Does using social media affect your self-esteem?
Jeyda and I have had many conversations about this topic but found that we were going in circles, and craving evidence. So, we decided to run an experiment.
We agreed that every time we signed into any of our social media accounts, we would pay close attention to which posts or images stood out the most to us, or perhaps evoked an emotional response. We then created a log, describing each post/image, and how/why we reacted to it. Here’s what we found:
I noticed that I mindlessly scroll past tons of posts without even really giving them any attention. If I’m not interested in what I see, why do I keep looking? Is it because I feel like people may post something interesting that I don’t want to miss out on? If I counted the number of posts I have to go scroll past until I reach something that genuinely stands out, it becomes obvious I’m wasting my time.
I also found that although my mindless scrolling was punctuated by occasional stops and ‘likes’, the most memorable thing from the last week’s worth of social media sessions were posts which provoked a negative reaction. Usually, this would be a post by a friend doing something amazing and inspiring; like travelling the world or setting up their own company. There was an initial impressed feeling, but it was shortly followed by one thinking of my own situation as dull by comparison. On each of the occasions I logged, the reactions were strong enough to make me close down the Facebook app. I’d opened social media out of boredom, and although there were a couple of interesting things on there, overall I would come away feeling worse than I had in the first place!
What stood out most about our finished log was that both of us used the phrase “made me” a lot when describing the impact of the images. This made me ask, how can images MAKE us feel a certain way? If we had better control over our self esteem would this reduce such emotional responses? Would we care as much about other people’s lives?
Similar to Jeyda, I have now noticed that the VAST majority of content on my Facebook homepage is dull. When I first started using Facebook it was a place where my school friends wrote statuses like they were diary entries. People constantly posted personal updates about everyday life, accompanied by often hundreds of unfiltered photos. Nowadays my homepage looks quite different. It’s a place to share or re-circulate media content such as news articles (or #fakenews), viral videos, as well as shameless filtered selfies and not much else, which clearly isn’t as much fun.
When I see genuine updates from friends such as; engagements, first home purchases, travelling adventures, expensive looking holidays or once in a lifetime type experiences etc, how does it make me feel? That depends. Usually, I feel happy for my friends, but if I don’t like the person who has posted, or I’m feeling particularly sensitive, that’s when self-comparison kicks in and I end up questioning my own lifestyle. Are they achieving more than me? Self-doubt can feel so crippling.
So, why do I still use Facebook? I’ve pondered this question for a while and to answer honestly: I don’t know. Maybe I don’t like the thought of missing out. Or maybe old habits die hard. I wish I knew the answer.
In conclusion, I believe that we are a generation of oversharers, which has produced an expectation to know everything about everyone within our social networks.
The Motivation Project has an Instagram account. Jeyda and I made a conscious decision to upload the parts of our lives that are a bit less ‘shiny’. It’s a place where we can be honest about our insecurities, as well as a place where we can share how we overcome those insecurities. I was nervous about using Instagram in this way, but I have to admit, I’m glad we do.