Facebook Envy

February 6th, 2013 by Andrea Bennett

A recent study shows that looking at other people’s lives on Facebook can make you feel worse about your own.

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The Responsibility Project

On consecutive nights, my life might seem drastically different. On the first night, I might attend a celeb-studded cocktail party and then spend the second night weeping into a pint of Haagen-Dazs while watching “Steel Magnolias.”

While the latter scenario might be an exaggeration, which of the two do you think I’m more likely to document on Facebook? And if I only share one of the two nights, am I giving a fair representation of my life to my Facebook friends? Recently, two German universities conducted a study on “Facebook envy,” the feelings of misery and loneliness triggered by seeing the glamorous bits of your friends’ lives on social media.

Reuters reports that the researchers will discuss the findings of their study, called “Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction?” this month at an information system conference. Some key findings include that one in three people feels worse about themselves and more dissatisfied with their lives after visiting Facebook; and people who browse without contributing anything of their own are affected the most negatively.

The study claims, “Passive following triggers invidious emotions, with users mainly envying happiness of others, the way others spend their vacations and socialize.” It continues, “The spread and ubiquitous presence of envy on social networking sites is shown to undermine users’ life satisfaction.”

The researchers found that vacation photos were the biggest cause of resentment, resulting in more than half of reported “envy incidents.” Facebook users were also likely to be affected by social interactions, such as how many birthday wishes they received and how many “likes” or comments were made on their own posts.

In terms of demographics, people in their mid-30s were most likely to envy family; women, meanwhile, were more likely to envy physical attractiveness. And these envious feelings drove some to boast more about their own lives on Facebook. Men, overall, posted more self-promotional content to broadcast their accomplishments while women featured their good looks and social lives.

Being human means being tempted to check in on exes, doing not-so-subtle self-promotion and being jealous of our friends. If there’s a platform that enables us to do all this without revealing our weaknesses or insecurities, it’s no surprise that people will hop on board. But it might not be the healthiest thing to do. Recently, I logged off for four solid days, went on vacation and enjoyed myself without wondering how my vacation stacked up against my friends’ vacations. It felt great.

The researchers told Reuters that, in fact, Facebook has become such a source of anxiety for users that it may “in the long run, endanger platform sustainability.” Have you ever suffered from “Facebook envy?” Or are you more concerned with what’s going on in real life?