Social Media and its Effects on Self-Esteem
Social media is a well-known concept in today’s generation. Everyone has a site that they can log on to and be somebody else. Lauren Welch, a junior journalism major at American University, said part of why social media is so effective is because people can say or do what they want and see how people react without having to experience it in person.
“People act and react openly on social media, which can be good for the people who are well received, but for people who aren’t, it can be damaging to self-esteem, especially if their self-image was low already,” she said.
Since the birth of social media, people’s use of sites like Facebook and Twitter has taken a toll on people’s lives – including their self-esteem. When people see their friends’ new photos and status updates, they tend to look at others’ lives and inevitably compare it with their own.
Brooke Foucault Welles, an assistant professor of communication studies at Northeastern University, explained the phenomenon behind this. She said that it’s all about social comparison – people like to compare themselves with their peers to evaluate themselves and their accomplishments.
“Social comparisons work best when you compare people who are slightly better than you,” she said. “It’s not that helpful to compare yourselves with people who are exactly the same or a little bit below. The idea is that you always want to improve your status. So if you can find people who are a little bit better than you, you can emulate that. You know what you’re aiming at.”
Aside from social comparisons on social media sites, Welles said there is also another aspect found in social media sites: narcissism. Social media does not necessarily make people vain, but can give narcissistic people the opportunity to ruminate over the things that people say about them, Welles said.
Tish Grier, a social media specialist and freelance writer at Tish Grier & Associates, agrees with Welles in that social media does not necessarily make people narcissistic, but that people who are in need of attention are the ones likely to gravitate in such websites.
“It’s really all about being too involved in these sites,” she said. “If someone is very psychologically fragile to begin with, and in need of attention, they may get the initial boost from the attention. Also, the constant getting of feedback will lead to “addictive types of behavior” such as having to constantly check Twitter or Facebook even when they are in the presence of other people.”
Joseph Reagle, an assistant professor of communication studies at Northeastern University, said that people could sometimes be too open to the public, which is a factor for low self-esteem.
“People are setting themselves up for having low self-esteem via being too open with the public about their emotions,” he said. “The youth is testing higher in the psychological impacts of narcissism and comparing yourself to your friends and what they have achieved isn’t helping either.”
Meanwhile, Grier believes that it is not exactly just the youth testing higher in psychological impacts because it is different for everyone. Young people are leaned more towards trying on different personalities online and more of play and experimentation, whereas for adults, it’s about an expression of themselves that they keep very private from everyone else, said Grier.
“I remember seeing a special about a young woman who is an average 16-year-old who appeared to be provocative online,” she said. “This online persona she had was different from the person she was at school. So in that sense, she was an individual who was testing the waters of a more mature personality, a way for her to boost her self-esteem, as well as using social media as a source of entertainment and fun.”
According to Digital Buzz’s Facebook statistics for 2011, “there are 500,000,000 active Facebook users. Approximately 1 in every 13 people on earth and half of them are logged in on any given day. Forty-eight percent of 18-34 year olds check Facebook.”
In an article found on mashable.com, the University of Salford in the UK conducted a small study. The aim of the study was to see if social media might do more harm than good when it comes to personal well being. The participants, all of whom identified themselves as social media users, said that their use of Facebook and Twitter “makes their lives worse. In particular, participants noted that their self-esteem suffers when they compare their own accomplishments to those of their online friends.”
Michaela Eduque, a sophomore communication studies at Fordham University, believes that people like to post statuses and photos on Facebook and tweets on Twitter that may sound unusual or that is unheard of because it would draw a larger crowd.
“If a student updates his or her status and said hat he or she is eating dinner, not many people would care,” she said. “Everybody eats dinner. But if that person said that he or she is eating dinner from across a celebrity at a restaurant, that’s where you see the many likes and comments that come in.”
Meanwhile, Christine Kelly, a junior international development and economics major at McGill University, believes that social media does not necessarily make people’s lives worse or ruin self-esteem, but finds that the two can still be related.
“The thing about social media is that it gives people the opportunity to see glimpses of other people’s lives,” she said, “making it easier for a person to compare themselves to others.”
Eventually, Eduque believes that in the end, it’s all about people being interested in their friends’ lives, and comparing themselves if they are better than in their friend list because it can boost their self-esteem.
“As humans, we are simply intrigued,” she said. “It’s one of the reasons why social media flourishing – you can see someone’s current status in life, how he or she is doing, what changed and knowing everything about a person without having to make the effort and talk to them in person.”