Unfriendly facebook

By Emily Fasold

For millions of its members, Facebook is a tool for self-expression, self-promotion and communication with peers, all of which are thought to be important for boosting self-esteem. However, new research shows that the website can actually lower the confidence levels of insecure users.

The study found that Facebook users with poor self-image tend to bombard the website with negative status updates, making them less likeable and, in turn, more insecure.

Research was conducted at the University of Waterloo in Canada and published in the journal “Psychological Science”last month.

“Compared to people with high self-esteem, people with low self-esteem posted updates that were relatively negative, and they were less liked by strangers,” said co-author and Waterloo graduate Amanda Forest.

Study authors distributed an online self-directed survey that asked 80 undergraduate Facebook users to rate on a scale from one to seven their comfort with posting personal status updates.

Assistants then analyzed the participants’ last 10 status updates and recorded the level of positive and negative feedback they received from their Facebook friends.

Forest said participants with low self-esteem viewed Facebook as a great way to connect with others because it satisfied their longing for acceptance without the awkwardness of face-to-face interactions. She found their openness to sharing negative emotions promising.

“People with low self-esteem crave approval and acceptance and are very fearful of rejection,” Forest said. “So one would think that they would want to post upbeat updates in order to present a pleasant and likable image of themselves.”

In addition, participants who displayed high self-esteem received more encouraging feedback from online friends when they posted a negative status. Researchers believe this is because it was more rare, and therefore more concerning to peers.

So far, the study’s findings have received mixed reviews from the mental health community, with some experts considering their implications too broad.

The results made sense to social media researcher Amy Gonzales of the University of Pennsylvania. However, she was concerned that the study was too quick to make assumptions and highlight negative consequences of the website.

In her research of Facebook, she found the website actually improved self-esteem because it allows users to filter themselves to display only the most flattering photographs and wittiest comments.

“When studying a new technology [like Facebook], I think we should reserve judgment before assuming the worst,” Gonzales said. “It’s very easy to assume that they have radical changes on people and blow those expectations out of proportion.”

Brandon Van Der Heide, an assistant professor in Communications at Ohio State University who also studies Facebook behavior, believes the research was interesting but far-fetched.

“Facebook use has remained off the charts, and people use it all the time,” Van Der Heide said. “So if it really contributes to lower self-esteem, that means people are openly choosing to engage in something that makes them feel worse about themselves, and I don’t think that’s the case.”

Despite the criticism and seemingly negative results, Forest said the study shows promise for people with low self-esteem. She and her colleagues plan to study this in more detail in the future.

“The results suggest that people with low self-esteem could make better use of social networking sites to get the acceptance they desire,” she said. “The fact that they feel comfortable disclosing on Facebook

is encouraging.”