Your old friend Is Facebook making you feel bad about yourself? New research says: Probably. (Photo: Thinkstock)from high school just announced her engagement on Facebook. So why don't you feel happier for her? According to new research, it turns out that pouring over friends' vacation photos, gushing status updates, and career successes is making people miserable.
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In a study conducted by Humboldt University in Berlin and Technical University in Darmstadt, German researchers asked 600 Facebook users how they felt while navigating the social networking platform. More than a third of the respondents reported feeling negative, but it had nothing to do with Facebook's ever-changing privacy policies and advertisements—most of those bad vibes were rooted in jealousy.
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"We were surprised by how many people have a negative experience from Facebook, with envy leaving them feeling lonely, frustrated or angry," Hanna Krasnova of the Institute of Information Systems at Humboldt University told Reuters. (She was the project manager for the report, "Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users' Life Satisfaction?" which was released on Tuesday and will be presented at a conference in Germany in February.)
In Germany, where travel is a favorite leisure activity, vacation photos were a big envy trigger. The researchers also found that Facebook users in their 30s were likely to feel jealous about their friends' happy families. Women were more likely to obsess over physical appearance and social standing, and men tended to boast about their accomplishments at home and at work.
Passive Facebook users—people who read their news feeds, peeked at photos, and browsed their friends pages but didn't share much themselves—were the ones most likely to feel bad, the researchers discovered.
"Access to copious positive news and the profiles of seemingly successful 'friends' fosters social comparison that can readily provoke envy," Krasnova explained in her report. "By and large, online social networks allow users unprecedented access to information on relevant others—insights that would be much more difficult to obtain offline."
The fact that we spend so much time on Facebook means that our petty retaliations take place there as well. Users who felt jealous of their friends' status updates, photos, and life events often dealt with it by exaggerating their own accomplishments, posting unrealistically pretty profile shots, and sharing over-the-top status updates. That, in turn led other Facebook friends to feel jealous and inadequate—something the researchers dubbed an "envy spiral."
All of that virtual envy creates a real-life problem: Users end up feeling dissatisfied with their own lives.
"The spread and ubiquitous presence of envy on Social Networking Sites is shown to undermine users' life satisfaction," the researchers explained, adding that it could spell long-term disaster for Facebook. "From a provider's perspective, our findings signal that users frequently perceive Facebook as a stressful environment, which may, in the long-run, endanger platform sustainability."
What do you think? Do you believe everything your friends post on Facebook—and does it make you feel unhappy about your own life?
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