Can Facebook improve your self-esteem? Yes, according to researchers at Cornell University. Their recently published study in the peer-reviewed journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, claims that putting your best foot forward on Facebook and seeing the comments of your friends makes you feel better. (Read the CNN.com article about the study .)
First, I’d like to point out that I can’t believe there is actually an academic journal now devoted to social networking. But I guess it makes sense. Social media dominates our culture today . . . from Facebook posts letting you know that your friend just bought a fabulous nonfat, caramel macchiato at Starbucks to tweets from revolutionaries in the streets of Egypt and Libya. People tweet and update their Facebook status from anywhere . . . while they’re in the bathroom or when they’re about to throw a few hand grenades at the ruling regime. It’s just amazing to me that people have so little concern for basic hygiene or for their own lives—they’d rather make sure that others know exactly what’s going on than wash their hands or run for cover.
Second, I’m not sure I agree with the study’s results. I think you should focus on the “may” part of its conclusion. It may help your self-esteem, but truly . . . it probably won’t. And it may actually be an assault on your self-esteem at times. Here’s why:
1. Yes, you’ll have lots of friends online, and that may make you feel included. But the fortieth time you read a friend’s post saying “Homemade [insert fabulous dish here) for dinner tonight. Yum!” or “Just finished a ten-mile hike and I feel great!” when you are struggling to strip off your Spanx and hop into some sweatpants . . . well, you aren’t going to feel so great about yourself. You are going to wonder why they can provide a culinary masterpiece for family dinner every night…leaning over to remove it from the oven with their well-toned arms…and you can’t do the same. And you’ll be reminded again that paper cuts from ripping open a box of frozen chicken nuggets hurt like hell and take about a week to heal. Then you’ll make yourself feel better when you say “hey, these chicken nuggets are organic!” And finally, you’ll pour a large glass of wine to help you swallow all of that guilt.
2. The study says that the majority of users post only positive information and filter anything that might reflect badly. (In other breaking news, the sky is still blue.) The study claims that unlike a mirror which reflects exactly who we are, our Facebook image is carefully crafted, and there is an inherent self-esteem boost to knowing that our friends are always seeing interesting, great things about us. I agree with this. It’s just human nature. The problem is that all of your hard work to select only the most flattering pictures of yourself…to post only the wittiest, the sweetest, the most intelligent comments…goes straight out the window when you see one of your friends at the grocery store in your real life. Your real life…where you actually live in tattered sweatpants and a t-shirt and where you are buying a fabulous combo of wine, diapers and kitty litter while trying to convince your three year old that she really will survive without that box of Pop Tarts. That’s when the Facebook glow comes crashing down and you are truly revealed.
3. You must beware of being so involved with your Facebook life that you forget your real life. Most of the hundreds of people you are “friends” with on Facebook are not your closest friends . . . heck, they are barely even acquaintances . . . and spending every free moment checking their latest updates and pouring over their photos robs you of the time you should be simply picking up the phone and calling your real friends. True friendships must be cultivated . . . and not on Facebook.
Despite the fact that I’ve poked holes in the data with what might, or might not, be things that have personally happened to me, I want to emphatically state that I do not think Facebook should be avoided. In fact, I think its positives . . . connecting with old friends; staying in better touch with current friends; sharing a laugh; following your favorite retailers for discount coupons; and staying connected to your favorite causes . . . overwhelmingly outweigh its negatives.But don’t rely on it to prop up your self esteem. Get your self esteem boost the old fashioned way . . . a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and/or laughing through about two episodes of America’s Funniest Videos . . . or Tosh.0, its raunchy cousin on Comedy Central. You will feel so much better about yourself. Works every time!