Facebook gives its 800 million+ users the opportunity to interact and build connections with a variety of people. Given the nature of interactions on the site, including making comments or “liking” others’ posts, Facebook provides a unique forum for those seeking to improve friendships or enhance their self-esteem. As anyone who has used Facebook can tell you, many posts are of the “look at how awesome I am” variety. Clearly, Facebook provides an excellent social outlet for those with high self-esteem; but, it may be less beneficial for their less self-loving counterparts. In a series of three studies set to appear in Psychological Science, Amanda Forest and Joanne Wood of the University of Waterloo examined how individuals with high and low self-esteem used Facebook.1
In the first study, both low and high self-esteem Facebook users saw the site as a good place to express themselves. However, compared to users with high self-esteem, those with low self-esteem perceived Facebook as a “safer” environment that made them feel less self-conscious, perceived more opportunities to connect with others, and thought there were more benefits to self-disclosure on Facebook. These results suggest that low self esteem folks may have different reasons for using Facebook than do high self esteem folks.
Obviously, perceiving advantages of Facebook use and actually reaping benefits from Facebook use are not the same thing. In Study 2, the researchers examined the amount of Facebook usage, the types of posts users made, and how others responded to those posts. Specifically, the researchers had participants show them their 10 most recent status updates, which were then coded for the degree of positivity and negativity expressed in each post. A highly positive post may be something like “I have the greatest job in the world,” whereas a highly negative post would be “seriously, what is going to go wrong next?” A different set of coders, who were strangers to the actual Facebook posters, then rated each post for how much they liked the person who posted it (based solely on the content of the post). Their results indicated that low self-esteem users did not post more frequently or spend more time on Facebook than did high self-esteem users (despite the fact that low self-esteem users see Facebook use as more advantageous). Importantly, posts from those with low self-esteem were more negative (i.e., expressing anger, anxiety, fear, frustration, irritability, and sadness) and less positive (i.e., expressing excitement, gratitude, and happiness). Not surprisingly, raters expressed less liking for the low self-esteem individuals. It seems like low self-esteem individuals Facebook usage is backfiring on them.
Remember, the raters in Study 2 were strangers to the Facebook users; it is possible that people’s real friends would know them well enough to cut them a little slack when making judgments. In Study 3, the researchers tested this possibility by gathering students’ 10 most recent posts, along with the feedback those posts received (i.e. , number of “likes” and comments). More positive posts garnered more likes and comments, especially for low self-esteem users. In contrast, high self-esteem users had more likes and comments when they made a negative post. Across both types of users, Facebook friends were more responsive to posts that were out of the ordinary for the person posting them. This pattern of results contains an important lesson for low self-esteem users: posting negative content does not seem to get the positive response that they may have been seeking. Rather, if a low self-esteem person desired more responses from his or her friends, the better way to achieve those responses is through positive posts.
Overall, these data paint an interesting picture for Facebook’s low self-esteem users. They want to use Facebook and see its potential for helping them make social connections. Yet the way in which they use Facebook, by expressing their negative emotions, is counterproductive because others tend to be less responsive. This in turn, could lead to the low self-esteem individual feeling less connected, further lowering their self-esteem.
So much for the power of Facebook.
Dr. Gary Lewandowski - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Lewandowski's research explores the role of the self in romantic relationships with a specific focus on self-expansion. He has authored dozens of publications for both academic and non-academic audiences and is a member of the Editorial Board for the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.