Steers: I guess it depends what your priorities are. That's what social comparison theory is all about.
Hamblin: When I saw this I thought about how the Facebook-feed algorithm prioritizes popular posts that other users engage with, which tend to be new babies and graduations and new jobs—while the "I ate a sandwich today" posts get buried because no one else seems to like them—so that could end up skewing your perception of how much great big stuff your friends have going on.
Steers: Part of the reason for that is people tend to self-present on Facebook.
Steers: They try to present themselves in the best light possible. The title of my paper is "Seeing Everyone's Highlight Reels."
Hamblin: So maybe everyone could just agree to post things that are only mildly interesting? So everyone's lives seem accurately quotidian and banal?
Steers: I've seen pictures of people's Subway sandwiches. It really depends on the person and what they feel is important.
Hamblin: Nobody likes Subway pictures, though. It's like a no-win game. If you only post the big things, people will think you're too polished and only come on Facebook to brag and get attention. If you post other stuff, you're boring.
Steers: Are you looking for a takeaway message?
Steers: So, I use a quote from Theodore Roosevelt to preface my article: "Comparison is the thief of joy."
Hamblin: What if you only compare yourself to people who make you feel superior? Like someone who just failed out of a graduate program? And you check their page every day, to feel better about yourself? You write about how downward social comparison, seeing yourself as better off than or superior to others, has been associated with positive health outcomes: less anxiety, positive self-esteem, and ￼￼￼￼￼￼positive affect.
Steers: Well, that's more defensive self-comparison. Other literature suggests that the relationships between social comparison and well-being is more complex than simply the direction of the comparison. It's the act of frequently socially comparing oneself to others, rather than the direction, that's related to long-term destructive emotions. Any benefits gained from social comparison is probably temporary, whereas frequent social comparisons of any kind are linked to lower well-being. You would still feel bad in the end.
But that encapsulates the whole idea: I don't think Facebook is innately good or bad. I think it's all in how we use it. If we use it to connect with other people, which i it's intended purpose is, right ...
Hamblin: Or to make money for Mark Zuckerberg and build unimaginable power by controlling all news and entertainment media.
Steers: Well, if every time we open our Facebook, we find ourselves socially comparing and feeling bad, then I think you have to reevaluate. If there are negative consequences, take a step back and see if Facebook is right for you. Are the connections you're making there worth the negative elements?