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Facebook use 'makes people feel worse about themselves' (bbc.co.uk)
165 points by tareqak on Aug 15, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 71 comments

82 participants. 3 participants did not complete. 1 person excluded as inconsistent > 4SD.

Study comes down to: Participants were text-messaged 5 times per day between 10am and midnight over 14-days.

""" Each text-message contained a link to an online survey, which asked participants to answer five questions using a slider scale: (1) How do you feel right now? (very positive [0] to very negative [100]; M = 37.47, SD = 25.88); (2) How worried are you right now? (not at all [0] to a lot [100]; M = 44.04, SD = 30.42); (3) How lonely do you feel right now? (not at all [0] to a lot [100]; M = 27.61, SD = 26.13); (4) How much have you used Facebook since the last time we asked? (not at all [0] to a lot [100]; M = 33.90, SD = 30.48); (5) How much have you interacted with other people “directly” since the last time we asked? (not at all [0]to a lot [100]; M = 64.26, SD = 31.11) """

So we have a shaky self-reported study with low (and relatively homogeneous) sample size where it is fairly clear what the researchers are after, spun into an article with link bait title about how Facebook makes you sad. This is news now.

Also, every participant was an undergrad at a single university - not that that's an uncommon thing for psych studies!

in almost every lower division psychology class i took, i remember they forced us to participate in experiments as part of our grade. and not just one or two, either. i remember it was a huge pain in the ass.

one of the many reasons i graduated university with a C average.

To be fair, maybe BBC doesn't have an in-house team of journalists who understand what peer-reviewed rigor looks like...

Okay, yeah, this is crap. I couldn't even devil's advocate that with a straight face. You'd need a sample size of several thousand, a much more rigorous (as always, preferably double-blind assessment) method than self-report, and diversify the sample size with much higher age variation (at the least).

To top it all off, news nowadays doesn't wait for repeat studies to demonstrate reliability of an outcome. It's all, "Holy shit, this thing happened once, linkbait that puppy and put it online."

I remember hearing about a 20th-century study done where a psychology researcher made huge claims about racial intelligence differences based on the number of pebbles he could fit into their skulls. It was widely believed until someone finally tried to repeat it. (My google-fu failed me, if someone else knows this study, feel free to link it).

...or do people use Facebook more when slipping into a more depressed state? Their method is crafted to find the reverse relationship, but I don't think that they properly defended against confusing the two.

I would go easy on the BBC here. The article's title was an accurate summation of the study and they obtained a qualified, third party person to comment on the study.

It's hardly going to win a press award but it is definitely newsworthy.

I don't see how your first sentence relates to your second. Whether the BBC accurately reported on the study doesn't have any bearing on whether the study is newsworthy in the first place.

You are correct, the conclusions of the study are wrong. One name used to describe this phenomenon is "Demand Characteristics" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demand_characteristics

I can relate to this study --- even though I am not a young adult like the subjects of this study.

I stopped using Facebook a few months ago because I couldn't handle how it made me feel. I am bootstrapping a start-up ,working insane hours and depriving my family of the comforts/luxuries that I could have afforded when I had a corporate job. I am really happy that my friends are spending their summer vacation at resorts/beaches etc.; I feel horrible that my kids as stuck at home and they can't have the kind of stuff my friends' buy their kids and it is all my fault. I am not jealous -- I feel guilty and facebook updates from my dearest friends exacerbates my guilt.

So I stopped using Facebook temporarily -- I will be back on it when I can buy stuff. m

Going on Facebook, I see how everyone's social life is better than mine.

Going on Hacker News, I see how everyone's startup is doing better than my failed attempt.

Going on Hackaday, I see how everyone's working on cooler projects than mine.

The only place I feel good about myself is at work.

Gotta learn to love yourself, hombre, because you're stuck with you

There's also the "grass is always greener" complex as well. The perception that what someone else has or does is better than what you do because it's different. It may be true or it could all be in one's mind. To want to always improve is a good thing, but in high doses it can be toxic.

The advice I heard in that respect is that you go to walmart for a couple of hours and just look at the people there.

But on a more serious note, not only beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but sucess also is. There's certainly some artists bias there, and you should become aware of it. You know all of your projects to the bone, with all their belmishes, and even though every one else is amazed at what you do, you think you're bad at it, just because you know every detail of it.

Embrace indifference and you'll feel equally good* about yourself everywhere.        

* or bad. Or meh. Especially meh.

True. Indifference definitely doesn't work for long.

We see what we want to see. Look for the good, it'll change your pov almost immediately.

Everyone publishes the awesome shit they do. Nobody publishes constantly things they suck at, things they failed at, things they won't attain.

Exactly. Don't compare your insides to other people's outsides.

