of self-worth and the amount of interaction they received on Facebook. Those who were repeatedly ignored on Facebook seemed to experience psychological distress. While it seems implied in the genre of website to which Facebook belongs, social networking, many users may forget that the feeling of community gained from Facebook, no matter how illusory, may be making an impact on their mental well-being.
A British anthropologist has proposed a flip side to the abovementioned ails, however. Robin Dunbar states that Facebook slows the rate at which friendships deteriorate over long distances. People stay in touch with old, far-away friends longer because of the social networking website. On Businessinsider, Selena Larson found a midway point between the psychological distress that may have been caused by Facebook and its potential networking capabilities by choosing to monitor her privacy settings and tailor her friends list to include only those she trusts. Larson has also taken it upon herself to reach out to friends and family in real life, rather than relying on the impersonal interactions over Facebook.
By James Ryder