I recently deactivated my Facebook account, and I already feel my inner spirits rising anew, unencumbered by the “pokes” and “likes” of my 600+ social media “friends.”
I created my Facebook page a few years back for professional reasons. As a business tool, it worked well. It helped create an online community for people to discuss the subject of my book, TORN: motherhood and the work-life juggle.
It wasn’t until I let my Facebook page morph from professional to personal use that I encountered its nefarious side. I found that the more time I spent on Facebook, the unhappier I felt. Seeing photos of friends celebrating a “girls’ night out” that I wasn’t invited to really hurt. Then I found myself the victim of a disparaging rant on the Facebook page of woman I had never met. Since I wasn’t Facebook “friends” with her, I couldn’t respond to the post or do anything to stop the comments. It left me feeling beat up and helpless.
Let’s face it: Facebook has forever changed the way that we interact with each other. While it isn’t all bad—it allows you to make new friends, stay in touch with old friends, and connect with family members you haven’t seen in a while—it has an all-too-real dark side. Whereas a snarky comment made in passing can be erased from your memory, a posting on Facebook—be it a picture or a criticism—can go “viral” and become devastating for the person targeted.
Nobody is immune. If you are on Facebook or other social media sites, you, too, are fair game.
Is In her book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, MIT Professor Sherry Turkle discusses the exhaustion teenagers feel as they constantly change their Facebook profiles to appear “cool.” For adolescents who are just forming their sense of self, this can turn into a type of “performance anxiety,” where teens feel that they are constantly on stage for others to view.
Turkle’s broader theory is that social media, despite its promise to bring us closer together, actually makes us feel more isolated and alone. While Facebook lets people connect socially, in many ways it does the exact opposite. It prevents true intimacy.
I’m not advising everyone to get off Facebook. Just proceed with caution.
Here are some of the hidden dangers of Facebook to watch out for:
- Displaying emotions for the world to see. With Facebook, it’s too easy to disclose your struggles and opinions to the world, rather than confiding in close friends or family. Ranting about a person online is never a good idea. Posting defamatory statements on Facebook can result in a libel lawsuit. If you are angry or upset about something, documenting those private thoughts on Facebook can lead to embarrassment or trouble down the line. Better to talk to a friend, family member or therapist offline if you need to vent strong emotions.
- Thinking Facebook “friends” are true friends. Let’s face it: most Facebook friendships are missing deep, personal connections. You may feel that you are “connecting” with friends when you post or comment online. But spending online takes away from the precious human interaction we get when we spend time with our real friends—in the flesh. Nothing beats the human touch.
- Posting without thinking who will read your post. I do college interviews for my alma mater, I can tell you that I check applicants’ Facebook pages before I write up my reports. Don’t be naïve and use Facebook to post inappropriate pictures or comments—it won’t help you get into college or get a job after. I’ve heard of people losing jobs because of what they’ve posted online—much of which is an inaccurate or inappropriate portrayal of who they really are. Be careful of what you put out there to the world—it’s seen as a reflection of your character.
- Facebook addiction. You get onto Facebook for five minutes and emerge two hours later, having looked up old boyfriends and college classmates, none the better for it. Facebook is a time suck. A recent study has shown that it may even have addictive qualities. Like a drug, the more you use it, the unhappier it can make you. Part of the problem is that it takes you away from the more uplifting and productive aspects of your life—like completing assignments, reading books or interacting with people.
- Using Facebook to seek the approval of others. Why didn’t she ‘like’ my new profile picture? Why didn’t I get invited to that party—all my friends were there? Facebook is a breeding ground for insecurity and self-doubt. I cringe when I get on Facebook and feel the desperation of teenagers trying so hard to be “liked” by their friends. Seeking the approval of others—trying to get them to “like” or “share” your posts, videos or pictures—is an exhausting process and can contribute to feelings of low self-esteem.
- Contributes to negative body image. A study by the Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt (Hospital) found that looking at Facebook photos made people, especially young women and girls, more body-conscious. Half of all people surveyed said that looking at Facebook friends’ photos made them wish they had the same body or weight of the person pictured. According to Dr. Harry Brandt, director of The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, which conducted the study, “Facebook is making it easier for people to spend more time and energy criticizing their own bodies and wishing they looked like someone else.”
- To compare is to despair. Along these same lines, Facebook posting can turn into an unhealthy competition on who’s prettier, more popular, or has the better life. This is especially true for women. According to a study from the University of Texas at Austin, while men use Facebook to share items related to the news or current events, women tend to use it to engage in personal communication (posting photos, sharing content related to family and friends). This may make it especially hard for women to avoid making comparisons that make them miserable.
- Cyber-bullying and the threat of public criticism. Facebook gives any person with an account the ability to hide behind their alter ego while they publicly criticize, gossip or even cyber-bully innocent victims. Often the victim is helpless to stop the abuse. Facebook is a public forum, and the abuse can go viral.
- Facebook stalking. Have you ever had a random stranger try to connect or talk to you on Facebook? I have, and it’s scary. You have to be careful whom you associate with on Facebook. People can hid behind their online profiles, so you have no idea who you are really talking to. Others abuse the platform for their own corrupt benefits. Be wary of accepting friend requests from people you don’t know well.
- Trouble with the law. Many people are arrested each year– for libel, sexual harassment, dissemination of child pornography, and more– because of what they have posted on Facebook. The police use Facebook to solve crimes. Remember that your Facebook posts can be monitored by the authorities, even if you think they are private.
Bottom line? You can use Facebook, but don’t let it use you. Don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want published on the front page of the newspaper. And don’t let “social networking” take over the way that you interact with others. There is no substitute for getting out from behind your computer screen or smartphone and forging deep, personal and meaningful connections with real human beings.
Samantha Parent Walravens is the author of TORN: True Stories of Kids, Career & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, chosen by the New York Times as the first pick for the Motherlode Book Club.