On the surface, Facebook would seem to offer important benefits to people who have low self-esteem. Sharing is easy and feels safe on Facebook, and sharing is an important way to improve friendships. Having a stable network of social connections helps to improve self-esteem. In reality, though, it may not work out that way. A new study conducted by Amanda Forest and Joanne Wood of the University of Waterloo found that people with low self-esteem tend to post too many negative updates, causing friends to see them as less likeable. The study will be published in the journal Psychological Science.
Initially, the researchers, who have a special focus on self-esteem and how it impacts which emotions people express, thought that Facebook would be an ideal venue for people to go to learn social skills and improve friendships. People who have lower self-esteem typically find it hard to share their feelings in a one-on-one setting. However, Facebook allows users to share and have social interactions without the need for face-to-face contact.
The researchers found that participants with low self-esteem often view Facebook as a chance to connect and interact with others in a safe setting without the awkwardness they often feel in live, in-person social settings. Participants were also asked to provide the ten most recent updates about their life that they posted for their Facebook friends to see. The updates were rated for negativity, then an undergraduate research assistant went through the updates and indicated how likeable they found the person who made the statements from the updates.
Participants who had low self-esteem tended to post updates that were more negative on average. In turn, the assistants who rated their updates tended to find them less likeable than people with higher self-esteem. Although the raters did not know the people who posted the updates, according to Forest, a previous study showed that almost half of the friends people list on Facebook are strangers or mere acquaintances, rather than close friends.
The study found that when participants with low self-esteem placed very positive messages on their pages, they received more responses from members of their actual Facebook friends list than they did when they placed negative or neutral messages on Facebook. However, participants who had high self-esteem got more responses from their friends when they posted negative messages. Forest and Wood speculate that this may be because, in both cases, these types of posts are more unusual for these users.
The investigators concluded that, while people who have low self-esteem may be more willing to share on Facebook, they might not receive the same benefits from doing so that they would get from face-to-face encounters. This is because people may not be as willing to provide feedback on Facebook the way they might in person. According to Forest, in a live social setting, people may be able to pick up on a friend’s negative reaction to to something they said. “On Facebook, you don’t see most of the reactions.”