Social media cannot be blamed for unhappiness

In a recent study by Psychology Today, researchers tested how Facebook users felt moment-to-moment and how satisfied they are with their lives overall.

The study found that, “Facebook use predicts negative shifts on both of these variables over time. The more people used Facebook at one time point, the worse they felt the next time; the more they used Facebook over two weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time.”

Though Facebook has numerous advantages such as helping people stay connected, it has also been detrimental to many of its users. The site has grown from a small college project to a 500 million user forum, which you probably already know from the Oscar award-winning film, the Social Network.

Recent news published about Facebook and other types of social media have been negative, but it is not the sites that help or hurt people. Instead, it is how people use them.

For example, imagine a recent freshman starting out in college at a large research university. She is looking to feel a little more connected. She checks Facebook, and is instantly able to see photos and updates of her friends at home, making her feel more connected. The student begins to check the site more regularly, repeatedly logging on and surfing content.

Now she sees that her friends at home are happier, her friends at other schools make more friends, her friends at her new school have  more fun. Her internet connection actually makes her feels more alone. She logs out of the site, dejected.

Though this scenario is fictional, the phenomenon it relates is not uncommon.

The Human Computer Institute at Carnegie Mellon also found that “passive consumption” of the information on Facebook as well as your own “broadcasts to wider audiences” on Facebook correlate with feeling depressed and lonely.

So the rumors are true. But, before pointing a finger at Facebook and blaming one site for all of society’s problems, it is important to realize it is not the only player in the game.

According to an article written by Jessica Winter for Slate Magazine in July, Instagram, the popular photo-sharing service, actually makes users more depressed than Facebook.

Studies conducted by German universities found that it is not actually the use of all Facebook services that contributes to depression, but instead it is the process of looking through your friends’ photos and grudgingly liking vacation photos or good news in status updates.

Instagram is this service without the added benefit of sending messages or sharing popular news. Instead, it is just the stimulation of seeing the best moments of friends’ (and celebrities’) lives, captured in bite-sized pictures with artsy filters.

Scrolling through Instagram can trigger even more intense feelings of depression and self-loathing.

Hanna Krasnova of Humboldt University in Berlin, co-author of the study on Facebook and envy, explained that photos can provoke immediate social comparison, which can contribute to feelings of both envy and inferiority.

According to Krasnova’s study, “if you see beautiful photos of your friend on Instagram, one way to compensate is to self-present with even better photos, and then your friend sees your photos and posts even better photos, and so on. Self-promotion triggers more self-promotion, and the world on social media gets further and further from reality.”

So it isn’t just Facebook that has the power to promote depression. And, given that there are hundreds of social media services, it isn’t just Instagram either. Twitter can inspire jealously when sharing good news, Vine can create feelings of isolation when you see a group together without you, and even LinkedIn can make you feel important or not. Every day, more sites are being added to the collection.

Therefore, it isn’t the sites that cause the problem, it’s the way people use them. Use Facebook to send messages to your friends, communicate with groups or stay up to date on current events, and you’ll be fine. Use it as the be-all, end-all of comparison between your life and the edited, selected version of the users you’re friends with, and the world will be a very lonely place.

Remember what people post on their profiles, whether on Facebook or Instagram, isn’t a complete depiction of what their lives are like. The photos are the edited, filtered versions with the best lighting possible. Social media truly is what people make of it.

If users are ever feeling overwhelmed, they should consider deactivating or deleting their profiles, even if just for a little while. This will create some perspective, allowing them to see their lives and judge them for their own merit, rather than as a comparison to a stylized photo on an iPhone screen.

Every action in life is a choice. There are too many sites and too many options in the social media realm to prescribe a treatment for the problems they create. Rather, it is people’s use of the sites that will determine their happiness.

If people choose to use Facebook and Instagram in a way which connects rather than divides, sharing good news rather than envy, the negative effects of these tools can certainly be mitigated.


Rebecca Cohen is a freshman majoring in narrative studies.