Facebook is often accused of negatively impacting our lives and there is a myriad of ways this is believed to happen. Some people claim that Facebook threatens our privacy, others are concerned that it’s just too addictive and is one of the biggest causes of procrastination.
Neither theory is wrong as such, but let’s not be so hasty to blame Facebook for all our woes. After all, no one is making us use Facebook when we should be working; and there are plenty of ways that you can increase the security settings if you’re so inclined. It’s just about knowing how to use Facebook for best and about showing some constraint and self-control.
But how about the accusation that Facebook is making some people depressed due to what’s known as ‘social comparison’? Let’s take a closer look at this concern.
What Is Social Comparison Theory?
Social comparison theory comes from psychologist Leon Festinger and was first proposed back in 1954. The idea is that one of the main driving forces is the way we compare ourselves with others. We all want to make accurate self-evaluations in order to gauge our own success and one of the primary ways we do this is by looking at the success of others.
In other words, we don’t rate our success based on the way we feel, on our money or on our social status even. Rather, we base our success on how all those things stack up to our neighbors.
So if you have a salary of 16K a year but everyone you know has a salary of only 12K a year, then you feel rich and successful. But if you’re on that same salary and all your friends are earning 50K, suddenly you start to become depressed.
The Role of Facebook
The concern with Facebook then, is that it causes us to compare ourselves to a wider group of people – some of which might not really be suitable for comparison. Rather than just comparing yourself with the other people in your neighborhood and at your workplace, you’re now comparing yourself with the people you used to know from school and probably a ton of people you don’t really know all that well.
Some of those people are now high flying business executives. Some of them are married to supermodels. Some of them are constantly travelling and posting pictures of amazing sunsets.
And what’s worse is that Facebook encourages us to do this every single day through a slew of pictures. Rather than just occasionally seeing someone else and comparing ourselves, we’re now forced to compare ourselves multiple times a day with people around the world.
And studies do suggest that this can potentially lead to depressive symptoms (1). In short, our lot in life suddenly doesn’t seem like enough when we’re comparing ourselves with so many other people.
Celebrity culture is also very responsible for this but that’s another article for another time!
How to Avoid Bad Comparisons
As with privacy and procrastination, the way that Facebook impacts your mental health is actually much more about the way you’re using it. Simply being aware of the problem is the first step to combating it but there are also methods you can use within Facebook to reduce the impact of social comparison.
And this is actually the very conclusion that the study referenced above made: that it is the quality of social media interactions that is most important.
For example, it is actually possible to ‘unfollow’ people on your Facebook without unfriending them. If you find yourself getting down, then simply go to your newsfeed and then look for the options along the top of the page. On the furthest right, you’ll notice that there’s a small down arrow. Click this to open up a menu and at the bottom you’ll see ‘Newsfeed Preferences’.
Once this is open, you’ll then see the option to ‘unfollow’ people. This basically means that you’ll still be friends on Facebook but you won’t see their content come up on Facebook. They’ll never know that you unfollowed them but now you don’t have to worry about seeing lots of posts from people who are causing you grief.
Better yet, is that this option will show you the people in your network in order of who posts most regularly. This in turn means that you can quickly eliminate the noisiest culprits from your feed and instead get fewer posts from people who really matter to you!
The other tip is simply to keep in mind that Facebook isn’t a ‘real’ representation of anyone’s life. Your life probably looks pretty peachy on Facebook to everyone else and it probably looks like all you ever do is go on nights out and holidays!
At the end of the day, we don’t share photos of our 20 boring nights in, of our untidy kitchens or of our unmade beds. We only post when we have something exciting to say or a flattering picture to share. Thus it follows that everything on our Facebook is exciting, flattering and interesting!
Or, as Steve Furtick puts it:
“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”