"Don’t Compare Your Behind-the-Scenes to Other People’s Highlight Reel"

Wow, love that line. Source?

I think I first heard it in the movie 28 Days with Sandra Bullock, but I believe it was already a popular saying in AA and other types of self help and therapy.

I find that I'm pretty self-deprecating just about wherever I publish, but I guess that's just showing off how awesome my sense of humor is.

I also post self-deprecating comments, but you're probably a lot better at it than I am.

Heh. Well done.

Personally I publish both the good and bad sides to things going on around me, mainly because I don't believe in whitewashing how things are, and also because I use it to keep in contact with family and friends that are of a distance away.

What I've found is that if there's a stretch where there's a lot of bad news, people will just tune you out, where comments dwindle and activity lessens even when that trend has reversed itself. In my incredibly small and unscientific sample size, it seemed that with negative news, there was a greater chance for people to "tune out", while people I knew that did the "everything is awesome" timelines would have higher then average interaction.

Thought it was interesting at least. I wonder if would be reproducible, or if it's just a weird quirk for the people that I know on there.

I was about to say the same thing! Surviorship Bias. It applies to everything you mentioned (Facebook, HN, HackADay) http://youarenotsosmart.com/2013/05/23/survivorship-bias/

I make it a point to blog about my suckage every day, so that if I ever get successful, there's a nice big chunk of evidence of how a person can suck before getting good at something.

It's not about what you can buy them or the places you can take them.

The only thing you have to be guilty about is allowing yourself to be tricked into thinking that it is.

If you want to go someplace that will make you feel better about not having loads of money you can check out Mr. Money mMustache. http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/ he's very anti-consumerism and doing things the hard way, it isn't for everyone but when I'm tightening the budget he always makes me feel better.

I'm an aspiring mustachian. I bike to work, try to save, and don't eat out often, but I've still got a lot of work to do. Its awesome how seeing someone who is happy with less can make you want to emulate them in some way. Anyway read a few of the popular blogs. I'd suggest http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/05/07/what-do-you-mean-y... as a starting point.

Interesting, I don't normally think of Facebook as being about conspicuous consumption and provider guilt. Now I worry that when I post pictures of doing awesome (often expensive) things with my kids that I'm making people feel worse about themselves.

Would a site that encouraged sharing only the bad stuff that happens make friends/people feel better about themselves?

Manish, keep at it, leadership is about leading yourself, no one gets that except those who get through it and keep going.

The underlying cause of Facebook feeling depressing is that the corpus of Facebook posts you see are not drawn from a random population of moments of your friends' lives. There's an enormous sampling bias created by the sources self-selecting for interesting bits of activity. For every post you see from someone at a hot concert, there's ten other friends who didn't post about their mundane day at work or lazy weekend.

If you have 52 friends who each go on vacation for one week out of the year, then every week Facebook will be showing you somebody's awesome vacation updates. This does not mean that you're missing out or living less life for not being on vacation that particular week.

It's natural to compare our moods and experiences with others. But the self-selected nature of Facebook posts means you'll always be losing that comparison, since you see the highlights and outlying data points in relation to your own average. Once you consciously understand this and correct your mood for it, Facebook becomes a lot less of a downer.

I just read the Method section of this study and it seems really slanted to produce a correlation.

It asks 5 questions daily, 4 were about how well the participant felt and the last one was a direct question asking how long the user was on Facebook. It was also advertised as a "Facebook study" which is completely ridiculous.

A more condemning study would ask those first 4 questions then ask a handful of questions like "how long were you on twitter?" Or "how long did you watch TV" or "how long did you exercise today?".

And it shouldn't be advertised as a Facebook study.

Facebook can be a source of happiness if you are proactively managing how you're using it. In my case, it's the way that friends who I've stayed out of touch with can contact me out of the blue and ask me out to drinks because they're in the city. I post occasionally to my feed, but don't really spend much time reading what others are posting except to trade jokes/insults...thus limiting the time in which it seems my life is less fun than others'.

But by default, Facebook's algorithm can only make you unhappy if you're a passive user. The edge algorithm means you see the posts most liked by other people...virtually guaranteeing that you'll be subjected to a stream of awesome-than-life posts. And if you're a young adult, you also find yourself in the situation in which you're pining after someone and constantly viewing their profiles and liking their posts.

Well, in that case, FB is really going to hit you hard as it will assume you want to see lots of stories of your secret crush. And viewing what that person is doing in the time that you're not present around him/her creates nothing but anxiety.

Hell, you don't even have to be young to experience that.

I'm currently in-between girlfriends, and even though it is silly, I admit that I feel a pang of jealousy when my friends post pictures on Facebook showing how happy they are with their significant others. So even though this article talks about a shaky self-reported study with a low sample size, I think they are absolutely on to something. I can relate to the findings almost perfectly.

