In the past decade, a number of research studies have explored how Social Media Networks (SMN) impact psychological and emotional well-being. Some studies report using media like Facebook and Twitter offer feelings of greater connectivity to others, increased self-esteem, decreased loneliness and even warm feelings of nostalgia. Then there are other studies suggesting that online socializing elicits insecurity and envy - as well as replacing important offline ties with family and friends, and creating a subculture of individuals who aren't learning the social graces of eye contact, conversational flow or how to decode non-verbal behavior. It’s been reported that extroverts are more likely to experience benefits from social media than introverts. Conversely, some data points out that introverts find social media to be more valuable for intimate self-disclosure than non-socially anxious people.
So, the truth is that when it comes to Facebook, research reports mixed results. The key for having a fulfilling and meaningful social media experience depends on who you are and what you’re doing online.
Two Paths on the Social Media Road
Facebook is the millennium’s new water cooler. Though virtual in its design, it serves as a way for us to catch up on the latest trends, share milestones, learn about juicy gossip, or live vicariously through the experience of others. And not only is it a way to keep up with the Joneses, but it’s a way to keep track of the Joneses. Facebook provides us with social capital – and these valuable social experiences make us feel connected. But bear in mind that not everyone feels Facebook is an upbeat and pleasing social past time. Reading stories or viewing photos of friends’ activities could cause a user to feel left out or question the value of his or her own social status. Though Facebook can elicit warm feelings of nostalgia and connectedness, it can also spur jealousy and feelings of inadequacy too.
With all these things going on, it’s wise to learn the psychological reasons for using social networking. When you understand what they are, you’ll be able to judge for yourself if Facebook is meeting the social expectations you hold. Research reports two distinct ways people use Facebook. One is bonding with others – to reconnect with old friends and family or to explore new relationships. The other is bridging as a means of strengthening your identity. Think of bridging as a kind of network that links you to other colleagues, businesses, contacts and organizations that share your political, social and community interests, or your career or professional pursuits.
6 Tips for Using Facebook
When you live with depression, it’s important to put yourself in a positive environment. Toxic people and negative experiences only serve to worsen depressive symptoms. So, understanding the reasons why you use Facebook will help determine if this social media is a thumbs up experience – or if you should consider other social avenues.
1) Ask yourself why you’re on Facebook. Is it to bond or to bridge? Once you determine what you’re looking for – connection or networking– then you can set realistic expectations.
2) Explore your “user pattern” - or how you are using Facebook. Are you spending time too much time reading the news feeds of others? Do you only just cue into your own profile to look for connections - or do you venture beyond to connect with others? Do you leave comments? Do you invite others to respond to your wall status? How about direct messages, do you like using that feature? Do you like being in the app or game community? Are your bridging connections creating support, or are the conversations provocative, challenging or taunting?
3) Once you realize how you’re using Facebook, ask yourself what each of these activities does for you. The goal is to discover what gratifies you not only socially, but emotionally. Essentially, you’ll be cluing yourself into what Facebook activities work or don't work for you.
4) Next, redefine your Facebook experience. If it makes you feel left out to read about others' daily lives, consider editing your subscriber list. Want to have more connection? Consider direct messaging than commenting on a community level. Personalizing your social media experience will help you feel good about yourself and the others you're choosing to share your online time with. If you discover that using Facebook isn’t as valuable a tool for you, bow out. It’s just as cool to bump the trend as it is to be part of a trend.
5) Now that you know the how, what and why reasons that you use Facebook, give yourself permission to be an extrovert or an introvert. Facebook should be a place that *you* design for *your* social needs. Find your comfort self-disclosing zone and work within it.
6) Last but not least, remember to interface beyond the virtual world. Make sure you spend quality time socializing in real time with real people.
Cockton, G. (2008). Designing worth – Connecting preferred means to desired ends. Interactions, 14 (4), 54–57.
McKenna, K. A., & Bargh, J. A. (2000). Plan 9 from cyberspace: The implications of the Internet for personality and social psychology. Personality & Social Psychology Review, 4(1), 57–75.
Stepanikova, I.; Nie, N. H., & He, X. (2010). Time on the Internet at home, loneliness, and life satisfaction: Evidence from panel time-diary data. Computers in Human Behavior, 26 (3), 329-338.
Dr. Deborah Serani, author of ”Living with Depression” by Rowman and Littlefield, is a go-to expert on the subject of depression.