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Feeling Lonely? How “Real” Are You On FaceBook?

Originally posted: August 9, 2012 on TrishMcFarlane.com

We all have people in our lives who only share happy news.  You know the ones….your friends who use FaceBook to paint a picture of life in utopia.  They have the perfect jobs, the perfect homes, the perfect kids, pets, you name it.  They are constantly at Starbucks taking pictures of their perfect coffee.  They are always upbeat and have status updates that tell you how wonderful their day is going.

Then there are people like me. 

Sure, I’m happy and have some great things going on.  I also have really bad days like anyone else.  Now, I’m not a believer in oversharing on FaceBook or any social site, but I do believe in keeping it real.  If I say I’m having a great day or something exciting happened, it did.  I also don’t hesitate to post when I could use a boost.

A friend of mine shared an article with me from The Atlantic, Is FaceBook Making Us Lonely?  It’s a fascinating look at loneliness and how use of FaceBook can tell about how connected we really are to other people.  It also shares results from a study by Moira Burke, until recently a graduate student at the Human-Computer Institute at Carnegie Mellon, who studied 1,200 Facebook users.

The people who experience loneliness on Facebook are lonely away from Facebook, too, she points out; on Facebook, as everywhere else, correlation is not causation. The popular kids are popular, and the lonely skulkers skulk alone. Perhaps it says something about me that I think Facebook is primarily a platform for lonely skulking. I mention to Burke the widely reported study, conducted by a Stanford graduate student, that showed how believing that others have strong social networks can lead to feelings of depression. What does Facebook communicate, if not the impression of social bounty? Everybody else looks so happy on Facebook, with so many friends, that our own social networks feel emptier than ever in comparison. Doesn’t that make people feel lonely? “If people are reading about lives that are much better than theirs, two things can happen,” Burke tells me. “They can feel worse about themselves, or they can feel motivated.”

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon also found that lonely people are inclined to spend more time on Facebook: “One of the most noteworthy findings,” they wrote, “was the tendency for neurotic and lonely individuals to spend greater amounts of time on Facebook per day than non-lonely individuals.” And they found that neurotics are more likely to prefer to use the wall, while extroverts tend to use chat features in addition to the wall.

What does all this mean?  Are you more or less lonely?  Am I?  I don’t have all the answers but I do believe that the more “real” we are on FaceBook, the less chance that we will be lonely because our friends will reach out to us, sincerely, to help boost us up.

What do you think?

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