The rise of social media has become an epidemic that does not seem to be stopping any time soon. On-line social networking sites have become increasingly popular and almost an integral part of everyday life, particularly for college students. It is estimated that the average amount of time spent on social networking sites range from thirty minutes to over two hours on a daily basis. The purpose of this post is to explore the relationship between social media and low self-esteem.
The social-comparison theory is the idea that individuals are constantly self-evaluating and comparing themselves to others. This theory suggests that our self-esteem is affected by social comparison, and alters how we determine our self-worth. It is believed that as the use of social media becomes more frequent, the self-esteem of the individual decreases.
Social networking is the use of particular websites and applications to interact with other users. These websites and applications that enable the user to participate in social networking is what we refer to as social media. Social media sites have become an outlet for individuals to share information, pictures, and videos of themselves for others to view with a click of a button. Affiliations, schedules, announcements, and more personal content have become a normality to disclose on the Internet and share with the world.
Social media’s influence on the population continues to grow more prevalent, predominantly in teenagers and young adults. Currently, the most commonly used social media site used for social networking is Facebook, launched in 2004 at Harvard University with the intention of being a form of communication for university students. Facebook now has over one billion active users, continuing to significantly increase and is available to anyone who has an email address (Kittinger, Correia, & Irons, 2012). Wilson, Gosling, & Graham (2012) revealed that over four billion pieces of content are uploaded to Facebook on a daily basis, with 250 million pieces of that content being pictures. With an unlimited amount of space, social media applications have made it a simple process to upload countless pictures and videos to the site that can be viewed by friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers. On Facebook alone, over ninety percent of users upload content and update statuses on a regular basis. That does not include the content uploaded to other social networking applications such as Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.
Studies have indicated that there are much higher levels of self-disclosure and personal information on the Internet than ever before. Further research has shown that people are willing to disclose more personal and sensitive information on social networking sites than in person. According to Chen and Lee (2013), there appears to be a connection between more time spent online and a decline in face-to-face communication with family and peers, which often leads to feelings of loneliness and depression.
Self-esteem is the appraisal of the value or worth of the self. It is the subjective emotional evaluation that is considered to be an important indicator of one’s well-being. Self-esteem can be perceived both positively and negatively, and has shown to be interpreted differently in different stages of life (Forest & Wood, 2012). The need to be accepted plays a large role in self-esteem, and social media may act as a tool in a person’s search for social acceptance.
Individuals with generally low self-esteem tend to self-disclose as a way to gain acceptance. Feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing stem from frequent exposure to other people’s positive representations of their lives; inflicting the thought that others have a more fulfilling life than they do. Viewing happy and fun-looking photographs on social networking sites can formulate the idea that other people are constantly living happy and fun lives in contrast to their own lives; therefore frequent use of social media is correlated with low self-esteem and greater psychological distress.
A study conducted by Igor Pantic (2004) of one hundred Facebook users at a local university showed that people who had more self-promoting content and spent more time on the social media application had lower levels of self-esteem. By increasing the amount of friends and followers, accepting and requesting strangers as friends, posting often, and logging into social media sites frequently, individuals that possess lower self-esteem search for the approval from others by receiving “likes” on the social media site. These “likes” are the source of approval that many people search for on social media, believing that the more likes you receive, the more liked you are as a person, which is not the case. Those more concerned with their self-image are more likely to “friend” other users in order to compensate for their social fulfillment, idealizing that more “friends” on a social media site indicates a higher level of popularity (Lee, Moore, Park, & Park, 2012).
It was noted that females spend more time on social media than males, and that females generally have more friends and followers. However, women indicated lower satisfaction in regards to body image and weight consciousness.
People with low self-esteem have the tendency to gravitate more towards negativity on social media rather than something positive. These individuals are more prone to posting and sharing content that stems arguments and negative attention, thus creating a sense of “attention” directed towards themselves. Previously conducted research has shown that people who reported more negative interaction and less positive interaction during social networking reported higher levels of depressive symptoms.
A study conducted by Seidman (2013) found that highly neurotic individuals were more inclined to post and share content on their social media profiles. Excessive Facebook usage was associated with a variety of psychiatric disorders including anxiety and depression.
The theory that social media usage has a negative effect on self-esteem has been supported by multiple conducted studies. Data collected from young adults, particularly college students, has been fundamental in the research surrounding self-esteem and social media, but has also presented limitations in the studies because the sample does not represent the entire population. Therefore further research is required to obtain confirmation on this theory.