Although social media is a relatively new phenomenon that has yet to be studied in depth as of 2011, some research suggests a link between Facebook and self-esteem. Some studies indicate that the social networking site provides a boost to users’ self-esteem by allowing them to customize and control how others see them. Other research focuses on the possibility and consequences of cyberbullying on the website. Specific and unanticipated interactions on Facebook can also impact self-esteem in positive and negative ways.
One study has revealed a beneficial correlation between Facebook and self-esteem. Some participants were observed while perusing their own profiles and associated tabs, while others could not turn their computers on. The researchers then administered a survey designed to gauge self-esteem.
Those students who viewed their own profiles had higher self-esteem than those whose computers were never turned on. Additionally, students who left their Facebook profiles had lower self-esteem than those who focused exclusively on their own profile page. The participants who reported the highest level of self-esteem were those who not only viewed their profile pages exclusively but also edited them.
While a mirror reminds individuals of who they actually are and can therefore negatively impact self-esteem, a Facebook profile is an image that is customizable and controllable. The positive connection between Facebook and self-esteem is based on the user’s ability to put his or her best foot forward. He or she can filter out whatever aspects that will negatively impact self-image. A mirror will reflect blemishes, but Facebook can show a user his or her idealized self and thus bolster self-esteem.
Some researchers, however, have come to a different opinion. Students between the ages of 18 and 25 were given psychological exams designed to measure their levels of narcissism, and their Facebook habits were also tracked. Researchers established that those with higher narcissistic tendencies also checked their Facebook pages the most frequently. The study also suggested that participants with low self-esteem checked their Facebook profiles more often than average. Narcissism and low self-esteem are linked in the study and fed by Facebook.
For children and young adults, the link between Facebook and self-esteem may not be as positive. The website can facilitate online abuse and harassment called cyberbullying that can devastate a user’s self-esteem. For example, a Facebook user may come across a page dedicated to him or her that is derogatory. Some victims of cyberbullying have committed suicide or other acts of violence. A cyberbully is often one of the victim’s peers, but can also be an adult.
Unanticipated and specific interactions affect the connection between Facebook and self-esteem the most for some users. A user may find that the person he or she is dating has suddenly changed his or her relationship status without warning. Friends see pictures of a party they were not invited to but felt they should have been. Someone posts a negative message about a user without realizing that the user can see it on his or her news feed. These situations are increasingly common at the website and can impact self-esteem.
The relationship between Facebook and self-esteem ultimately depends on the individual user. Maturity, life experience, and motivations for being on the website are all factors specific to an individual that can affect how the website shapes his or her self-esteem. Facebook allows users to report violations of the website’s rights and responsibilities, placing the policing responsibility on the users themselves. The site is typically a place for positive connections with friends and family, but all users and the parents of children who frequent the website should be on guard, self-aware, and unafraid to report unwanted or threatening behaviors.