Does Facebook Make Us Depressed?

From publishing “likes” but not showing “dislikes,” to having profile pictures show ourselves at our cutest, people tend to depict only the happiest aspects of their lives on Facebook. Problem is, this is the side that we often see from our friends as well. Could comparing ourselves to others’ profiles make us depressed?

In her interesting column for Slate, “The Anti-Social Network,” writer Libby Copeland makes a provoking assertion: By helping people appear happy all the time, Facebook may be making us sad. She bases her claim on a recent scientific paper called “Misery Has More Company Than People Think,” led by Stanford psychologist Alex Jordan and published in the January issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

People often misconstrue and overestimate other people’s happiness, and even fail to correctly interpret the mood of close friends and family members. This “inability” to appropriately gauge others’ emotional states of mind, Copeland suggests, could become even more acute when faced with many people’s number one Internet pasttime: Hanging out on Facebook. Like she says:

Facebook is, after all, characterized by the very public curation of one’s assets in the form of friends, photos, biographical data, accomplishments, pithy observations, even the books we say we like. Look, we have baked beautiful cookies. We are playing with a new puppy. We are smiling in pictures (or, if we are moody, we are artfully moody.)

My first reaction to this article was to agree with Copeland. It is hardly arguable that, if you pay attention, people indeed “like” your stuff more if you talk about accomplishments rather than hardships, if you share funny YouTube videos instead of a serious editorial from The Atlantic, and if you post pictures of you and your friends having fun rather than images of protests.

There were two groups in particular that Copeland identified as being more prone to comparing themselves to other Facebook friends and getting depressed (I am not part of either of these groups, so I will just relate the information and let you guys battle it out in the comments):

  1. Parents, because they will instinctively show their good side on Facebook – they’re proud of their family and want to set a good example for their kids, who they are often friends with.
  2. Women, because they tend to be more active on Facebook and post more personal stuff on their profiles. They might therefore be more drawn to comparing themselves to others, and take those lives as truthful representations.

But don’t we also enjoy reading rants from friends who love to complain? Like the ones who just tell it like it is on their status updates, and the sarcastic or catty string of comments that might ensue after a controversial link is posted on a friend’s wall? Don’t we join groups of things and people we hate? Sure, Facebook is inherently a place to socialize, so if you aren’t feeling like socializing — like if you are sad or sick or simply apathetic — you probably won’t post stuff for all your friends to see. At most, you’ll limit yourself to chatting or sending a message to someone.

I don’t think, however, that Copeland is saying that Facebook should become a place where everyone reflects their complete, natural selves. Rather, it is up to us to learn how to take stuff people post with a grain of salt, and also “learn” how to better interpret and curate our own experience on the social network.

Does seeing other people having fun on Facebook sometimes get you down? Are you someone who discloses not only the pretty but also the ugly on your profile? How do your friends take it when you?

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