Facebook is one big game of "keeping up with the Jonases." Everyone's Facebook-facing life is fantastic. They buy houses, they have kids, they go on trips, they have fun adventures with their girlfriends, and so on.

What you don't see is the cockroach infestation at the new house they bought, or the sickness their kid is going through, or the fact that they had to max out their credit card for their trip, or that they got in a huge fight with their s/o right after posting pictures of hugs and kisses.

What this means is that browsing through Facebook is a great way to make yourself feel awful, because at any point in time you are not going to have one of the things you see on your news feed. At least I feel that way. The only reason I'm still on there is because my mom (who lives back home, in Turkey) freaks out when she doesn't see regular updates from me. She thinks something must have happened.

or that they got in a huge fight with their s/o right after posting pictures of hugs and kisses.

My wife's friend talks to her all the time about how her and her husband are constantly fighting and their marriage is falling apart. I hear this second hand but I'd never know that from all the lovey Facebook posts and pictures.

Another couple we are friends with is just 'perfect' and 'cute' on Facebook but the husband is just an ass to his wife sometimes (borderline verbal abuse) and has turned outings with them from fun to weird, awkward, and embarrassing. Meanwhile, the wife has become a secret stripper (husband knows and supports it) yet no one else knows.

I just assume that if someone is broadcasting that their husband or wife 'is the best ever' is covering for something.

The human species has evolved over eons to use complex social face-to-face interaction to see through the lies we naturally put on about our prowess as mates or allies. But Facebook is a whole 'nother thing; the world's worst sociopaths can look and sound perfectly normal on Facebook and no one has any way to tell the difference.

Facebook in some ways is the ultimate HS or college party. Everyone has a front to present. So it's not surprising that it might make a lot of people feel bad because the reader is seeing everyone's outside and comparing it to their inside.

Very true. In HS or college, how much you'll enjoy it depends on your perspective and what you expect from the crowd as well. I never mingled with the shallow crowd (boy, that really sounds pompous; but it's true) because I knew I wouldn't get much out of that experience.

But like HS and college, Facebook has its own variety of groups you mingle with and those you avoid with a 10 foot pole.

That said, I avoid all of Facebook with a 10 foot pole except for the occasional cross post with my blog.

You totally missed out on toying with the shallow crowd. Shallow people are just that, shallow, so they're rather easy to calculate. Since they usually annoy me to no end, I'll sooner or later resort to the people equivalent of cow tipping. I act perfectly well adjusted, and for a moment, a glint of madness, just enough that they question things. Best case scenario is that they question their facilities of judgement and become less shallow, worst case is that they don't like me anymore because I bewilder them, but then my goal wasn't for them to like me.

It's like playing with cats and a laser pointer.

Wow, you're the fucking puppet master, I tip my fedora.

Could have gotten a little over the top. I was tired as hell when I wrote that.

Judge it as a mix of petty revenge and mindgames if you want, but it helps me to deal with incredibly superficial people just fine. In fact, after making them question their modus operandi, they tend to become a lot more agreeable. Of course I could go the regular route of either ignoring them, putting up with them or agressively lashing out at them, but at the end, that doesn't improve the situation for anyone. They'll go their merry ways, irritating everyone.

And before that transition happens, they'll strain very hard to put you in a box, and that's kinda cute.

Anyways, you're good at quips, I tip my propeller hat.

I think you hit the nail on the head. Just like in HS/college, what you see on FB is dependent, to a large degree, on who you choose to mingle with/friend. I AM on FB. But not constantly or even daily. And a lot of my "individual" friends share the good AND bad. Lost a job/got a new one. In the hospital/made a full recovery. And yeah, here are my vacation pics.

I've thought about this before. Facebook, especially on Sunday or Monday morning (read: post weekend) is like a highlight reel of your friends' life. So if you had a particularly boring weekend and see nothing but pictures of people having a great time (in your absence, mind you), of course you'll feel bad.

I quit using Facebook (deleted account) nearly two years ago, and I don't miss it at all...

Back when it was less commercial, and when you were expected to actually know the people on your "Friends List" in real life, it was a fun way to reconnect with old classmates, workmates, and Army buddies.

Now it's just another data mining advertising machine, and I can do quite well without it.

I feel like most people don't consider that the content people post on Facebook is posted because the person wants everyone to see it... They wouldn't post about the absolutely mundane stuff that we all go though every day unless it's significant in someway. This is why it can be depressing, because you're looking at the best moments of hundreds of your friends' lives and you're just sitting there at the computer.

But when you post something interesting others feel the exact same way you did when they posted something interesting. Sort of a weird situation.

