"I'm not talking about a dating site; I'm talking about taking the entire social experience of college and putting it online." ~Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network
We all know Facebook is a social experience in its own right. It can be a great way to keep in touch with friends near and far or waste hours at a time, if that's what you choose. But forget everything you thought you knew about Facebook. Here's a surprise. New research shows that Facebook can actually improve your self-esteem…possibly.
The study, conducted by scientists at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, engaged 63 students at the school. They were seated at computer stations in the university's Social Media Lab. One group of participants was allowed to access their Facebook profile, while the other group faced computers that were turned off.
After the experiment, the volunteers were asked questions to gauge their self-esteem levels. The group who had access to their Facebook profiles reported higher self-esteem than those who looked at blank computer screens. Those who could use Facebook during the study were given three minutes to look over and update their profiles however they wished. And for any of you thinking that maybe it was just a question of staring at a blank screen VS looking at anything, the students who did not remain on their profile page during the allotted time experienced lower self-esteem than those who only viewed their own profile. And the participants who made changes to their Facebook profile during the course of the experiment had the highest levels of self-esteem of any of the groups.
The researchers theorize that this is a result of subjects being able to present their best qualities on a site such as Facebook. You can be the version of yourself that you want to be by selectively filtering what you say, the "likes" you choose, and the photos you download. It is the most positive spin you can put on yourself without losing reality or being deceptive.
However, it is pretty hard to imagine any boost to the self-esteem of the many people who have experienced cyberbullying on Facebook. A 14-year-old boy in Orange County, New York, committed suicide in January after being ridiculed on the site about his sexuality.1 Another 14-year-old boy in Jersey City, New Jersey, was just arrested for allegedly threatening to hurt or kill two 12-year-old boys on Facebook.2 Two girls, 15 and 16 years old, from Estero, Florida, were arrested in January for creating Facebook accounts to bully a female classmate, making disparaging comments, and posting offensive pictures of her.3
Granted, not all cyberbullying takes place on Facebook, but since the social networking site is so popular among tweens and teenagers everywhere, it is a regular source of problems. Nearly half of all teenagers in the United States have experienced some online bullying, according to statistics from the National Crime Prevention Council. And 20 percent of middle-school students said they have seriously contemplated suicide due to online bullying, according to a recent survey conducted by the Cyberbullying Research Center.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that victims of cyberbullying have lower self-esteem than those who have not experienced it. On the other hand, research has also surprisingly shown that the actual cyberbullying offenders have markedly lower self-esteem than their peers. It would seem that when it comes to bullying, everyone loses. Since low self-esteem has been linked in many studies to poor grades in school, health issues, excessive absenteeism, and criminal behavior, it would be in everyone's best interest to take steps to shut bullying down early on.
That's obviously not such an easy thing to do, despite all of the anti-bullying programs at elementary, middle, and high schools across the country. Some research has even suggested that the cruel behavior that is the hallmark of the bully is hard-wired into their brains, with activity in the pleasure/reward centers when watching others being hurt.
With all the positive aspects of a social networking site, wouldn't it be great if the geniuses at Facebook could write a program to weed out the bullying so that everyone could just get a daily boost to their self-esteem instead?
1 Evers, Lisa. "Sources: Teenager Kills Himself After Facebook Taunts." My Fox NY. 19 January 2011. Fox Television Stations, Inc. 15 March 2011. <http://www.myfoxny.com/dpp/news/local_news/new_york_state/sources-teenager-kills-himself-after-facebook-taunts-20110119>.
2 Jabali-Nash, Naimah. "New Jersey Teen Arrested for 'Cyber-Bullying' Two 12-Year-Olds on Facebook, Over a Girl." CBS News. 15 March 2011. CBS Interactive Inc. 15 March 2011. <http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-20043368-504083.html>.
3 "Estero Teens Arrested for Facebook Bullying." 2 RSW Florida. 13 January 2011. WorldNow and WBBH. 15 March 2011. Online.