I have a confession to make. I am rarely on Facebook. We have a Facebook page for OpenTheWord, with articles automatically posted to the page. You can like the page here if you want to follow the website in that way.
But in a counter-intuitive move, I am probably recommending you don’t.
Because if researchers from Yale and UC San Diego are right, you may be emotionally healthier if you cut back the amount of time you spend on Facebook.
In their study, the two researchers, UC’s Holly Shakya and Yale’s Nicholas Christakis, followed 5,208 people for two years who were regular Facebook users.
There was one slight difference in their methodology. In the past, people studying the impact of social media have done it through self reporting. In other words, the people being studied reported how much they were on social media.
However, in this study Shakya and Christakis received permission to monitor their study groups’ Facebook activity through Facebook, so they had an accurate reading of how many times the individuals were actually on this social media platform. The researchers noted that people tend to underestimate how often they use social media.
Then along with this, three times a year, the two researchers contacted each person to profile their emotional and physical well-being.
What they discovered is that the more people used Facebook, the more emotional struggles they had the following year.
In their study reported in Harvard Business Review, the researchers stated:
“These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measure of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in the later year.”
The researchers believed there were a couple of reasons for this.
The first involved comparison. On Facebook, people usually highlight the best parts of their life, and as a result people tend to compare themselves and feel their lives are inadequate. The researchers described it as a “negative self-comparison.”
The Bible is very clear, we are not to compare ourselves to others, and Paul writes that the only comparison allowed is comparing yourself with yourself, seeing improvement in your life as you grow in Christ.
I love how he says we are to carry our own load, which means if we compare ourselves to others we are effectively adding their burden to our already heavy load. We are not only carrying our own expectations of how life should be, but are adding the expectations of others to our burden when we compare.
The Bible describes comparison for what it really is “envy” and “jealousy” and writer of Proverbs describes envy as rotting our bones (Proverbs 14:30).
But the worst thing is we are comparing ourselves to the highlights of that person’s life, the one hour when they look the best. We have no idea how the other 23 hours went.
I am not saying don’t use social media, but we need to watch for the comparison trap.
Secondly, the researchers said Facebook creates a “false” sense of community or closeness. Yes, you may have thousands of friends, but it is not a substitute for real life social interaction with others, not when all we are seeing is the sunny side of people’s lives.
I remember reading the story of a pastor who was speaking to an older lady in his church whose friend had recently died. This was several year’s back before social media dominated our lives.
The pastor expressed his sympathy for the loss of her friend.
But the pastor was taken back when she said the woman wasn’t a close friend, because though the two had laughed together, they had never cried together.
True friendship is not built sharing the highlights of our lives through posts on Facebook, but being together and having social interactions where we share the good along with the bad.
This explains why we are living in a society made of people with thousands of friends on Facebook who still consider themselves lonely.
In 2018, IPOS conducted a survey on behalf of Cigna, an American health care insurer, to find out how lonely people were in America. People were scored on a scale of between 20 and 80 developed by UCLA to measure loneliness, with higher results reflecting increased rates of loneliness. People with results of 43 or higher are considered lonely.
The survey revealed an overall score of 44 for the 20,000 Americans surveyed with 54% of the people stating they “always” or “sometimes” felt alone.
But what was even more concerning is that young people (Gen Z) who despite all their social media interactions scored a dismal 48.3. Gen Z is made up of those born in the Mid-1990s to early 2000s. Millennials scored slightly better at 45.3.
Several studies have shown that loneliness not only results in higher rates of depression but is now associated with an increased risk of strokes and heart problems.
So it seems despite all its hype, social media is not truly satisfying people’s inner need for human companionship and true fellowship.