Why logging on to Facebook can bring you down
With more than 1 billion active users sharing 30 billion pieces of content a month, Facebook has become one of the most popular sites on the Internet and one of the largest social information databases in the world. On the face of it, it appears to benefit our mental health: it allows old friends to find each other, and new ones to keep in touch, for instance. However, according to a recent European study, more than one-third of respondents surveyed experience negative feelings - such as frustration - after using the site. Meanwhile, other users find themselves caught in a negative spiral of 'Facebook envy', as they try to keep up with their friends' perceived achievements online.
Conducted by the Department of Information Systems (at Technische Universität (TU) Darmstadt) and the Institute of Information Systems (at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), the study involved 584 Facebook users who spent between 5 and 30 minutes on the site daily. More than one-third of respondents reported predominantly negative feelings, such as frustration, in response to questions about their feelings after using the platform. The researchers identified that envying their 'Facebook friends' is the major reason for this result.
Project manager Dr Hanna Krasnova, currently a post-doctoral researcher at the Humboldt-Universität, explains their findings: 'Although respondents were reluctant to admit feeling envious while on Facebook, they often presumed that envy can be the cause behind the frustration of "others" on this platform - a clear indication that envy is a salient phenomenon in the Facebook context. Indeed, access to copious positive news and the profiles of seemingly successful "friends" fosters social comparison that can readily provoke envy. By and large, online social networks allow users unprecedented access to information on relevant others - insights that would be much more difficult to obtain offline.'
What¿s more, passive Facebook users, i.e. those who used the site primarily as a source of information - reading friends¿ postings, checking news feeds, or browsing through photos - and who did not use it to engage in any active, interpersonal communications, were particularly subject to these painful experiences.
Their study also discovered that around one in every five of all recent online/offline events that created envy among the respondents took place within a Facebook context. This, in turn, shows the massive presence that this platform has in users - emotional lives. However, this envy can lead to users embellishing their Facebook profiles, which, in turn, provokes envy among other users, a phenomenon that the researchers have termed an 'envy spiral'
The leading cause of online and offline envy provokers in the study were related to travel and leisure. Dr Thomas Widjaja of the TU Darmstadt added: 'This is a result of numerous vacation photos posted on Facebook, which are particularly popular among German users.'
Based on the survey data, the researchers were also able to establish a negative link between the envy experienced while on Facebook, and users¿ general life satisfaction. Co-author Helena Wenninger of the TU Darmstadt said: 'Considering the fact that Facebook use is a worldwide phenomenon and envy is a universal feeling, a lot of people are subject to these painful consequences.'
The results of the survey will be presented at the 11th International Conference Wirtschaftsinformatik (Information Systems) to be held in Leipzig, Germany, from 27 February to 1 March 1. The researchers noted that since most of the respondents in their study were German students, they planned to conduct a follow-on survey exploring Facebook envy and its consequences within various cultures.
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Document Reference: Based on information from the Technische Universität Darmstadt
Subject Index: Information and communication technology applications ; Information, Media; Life Sciences; Medicine, Health; Scientific Research