Social media isn’t as depressing as some have feared.
New research from Pew shows that checking social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, among others, doesn’t have a harmful effect on most people’s emotions. It actually claims that using these services can have a positive effect, especially on women, and that most social networks aren’t going to make people unhappy with continued use.
That runs counter to what other studies have said in the past. One from the University of Michigan showed that people became more dissatisfied with their lives when they use Facebook. Another from BeiHang University in China showed that anger is the emotion most likely to spread via social networks like Weibo, the so-called “Twitter of China.”
Pew’s research did show, however, that stress can often spread via social media. This is less a function of these services and more a simple example of human compassion — most people feel like shit when something bad, such as a medical emergency or layoff, happens to someone they know. (People to whom this doesn’t happen are called assholes.)
This meshes with other claims that social networks don’t create emotions, they merely increase the intensity of those we’re already feeling. As the New Yorker explained in an article examining the many studies into how social networks affect someone’s happiness which ultimately concluded that the biggest problem with them is simple boredom:
Whenever we have downtime, the Internet is an enticing, quick solution that immediately fills the gap. We get bored, look at Facebook or Twitter, and become more bored. Getting rid of Facebook wouldn’t change the fact that our attention is, more and more frequently, forgetting the path to proper, fulfilling engagement. And in that sense, Facebook isn’t the problem. It’s the symptom.
Bored people go to social networks and become more bored. Stressed people visit them to vent about their lives and, in the process, stress out their friends. Angry people take to them to write poorly-written tirades about whatever injustice befell them that day and the vitriol of those rants makes many of the people who read them angry themselves.
Social media doesn’t create emotions, at least not for most people. It merely helps those emotions transfer from one person to the other — which I suppose is a convoluted way of saying that Facebook and Twitter aren’t the problem, the people using them are.
[illustration by Hallie Bateman]