This Christmas season, many of us will find ourselves scrolling through social media feeds filled with countless pictures of holiday cheer. Does this window into the festivities of friends and acquaintances help us to share in the joy of the season or make us feel left out in the cold? Like any technology, it depends on how we use it.
In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics introduced the term “Facebook depression,” described as “depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook.” In a new study from Lancaster University, researchers delved deeper into the emotional effects of social media, studying 35,000 participants from 14 countries. Among the negative behavior researchers detected were accepting friend requests from ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends or former friends. David Baker, one of the lead researchers, said, “We found that comparing yourself with people on social media was more likely to make you feel depressed than comparing yourself offline.”
Comparing yourself with other people is never a good idea, and unfortunately social media make it all too easy. But it also allows people to discover and receive support from virtual communities. Someone who is clinically depressed or who is a survivor of sexual assault can find support groups on platforms like Twitter or Tumblr. Friends and family can connect across countries and oceans with the click of a button. While we should continue to study the effects of social media, it is important to remember that we can also use sites like Facebook for building relationships to support and strengthen each other.