Facebook: Demon or Savior?

How you use Facebook determines if it benefits or stunts psychological growth.

Posted Apr 07, 2012

Photo by Alexi Berry
Photo by Alexi Berry

For several months I’ve considered writing a post about the good and bad side of Facebook. A recent dialogue with a colleague regarding a discussion she had with peers has resulted in the additional motivation to do so. Some see Facebook as a complete demon, destroying marriages, cataloguing missteps for eternity, wasting time, feeding narcissism, and otherwise leading to the destruction of a generation. Others laude praise on Facebook for its ability to keep people in touch and allow lives to be shared with those they care about.

The benefits of Facebook are obvious to the average user. They are able to post pictures from their life for their friends to see. People are able to disclose to others what they choose about what is going on in their lives. For some users, support is given when they disclose tough times. There is also the benefit of keeping connected with those with whom otherwise contact might be lost. A recent post on Facebook illustrates this: “Thank goodness for Facebook, with the way gas prices are we otherwise might not be able to ever see our friends.”

There are many drawbacks to Facebook that are equally obvious; lack of foresight can lead to mistakes being catalogued for eternity (or what might seem like it to the unfortunate user). A client recently demonstrated how when his name is searched with Google, an unfortunate post he made one day appears on the first page of the results. There is no way for it to be deleted as the actual page doesn’t exist anymore! There is also time wasted that could be more productively used. Some give into the temptation to “creep” the pages of someone they are interested in. And, perhaps most astoundingly, Facebook has been blamed for the dissolution of more than one marriage.

Toni Bernhard, blogger for Psychology Today, discussed another positive in her post “In Defense Of Facebook”. She pointed out how “fan” pages and groups can be utilized to provide support, encouragement, and a sense of camaraderie for those suffering with ailments (in her case chronic pain / illness). Moreover, belonging to certain feeds can both educate and keep one more in touch with the world around them. For example, many articles (including mine) are posted to Facebook. Articles posted to Facebook, whether health tips, recent studies, or even political insights, can be helpful to the reader. Additionally, there are many funny clips, photos, e-cards, and otherwise lighthearted posts shared which can brighten a day.

In her post “Social Media Makes Me Feel Bad About Myself,” Psychology Today blogger Jennifer Garam discusses how the majority on Facebook look happy and their “lives are amazing”. This discussion is not without merit; people compare themselves to their peers on Facebook and come away feeling inferior. This is easy to understand; many on Facebook create a happy and healthy persona. Of course a healthy persona doesn’t necessarily indicate health. Many have known people who while professing their love for their partner on Facebook, battled anxiety and doubt about their relationship in reality. There are others who although claiming to be happy in the public eye of social media, suffer behind their veil.

An argument my colleague raised was the possibility Facebook and other social media results in its users becoming stagnated in adolescent development. Her postulation is that social media tends to contribute to the belief others are much more interested in you than they are. This is like the adolescent phenomenon of imaginary audience. How many Facebook friends constantly update their status as if everything they did were important and being monitored by the world? Aren’t quite a few people beginning to believe their importance is greater than it is? This is at the cost of humility. Arguments have been made it is resulting in a culture of narcissism.

In her post “It’s a Fine Line between Narcissism and Egocentrism”, Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. also discusses imaginary audience, and how we never really outgrow it completely. Perhaps Facebook and other social media, including, as she mentions, YouTube, contribute to a more pronounced imaginary audience. In her article she also discusses the ability and limitations in taking another’s perspective, and offers suggestions to moderate egocentrism and prevent oneself from moving into narcissism. Perhaps altering the way we use social media could be an added suggestion.

As with everything in life, there are good and bad sides to Facebook: It can contribute to a sense of self-importance, or it’s seeming opposite, a feeling of inferiority. It can keep people connected, and can connect those with similar challenges leading to empathic support. It can bring a smile to your face and brighten your day. It can keep you informed. It can turn a momentary lapse of judgment into a hurdle for the future. Facebook is neither a demon nor a savior; the way you use it determines if it benefits or harms you.

Copyright William Berry LMHC, CAP, 2012