As a result of the advancement in technology, the use of fast and easy channels of communication is on the rise. Social Networking Sites (SNS) have become one of the main channels of communication over the last few years, allowing people to connect with others and to access a world of knowledge and entertainment with the simple click of a button. Facebook is currently the most popular SNS, with over 1.94 billion globally active users every month (Facebook, 2018). Due to the increasing use of smartphones, Facebook users can surf their news feed and connect with others via computer-mediated communication (CMC) more frequently than ever.
There are definite benefits associated with SNS’s like Facebook, such as allowing people to stay connected with friends and family, maintain long-distance friendships and easily share ideas and information with like-minded individuals. However, there are rising concerns about Facebook’s adverse effects on psychological well-being. Facebook provides tools that allow users to selectively share information about themselves, which can result in a biased self-affirming image. This may result in users comparing their inadequacies to others which could negatively impact self- esteem. In contrast, observing the inadequacies of others could create an inflated sense of self-esteem. Additionally, users may feel sociable if they are using Facebook, but the lack of face to face interaction may induce feelings on loneliness.
Facebook is designed to encourage its users to share information about themselves, such as their occupation, likes, dislikes, and hobbies. It even encourages people to inform others of the places they have been and the events they have attended, through prompting users to ‘check in’ at locations. This new culture of shared personal information could make users aware of their shortcomings in comparison to others, which may negatively affect self- esteem. In contrast, Facebook gives you the ability to selectively choose what information you share about yourself, which could induce a biased self-opinion and in turn, raise self- esteem. After reviewing the literature surrounding SNS use, it is apparent that there is a divide regarding these arguments.
A study by Mehdizadeh (2010) found that university students who scored lower on self-esteem measures used Facebook more frequently. Regarding to more general SNS use, Andreassen, Pallesen, and Griffiths (2017) examined the association between the addictive use of social media and self-esteem using a convenience sample of people living in Norway. They found that those who scored low on measures of self-esteem were more likely to score higher on measures of social media addiction.
Facebook users can also upload pictures, post statuses and provide feedback to each other’s posts through comments and ‘likes’. Despite being a less effortful form of communication compared to talking face-to-face, likes are viewed as a meaningful social cue that sends a signal to the person who posted, as well as other people who view the post. Some research suggests that this type of positive virtual communication can boost self-esteem, while others argue that relying on these fleeting affirmations to feel good about the self can influence contingent self-worth, in turn diminishing self-esteem. To test these conflicting arguments, Burrow and Rainone (2017) looked at the effect that the number of ‘likes’ on user’s profile pictures has on self-esteem. They found that the number of likes received was positively associated with self-esteem, but this association was diminished for those who scored higher on measures of purposefulness with life (i.e. a strong sense of self). Similarly, Stefanone, Lackaff, and Rosen (2011) conducted a study exploring how sharing photos on Facebook relates to self-esteem, analysed through contingencies of self-worth. Using a sample of university students, they found that those who rated highly on public and appearance-based contingencies, spent more time managing their Facebook profiles and sharing photos. These types of contingencies were shown to correlate with self-esteem.
In contrast to the argument that Facebook negatively affects self-esteem, there is research to suggest that Facebook use can have a positive effect on self-esteem. Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe (2007) argued that Facebook provides an opportunity for people with low self-esteem to be social while alleviating the anxiety of face to face interaction. In support of this claim, a study by Pettijohn, LaPiene, Horting, and Pettijohn (2012) found a significant and positive relationship between Facebook use and friendship-contingent self- esteem in a sample of university students.
It is important to research the effect that SNS use might have on self-esteem, as low self-esteem has been shown to correlate with more serious disorders such as depression (Brown, Bifulco, & Andrews, 1990; Sowislo & Orth, 2013), anxiety (Sowislo & Orth, 2013) and substance abuse (Akerlin et al, 1988).
So, does social media affect our self-esteem? During my time at university I conducted my thesis in order to find an answer to this question. Tune in for my next blog where I will discuss my results!
Andreassen, C., Pallesen, S., & Griffiths, M. (2017). The relationship between addictive use of social media, narcissism, and self-esteem: Findings from a large national
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Burrow, A., & Rainone, N. (2017). How many likes did I get?: Purpose moderates links between positive social media feedback and self-esteem. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 69, 232-236, doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2016.09.005
Brown, G., Bifulco, A., & Andrews, B. (1990). Self-esteem and depression: Effect on course and recovery. Social Psychiatry And Psychiatric Epidemiology, 25(5), 244-249. Retrieved from https://link-springer-com.ezproxy.library.uq.edu.au/article/10.1007/BF00788643
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Sowislo, J. F., & Orth, U. (2013). Does low self-esteem predict depression and anxiety? A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Psychological Bulletin, 139(1), 213-240, doi: 10.1037/a0028931