STUDY: Using Facebook for ‘Surveillance’ Can Lead to Envy, Depression


A new study by researchers at the University of Missouri found that the social network affected respondents differently, based on whether they used it to stay in touch with friends and family, or whether they used it for “surveillance.”

The study was conducted by University of Missouri School of Journalism chair of strategic communication and Prof. Margaret Duffy and Nanyang Technological University (Singapore) assistant professor Edson Tandoc, a former doctoral student at MU. Patrick Ferrucci, a former doctoral student at the MU School of Journalism and currently an assistant professor at Bradley University, also co-authored the study.

Duffy and Tandoc found that Facebook users who engaged in what they called “surveillance use” experienced feelings of envy when friends posted about positive events such as vacations, expensive purchases or happiness in their relationships, and that envy often led to depression, Meanwhile, respondents who used the social network to maintain contact with friends and family were not affected in this way.

Duffy said in a press release announcing the findings:

Facebook can be a fun and healthy activity if users take advantage of the site to stay connected with family and old friends and to share interesting and important aspects of their lives. However, if Facebook is used to see how well an acquaintance is doing financially or how happy an old friend is in his relationship — things that cause envy among users — use of the site can lead to feelings of depression.

We found that if Facebook users experience envy of the activities and lifestyles of their friends on Facebook, they are much more likely to report feelings of depression. Facebook can be a very positive resource for many people, but if it is used as a way to size up one’s own accomplishments against others, it can have a negative effect. It is important for Facebook users to be aware of these risks so they can avoid this kind of behavior when using Facebook.

Tandoc added:

Social media literacy is important. Based on our study, as well as on what others have previously found, using Facebook can exert positive effects on well-being. But when it triggers envy among users, that’s a different story. Users should be self-aware that positive self-presentation is an important motivation in using social media, so it is to be expected that many users would only post positive things about themselves. This self-awareness, hopefully, can lessen feelings of envy.

Readers: Have you ever experienced feelings of envy or depression due to Facebook?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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