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The rise of social media has become an epidemic that doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon. The social-comparison theory is the idea that individuals are constantly self-evaluations compared to others. This theory suggests that our self-esteem is affected by this social comparison and how we determine our self-worth. Because of this, there is reason to believe that as the use of social media becomes more frequent, self-esteem decreases.
Keywords: self-esteem, social-comparison theory, social media
The Impact of Social Media on Self-Esteem
Within the last two decades, the internet has provided us with an online gateway to endless communication with almost anyone in the world with the few simple clicks of a button. Social media has evolved into more than just a form of communicating. It has become almost a lifestyle for modern culture, allowing individuals with access to a computer, cellphone, or other electronic device to share any detail of their life with the world. It has changed the way many people interact and has placed an entirely different aspect of self-disclosure on society. As social media use continues to intensify, research regarding the correlation between social media and the decline of self-esteem has become a growing research topic in the field of psychology.
The social-comparison theory is the idea that individuals are constantly self-evaluating and comparing themselves to others. This theory suggests that our self-esteem is affected by social comparison and alters how we determine our self-worth. This theory supports the idea that as the use of social media become more frequent the self-esteem of the individual decreases.
After the development of the Internet, the world was introduced to a new form of communication. Social networking is the use of particular websites and applications to interact with other users. These websites and applications that enable the user to participate in social networking is what we refer to as social media. Social media sites have become an outlet for individuals to share information, pictures, and videos of themselves for other’s to view with a click of a button. Affiliations, schedules, announcements, and more personal content have become a normality to disclose on the Internet and share with the world.
Social media’s influence on the population continues to grow more prevalent, predominantly in teenagers and young adults. Currently, the most commonly used social media site used for social networking is Facebook, launched in 2004 at Harvard University with the intention of being a form of communication for university students. Facebook now has over one billion active users, continuing to significantly increase and is available to anyone who has an email address (Kittinger, Correia, & Irons, 2012).
Wilson, Gosling, & Graham (2012) revealed that over four billion pieces of content are uploaded to Facebook on a daily basis, with 250 million pieces of that content being pictures. With an unlimited amount of space, social media applications have made it a simple process to upload countless pictures and videos to the site that can be viewed by friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers. On Facebook alone, over ninety percent of users upload content and update statuses on a regular basis. That does not include the content uploaded to other social networking applications such as Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.
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As time goes forward, social media has become not only a way to share content, but a form of therapy for some people. Studies have indicated that there are much higher levels of self-disclosure and personal information on the Internet than ever before. In fact, further research has shown that people are willing to disclose more personal and sensitive information on social networking sites than in person.
According to Chen and Lee (2013), previous research has derived that there appears to be a connection between more time spent online and a decline in face-to-face communication with family and peers, which often leads to feelings of loneliness and depression.
Self-esteem is the appraisal of the value or worth of the self. It is the subjective emotional evaluation that is considered to be an important indicator of one’s well-being. Self-esteem can be perceived both positively and negatively, and has shown to be interpreted differently in different stages of life (Forest & Wood, 2012).
Someone with low self-esteem may portray more introverted characteristics such as social anxiousness, loneliness, and shyness, however, there are circumstances where a socially extroverted person may have low self-esteem and overcompensate. The need to be accepted plays a large role in self-esteem, and social media may act as a tool in a person’s search for social acceptance.
According to Chen and Lee (2013), individuals with generally low self-esteem tend to self-disclose as a way to gain acceptance. Feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing stem from frequent exposure to other people’s positive representations of their lives; inflicting the thought that others have a more fulfilling life than they do. Viewing happy and fun-looking photographs on social networking sites can formulate the idea that other people are constantly living happy and fun lives in contrast to their own lives; therefore frequent use of social media is correlated with low self-esteem and greater psychological distress.
