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Jasmine Maki, Forum News Service, Published November 03 2013

Facebook can create reality distortion, low self-esteem

GRAND FORKS - “If I hear a story, I’ll be like, ‘Oh, I’ll creep on Facebook,’” said Alexi Schneibel, a University of North Dakota sophomore from Detroit Lakes, Minn.

Schneibel said she thinks it’s normal to “creep.”

“It’s like a thing people just go to when they hear about something — to see what it’s really about,” she said.

Michelle Tolbert, a UND sophomore from Grand Forks, agreed that it’s normal, especially in college. “You see someone in class and you know their name, so you just want to look at their Facebook,” she said.

While Schneibel said she Facebook-stalks to gain specific information, Tolbert said she thinks it’s more out of “boredom and curiosity, unless you’re an actual stalker.”

Others may have different reasons, but social media expert Patrick Allmond, of Oklahoma City, Okla., said it’s our societal need to know everything that’s going on in everyone’s lives.

“They want to know who is where, who is dating who and the intricate other details of someone’s life,” he said. Allmond added that those people feel the need to share the same details of their own lives, which results in over-sharing across all social media platforms. But, the information shared on Facebook and other social media sites isn’t always an accurate portrayal of one’s real life.

Reality distortion

Whether or not it is intentional, profiles often only portray the positive aspects of one’s life.

“Rarely does someone (post) their downfalls, but they’ll make sure they let you know they went on a vacation to Mexico, and they’ve done all these fabulous things,” said Kristen Enblom, a licensed professional clinical counselor at Assessment and Therapy Associates of Grand Forks.

One of the largest Facebook studies conducted by the University of Gothenburg in Sweden surveyed 1,000 users ages 18 to 73, and the results indicated that only 38 percent of people post negative experiences in their lives. It also showed that one-third of the men surveyed actually try to provoke others on Facebook, and one-quarter of those surveyed use the social media site to brag.

Enblom said many younger users intentionally make their social media profiles appear better than reality. She said they do this by adding filters to their selfies and constantly updating their statuses with exaggerated posts.

This creates a reality distortion for the viewers, and especially for those “stalking” these profiles. Viewers only see positive aspects of these peoples’ lives and are therefore deceived to believe the users’ lives are better than their own.

“Everybody in life is doing something more interesting or more boring than someone else,” Allmond said. “As you watch others’ lives, you will start comparing yourself. It can make you feel better about yourself or you’ll start to feel depressed.”

For social media “stalkers,” it’s often the latter.

Lead to low self-esteem

Another study conducted by The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt found that 51 percent of Facebook users spend time comparing their own lives to others based on the status updates they read and the pictures they see; and, about 32 percent said they felt sad when comparing their profiles to others.

Enblom, who works with middle school and high school students, said for her patients, a lot of time the posts are relationship-related. Her patients often find themselves looking at their ex-boyfriend’s new love interest and comparing themselves, which often results in self-bashing.

“‘She has this, and I don’t.’ ‘She’s so pretty, and I’m fat,’ that kind of thing,” Enblom said. “It’s really just a different level of what you see in other types of media such as magazines. People are Photoshopped. It’s the same thing just on a ‘real-life’ scale.”

Enblom said this happens with adults in the professional world when friends post about new jobs, engagements and vacations.

“You read those things, and then you start thinking, ‘Well, I can’t even get a job,’ or ‘My job sucks,’ and ‘They have two job interviews, and they have a boyfriend…,” she said.

Timothy Pasch, an assistant professor of communication at UND, said the phenomenon has been described as the “Facebook effect.”

He says this “has been defined colloquially as the negative psychological development that may occur after viewing multiple Facebook profiles wherein everyone (appears to be) more successful, more beautiful, more wealthy and generally happier than the viewer.”

In moderation

But, while there are negative effects of spending time on social media sites, the benefits of the same sites shouldn’t be ignored.

Enblom said there are two sides to the self-esteem issue.

“There’s the seeing everyone’s positive things and feeling awful about yourself… but the other side of that is that people with lower self-esteem can use Facebook and Instagram to reach out and connect with other people,” she said.

Enblom said her patients who may not have a lot of friends at school are able to reach out to friends they met at summer camp or in another town. They develop a support system online. Other benefits include career networking, easy event planning and staying in touch with distant friends.

Enblom, Allmond and Pasch all agreed, “Everything is good in moderation.”

“Utilizing social media for its intended purpose of contacting others, staying in touch and then proceeding on with one’s regular activities can help to achieve a healthy balance between the physical and the digital.”

Allmond added, “Spend some time on social media, but balance it out with interaction with real people.”

How to avoid Facebook self-esteem pitfalls:

• Be cautious and real. Be cautious of what you put on your social media profiles. Make sure it is an accurate representation of you.

• Block and report people. If someone is posting false, harmful information, block and report them, if necessary.

• Unfriend them. If a former friend or significant others’ posts are making you jealous or insecure, unfriend them and remove them from your life.

• Unsubscribe. If you notice that someone’s posts are making you feel insecure about your own life but you don’t want to lose the connection, unsubscribe to their posts to avoid consistent reminders on your news feed.

• Get off of Facebook. If you’re starting to feel down about your life, take some time away from Facebook and do something that makes you happy.