I've found that oddly enough, reddit has a kind of honesty that facebook doesn't, which you wouldn't think, since the former is full of people you don't know, and the latter full of people you do.

The people you know have something to prove

It comes from the failed assumption that those you know are those you can be more honest with, since they want to see you succeed. Otherwise, why are you friends?

That ends up not being the case, since most people aren't very discerning with whom they accept friend requests from, and facebook encourages making as many connections as possible as well.

As a result, the only current way to be honest online is through anonymity. I'm not sure if Path App has made any headway in this regard.

Articles about Facebook use 'make people feel better about feeling worse about Facebook users.' I have done a carefully controlled survey of 2 participants (self and wife). Method: dinner-table conversations. Peer review real soon now. (Will discuss it with neighbors and maybe sibling.)

Seeing people on Facebook is a little bit like seeing everybody you know pass you by on the street, but because it happens so often you stopped saying hi.

This doesn't particularly surprise me. Facebook is a self-advertising platform; people present a whitewashed and happier-than-reality version of themselves, and when you compare that to your own life (with its problems and warts and whatnot), you might conclude that your life is deficient.

It's the "keeping up with the Joneses" problem, except massively amplified.

I was a heavy power user of Facebook for a couple of years, spending lots of time crafting witty status updates, getting into extensive arguments and discussions. It became like a game- I lived for the Likes and Shares and the red notification at the top of the screen.

I didn't realize how bad it was until I finally disengaged, deactivated my account. I've been off for about 2 months now and I feel like a different person. It feels vaguely like quitting smoking- you don't realize what "normal" is until you're away from it all.

The greatest thing is witnessing my thoughts enter a "longer wavelength" where I'm not so obsessed with being witty and clever all the time. I have more time and space to work on actual problems. It's great.

Hope this was useful or relevant to someone.

This resonates with me. Twitter was my compulsion, until I realised what an absolute time sink it had become, whilst equally becoming an increasingly inane and frustrating experience. I logged out and never went back (almost 2 years has passed I think) without the slightest inclination to return.

Facebook is like comparing everyone else's highlight reel against your behind the scenes footage.

While I don't fault Facebook directly with this, when any gathering evolves to enabling gossiping, spying and showing off for those who are most affected by it, I'm not sure if on one hand we move ahead as a society, or if by using up such social attention, perhaps, as a civilization, we use up our energy and attention to care about such things and have the opportunity to spend as much energy on ourselves instead of spending it on others and putting ourselves in front of others for so much validation.

We're all human and need support and love, but we need to be able to give it to ourselves, and maybe a 'social' network will always be superficial to the point that it drives and feeds loneliness.

> The more time they browsed the worse they felt.

Despite the shakey study wouldn't this result be expected? The more time you spend on Facebook the less time you spend actually socialising with real people? Facebook doesn't have voice chat. Text messaging is unforfilling.

Facebook has a great number of uses but one thing it doesn't do is allow you to see your friends, or actually speak to them. Using their chat box, if anything, emphasises the distance between you and the person you are speaking to.

Facebook doesn't have the tools to help with loneliness. Then it makes it worse by showing how awesome everyone else has it. My friends timeline is like a highlight reel of their best bits.

This: "Why Facebook Makes Me Feel Like A Loser" http://shkspr.mobi/blog/2012/12/why-facebook-makes-me-feel-l...

They should have written a browser plugin.

They might not have gotten the results they were looking for, though.

Apart from the ethical (i.e. review boards) objections that would arise from that idea, that's actually a really good way to run a study.

When I still worked in academia, that was something I wanted to do. Amusingly enough, that research is probably easier to do as an independent researcher, especially if you don't plan on publishing in the peer-reviewed literature.

Well, I left facebook because I say it made me feel worse about other people. But perhaps the truth is that indeed it made me feel worse about myself. Or are they really the same thing?

Either way, I left facebook.

I have a similar, but largely converse problem:

Facebook makes me feel worse about my friends. i.e. their posts make them seem more lame than they are in real life.

I am currently much older than average person in the sample set.

On lunch break I usually peruse vine and no longer login to facebook. I do use facebook as a login shortcut to some service.

I found that Facebook use made me think worse things about other people.

I found that Facebook use made me feel worse things about other people.

makes me feel worse about them too

As a lonely, single, childless, unpropertied, mediocre 35-year-old, any exposure to anybody else's life, excepting the homeless, makes me feel worse about myself.

You don't know what demons those people are fighting on their daily lives.

Ain't that the truth. Goes for anybody you see in public too. It's easy when you're down to think that everyone else has it rough. I find it's only when you ask questions or read bios of people that you get a sense of how connected we are in are daily struggle as humans.

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