Critical Thinking Media Competence

Facebook—Friend or Foe?

A glance at the impact of envy on user's life satisfaction


Looking around the lecture hall – at least every third student seems to be busy checking their phones. Lectures, which go by undisturbed from buzzing, blinking or ringing, are the exception now.  

You can pick them out easily. The empty stare directed towards their lap or the table, fast typing, an absent smile once in a while. Facebook Zombies. The urge to make that little red '1', which popped up next to the Facebook symbol on their iPhones go away, goes deep. It seems to be close to impossible to keep up with the suspense, to wait until the lecture is over, until lunch is over, until the movie is over, until the chat with your friend is over. Facebook is ubiquitous. It is the first thing a lot of people check in the morning and the last they do before they go to bed – correction: the last thing they do in bed before they close their eyes.

What does this kind of ubiquity do to us? How does it affect our quality of life? Our life satisfaction? Aside from the urge to be within reach all the time, all day long, and even after we closed our eyes - because who switches their phone off when they sleep? - What other harm does it do to us?

Several researchers found out that social envy is one of the most common negative consequences of following information of others on social platforms (Krasnova et al).  Especially the so called content consumption or social searching may lead to feelings of exhaustion, jealousy, an increase in social tension, social overload, isolation and even depression. "Passive following of information takes place when users browse their news feed, click on 'stories', follow communication of their friends, or proactively examine profiles of others" (Krasnova et al.).

There are several triggers on social network sites that generate envious behavior and feelings. First, there is the scale of information that is shared (30 billion pieces of content each month), then there are the easy and transparent ways to compare oneself with others via Facebook, and then there is impression management. What sounds like a task in a PR company is actually the over emphasis of achievements by users. The seed of narcissism found fertile soil in social network sites. Profile pictures and photo albums only show pictures, we're actually proud to show. Christmas shopping in Paris, surfing in Bali and sight seeing in New York -  Facebook asks us to share, and so we do. "Peter, what are you up to?" "Peter, what are you doing?" "Share with your friends!" We share that we're going to the gym and we share that we're getting married; we even share the first picture of our newborn child.

But some people are different. They don't like to share, or they feel like they don't have anything worth sharing. They read comments, look at photo albums and check out their friend's - and their friend's friend's profiles. Researchers have conducted tests that show that those people are more socially isolated and more frequently depressed than those who are proactive on Facebook and share a lot. The results show that Facebook can stir up intensive envy in the passive users. When asked they answered that the use of Facebook awakens frustrating feelings because of envy and a lack of feedback to their posts by others. They felt frustrated "sometimes to very often" (Die Welt).

The people we call our "friends" on Facebook, our "online peer group" become a reference group against which we start to compare our own popularity and success. We glorify others and put them above ourselves – almost as if they were celebrities. And so the "envy spiral" begins.

So why even bother? Why do we still visit social network sites?

Because envy is more bearable than loneliness. And because being jealous is better than not even knowing about something. Facebook is a part of our lives now and therefore managing our envious feelings must be a part of it too. For some people Facebook use is a potential threat to their quality of life. They need to learn how to distance themselves from impression management of others and see that their envy was induced externally.

 (Malena Cordes (mcordes2) Rasna Maharjan (rasna1)