Why do I feel depressed viewing Facebook?
The insight isn’t obvious until you realize how inauthentic and incomplete FB posts are. People misrepresent themselves in the following ways:
- Idealized Self. Who you want the world to know, minus the flaws. Common examples: perfect parent, high achiever, social butterfly, activist, brilliant thinker, athlete, philosopher, traveler, artist or comedian. These characteristics are part of who you are, not your entire imperfect self.
- Glad-Handing. Insincere reminders of one’s humility, fairness, optimism, pride and generosity. Outrage over current events for brownie points among like-minded people. Displays of charitable acts that aren’t balanced by occasional selfishness or conceit.
- Selective Editing. Photos seem too perfect. Stories better than Hollywood. Moments that would fit on a postcard. Are your friend’s lives really that awesome? Have they figured out something you haven’t? Probably not, and most people don’t do this intentionally. However, an unending scroll of wonderful moments can make you feel discontent, envious or bitter.
How do people manipulate positive reactions for seemingly negative things? Remember, people usually represent misfortune accurately. It’s problematic, though, when it’s one of their preferred narratives. Importantly, is their negative impression reasonable, or is it an attempt to evoke a reaction from friends?
- Victimhood. Some people’s victimization becomes excessive. They are victims of society, significant others, misfortune or bad people they choose to know. Occasional posts naturally garner sympathy from others. But a persistent call for virtual support betrays their true need for attention. People will like these posts just to pacify their authors, not because they feel sorry for the 20th time.
- Humble Brags. Don’t trick people’s admiration out of them. “I only got an A- on my calculus test,” your friend writes. If that’s the 3rd best grade of 20 people, is that so bad? Of course your friend is frustrated their studying didn’t pan out. But their self-deprecation makes you wonder if they secretly think the hard-earned Bs and Cs are the REAL losers. After all, their crappy A- needs a support group, never mind those who failed.
- Guilt, remorse and confession for kicks. FB is a casual confessional where people fish compliments from others. This is a matter of degree, because there’s nothing wrong with being open about mistakes. Problems arise when people’s repentance is more important than their accountability. “I was mean to the grocery clerk yesterday, feel bad about it.” Friends will reply with likes and reassurance. What about apologizing to the clerk? What about not doing it again in the future? Stop posting confessional memes and make things right in the real world.
There are two natural rebuttals:
- Stop viewing Facebook. This works until you begin missing occasionally important social information. Now you’re out of the loop. Awkward!
- Grow a thicker skin, you’re responsible for your own feelings. Good advice, except FB is NOT reality. You’re dealing with a distortion which requires selective engagement of the way others present themselves. In other words, you must arbitrate truth, reason and intention with every post you see. This is exhausting for trained psychologists. Most people – no matter how tough – trust their friends to represent themselves accurately, and therefore begin to believe whatever they see. Their suspension of disbelief is abused by interpersonal trust.
Facebook is a clever social experiment. People are stripped of their ability to read, discern and interpret social interactions in person. Since friends naturally trust each other, we accept Facebook’s distorted reality as truth.
Furthermore, barring first hand experience of something we see, it is difficult to question its authenticity. More importantly, how we should really feel versus what we immediately feel. The former requires immense energy and ability to sift through false narratives, insincerity and ploys for attention, while the latter is believing what people tell us because we know them.
After spending time with someone in person we can tell who is honest and who stretches the truth; who needs attention and who is more secure; who omits important information from their social chatter to mask discontent in their private lives. Only then can Facebook be appropriately regarded for what it is: a one dimensional look at multidimensional people.
In absence of a couple dimensions, don’t allow your imagination to color in something overly complimentary. You don’t have enough information to make that assessment, and your self perception may suffer in the meantime.