As social networking explodes across the world, a new study suggests using Facebook may not be a great idea for those with low self-esteem.
The finding is remarkable; in theory, Facebook should be great for people with low self-esteem. The site allows unobtrusive sharing of information considered important for solidifying friendships and making new friends.
However, researchers discovered people with low self-esteem are apt to flood their friends with negative tidbits about their lives — making themselves less likable.
“We had this idea that Facebook could be a really fantastic place for people to strengthen their relationships,” says co-author Amanda Forest. Forest and her Waterloo University advisor, Joanne Wood, are studying how self-esteem affects the kinds of emotions people express.
In one study, Forest and Wood asked students how they feel about Facebook. People with low self-esteem were more likely to think that Facebook provided an opportunity to connect with other people, and to perceive it as a safe place that reduces the risk of awkward social situations.
Then, the investigators reviewed what students actually wrote on Facebook. To do this they asked the students for their last 10 status updates, sentences like, “[Name] is lucky to have such terrific friends and is looking forward to a great day tomorrow!” and “[Name] is upset b/c her phone got stolen :@.”
Researchers then rated each set of status updates for how positive or negative it was. For each set of statements, a coder — an undergraduate Facebook user — rated how much they liked the person who wrote them.
People with low self-esteem were more negative than people with high self-esteem — and the coders liked them less. The coders were strangers, but that’s realistic, Forest says. In earlier research, Wood and Forest found that nearly half of Facebook friends are actually strangers or acquaintances, not close friends.
When people with low self-esteem posted positive remarks, they received more responses from their real Facebook friends. People with high self-esteem, on the other hand, get more responses when they post negative items, perhaps because these are rarer for them.
As with many issues in life, even posting comments on Facebook gets complicated. Although people with low self-esteem may feel safe making personal disclosures on Facebook, the comments are not endorsed in a manner to improve self-perception.
“If you’re talking to somebody in person and you say something, you might get some indication that they don’t like it, that they’re sick of hearing your negativity,” Forest says.
But when people have a negative reaction to a post on Facebook, they seem to keep it to themselves. “On Facebook, you don’t see most of the reactions.”
The study is published in Psychological Science.