Do you ever find yourself scrolling through your Facebook feed and notice the abundance of positive posts from your friends and acquaintances? Do you wonder to yourself, how can this be? Chad from the the fifth grade, whom you don’t speak to anymore seems to be on a new tropical island every other week. Then there’s you, only been on a plane once to attend your Aunt Janice’s funeral, whom you’ve never met before, although, she does send you birthday cards sometimes. You’re lying there in bed on a Friday night, stuffing your face with hot cheetos and you see all of your friends and their highly groomed content. You can’t help but feel a wave of jealousy and inadequacy wash over you. Social comparison occurs when a user focuses on others and judge themselves in relation to their online friends. Social media provides the perfect platform for users to meticulously present themselves in the most positive light. “Facebook use is partially motivated by a need for positive self-presentation. Self-presentation is a subset of impression management whereby individuals develop their identities and roles and gain social rewards through their interactions with others” (1). This idea is quite powerful, because it is much harder to control how your audience perceives you in an offline social interaction. This gives the user to promote and present themselves in any way they please. These platforms allow there to be a quantitative measure of social life, these measures can be quantified as amount of likes, comments, followers and shares. We live a big part of our lives online, “vast majority of teenagers engage with friends via digital communication: texting (88%), instant messaging (79%), social media (72%), and video chat” (3).
Social comparison can swing both ways, either upward or downward. But let’s face it, how many of your social media friends are going to post about the negatives in their lives in ratio to the positive content. “Social comparison can have a wide range of effects, depending on the direction of the comparison and the traits of the perceiver. Notably, upward social comparison is typically linked to indicators of decreased psychological well-being, such as worsened self-evaluations” (1). According to the social comparison theory, there are a multitude of reasons that one would compare themselves to another–self evaluation, self enhancement, and self improvement (1). Current research shows that, oftentimes, social media users do believe that people are living better lives than them. The more user is engaged with social media the more they are exposed to “upward comparison” and this exposure can have negative effects on a user’s well-being (2). Studies suggest that there is a direct correlation between the engagement frequency of social media and self-esteem. There are a multitude of effects including FOMO, exclusion and can skew the perception of one’s self-worth. In more serious cases, chronic Facebook users were reported to have more prominent signs of depression, lower well-being, and feel that they fall short of their ideal self (2).
We are well aware of the ongoing problem of young girls being exposed to the media objectifying women through television, magazines and music videos. But over the years, as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook has rapidly increased their user base we find that young girls are now more inclined to not compare themselves to celebrities and women they see on television, but to their peers online. This could be due to the fact that magazine engagement is decreasing for the younger generation of girls, while social media use is rapidly increasing (4).
On the contrary, social media can also have a positive affect as well. It’s human nature to have that comparative drive, and one could say that comparing to others can help us improve within ourselves. When young teens compare themselves to others that have positive and influential characteristics, this can inspire and challenge an individual to acquire these positive attributes as well (1). On the other end of the social comparison spectrum, some users may focus on themselves and acknowledge the positive characteristics in their lives and engage in self affirmation. Psychologists suggest that it is important to take into account the positive impacts of social networking and how it may be beneficial to adolescent development. Positive online social interactions would include planning events, collaboration, self expression, and giving/receiving support from their friends (3). Once we can take a step back from the negative connotations of social media, we can try to find way to guide young adolescents to a healthier relationship with social media and digital communication to reach positive goals.
1.Vogel, Erin A., Rose, Jason P. (2016). Self-reflection and interpersonal connection: Making the most of self-presentation on social media. Translational Issues in Psychological Science, Vol 2(3), Sep, 2016. Special Issue: Psychological Advances in Social Media. pp. 294-302. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/tps0000076
2. Vogel, Erin A., Rose, Jason P., Roberts, Lindsay R., Eckles, Katheryn. (2014). Social comparison, social media, and self-esteem. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, Vol 3(4), Oct, 2014. pp. 206-222. Doi:http://dx.doi.org.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/10.1037/ppm0000047
3. Underwood, Marion K., Ehrenreich, Samuel E. (2016). The power and the pain of adolescents’ digital communication: Cyber victimization and the perils of lurking. American Psychologist, Vol 72(2), Feb-Mar, 2017. pp. 144-158. Doi: http://dx.doi.org.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/10.1037/a0040429
4. NauertP, Rick. “Young Women Compare Themselves on Social Media.” Psych Central News. Sage Publications, 06 Oct. 2015. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.