“When I scroll through page after page of my friends’ descriptions of how accidentally eloquent their kids are, and how their husbands are endearingly bumbling, and how they’re all about to eat a home-cooked meal prepared with fresh local organic produce,” Stephen Marche confessed in The Atlantic in 2012, “I do grow slightly more miserable. A lot of other people doing the same thing feel a little bit worse, too.”
“The question of the future is this,” Marche wrote. “Is Facebook part of the separating or part of the congregating; is it a huddling-together for warmth or a shuffling-away in pain?”
The most accurate answer may be: It depends how you use it.
Past studies have shown that a steady stream of happy updates from friends can make a person feel isolated, unhappy, and generally more dissatisfied with the circumstances of their own lives. But social media also encapsulates the full range of human emotion, and for every person in your News Feed reminding you that they’re #blessed, there’s another one tacking sad-face emojis onto a post about how much they hate their job or tweeting thinly-veiled barbs at an ex.
Like many things, our online activity—including whose profiles we choose to view—is dictated in large part by our moods. New research suggests that there’s a flip side to Marche’s social media-induced melancholy: For those feeling down in the dumps, Facebook and similar sites can also offer a nastily satisfying pick-me-up. A study recently published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior found that when people feel bad about themselves, they’re more likely to look up the people in their networks who seem to be doing worse.