People who typically have lower self-esteem than others attempt to compensate with the use of social media (Amichai-Hamburger & Vinitzky, 2010). A study conducted by Igor Pantic (2004) of one hundred Facebook users at a local university showed that people who had more self-promoting content and spent more time on the social media application had lower levels of self-esteem. By increasing the amount of friends and followers, accepting and requesting strangers as friends, posting often, and logging into social media sites frequently, individuals that possess lower self-esteem search for the approval from others by receiving “likes” on the social media site. These “likes” are the source of approval that many people search for on social media, believing that the more likes you receive, the more liked you are as a person, which is not the case. Those more concerned with their self-image are more likely to “friend” other users in order to compensate for their social fulfillment, idealizing that more “friends” on a social media site indicates a higher level of popularity (Lee, Moore, Park, & Park, 2012). It was noted that females spend more time on social media than males, and that females generally have more friends and followers. However, women indicated lower satisfaction in regards to body image and weight consciousness.
Social media sites allow a person to create an enticing persona by choosing not only what to post, but also what to not post on the network. Presenting only flattering images, posting the partaking of certain activities, and only revealing the more glamorous aspects of their lives can present a desirable, but misleading lifestyle. There are features on social media sites that allow a person to remove, untag, or report unflattering images of themselves that they don’t wish others to view. Tazghini and Siedlecki (2013) claim that individuals with low self-esteem frequently “untag” themselves from pictures that they find unflattering so that they can maintain their desired image.
Forest and Wood (2012) found that people with low self-esteem have the tendency to gravitate more towards negativity on social media rather than something positive. These individuals are more prone to posting and sharing content that stems arguments and negative attention, thus creating a sense of “attention” directed towards themselves. Previously conducted research has shown that people who reported more negative interaction and less positive interaction during social networking reported higher levels of depressive symptoms. Bergman et al. (2011) argues that if an individual is already suffering from low self-esteem, social media usage will sustain those feelings.
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A study conducted by Seidman (2013) found that highly neurotic individuals were more inclined to post and share content on their social media profiles. Additional research conducted by Pantic (2014) associated excessive Facebook usage with a variety of psychiatric disorders including anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. The study revealed that approximately fifty percent of females reported dissatisfaction in relation to their bodies. It was theorized that this was a result of the emphasis on being thin that is portrayed in the media
The theory that social media usage has a negative effect on self-esteem has been supported by multiple conducted studies. Data collected from young adults, particularly college students, has been fundamental in the research surrounding self-esteem and social media, but has presented limitations in the studies because the sample does not represent the entire population. Therefore further research is required to obtain confirmation on this theory.
The importance of further research on the effects social media has on self-esteem is extremely prevalent, especially as the use of social media increases. Children are beginning to have access to social networking sites which means that they are exposed to the same content as adults, which can be incredible risk to their under-developed behaviors and self-esteem. Self-awareness of what is on the internet and that not everything is truth
- Amichai-Hamburger, Y. & Vinitzky, G. (2010). Social network use and personality. Computers in Human Behavior, 26(2010), 1289-1295.
- Bergman, S. M., Fearrington, M. E., Davenport, S. W., & Bergman, J. Z. (2011). Millennials, narcissism, and social networking: What narcissists do on social networking sites and why. Personality and Individual Differences, 50, 706–711.
- Chen, W. & Lee, K. (2013). Sharing, liking, commenting, and distressed? The pathway between Facebook interaction and psychological distress. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 16(10), 728-734.
- Forest, A. L., & Wood, J. V. (2012). When social networking is not working: Individuals with low self-esteem recognize but do not reap the benefits of self-disclosure on Facebook. Psychological Science, 23(3), 295-302.
- Kittinger, R., Correia, C., & Irons, J. (2012). Relationship between Facebook use and problematic Internet use among college students. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15(6), 324-327.
- Lee, J., Moore, D., Park, E., & Park, S. (2012). Who wants to be friend-rich? Social compensatory friending on Facebook and the moderating role of public selfconsciousness. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(2012), 1036- 1043.
- Pantic, I. (2014). Online social networking and mental health. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, X(X), 1-6.
- Tazghini, S. & Siedlecki, K. (2013). A mixed approach to examining Facebook use and its relationship to self-esteem. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 827-832.
- Seidman, G. (2013). Self-presentation and belonging on Facebook: How personality influences social media use and motivations. Personality and Individual Differences, 54, 402-407.
- Wilson, R., Gosling, S. & Graham, L. (2012). A review of Facebook research in the social sciences. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7(3), 203-220.
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