No shit, Facebook can cause depression

Facebook and Depression

People love to breathlessly analyze any stats about Facebook, largely because it’s at the center of a lot of people’s social universes. I think most logical people — remember: most people aren’t necessarily logical — can understand that Facebook probably isn’t the best thing for real friendship (you know, “IRL” friendship) and that social media isn’t a real relationship but can often feel like one. This is legitimately dangerous social fabric shit for a lot of people, including my mother-in-law. More on that in a separate post.

There’s been several studies about Facebook causing depression; here’s a new one. (It’s also summarized on Forbes.) Most people could probably understand the logic at heart: it’s “social comparison.” You scroll through and you think everyone has a better, cooler life than you do. I’ve fallen prey to that. So, you get depressed. This is really logical and I’m not sure why we need to fund academic research around it, but … what do I know?

That said, at least there was one interesting thing in the whole discourse.

Check out this pull-quote from Forbes:

It turned out that people who logged more Facebook time not only had more depressive symptoms, but that social comparison – in any direction – was the mediator, and for both sexes. In other words, it didn’t matter whether a person was making upward, downward, or neutral social comparison – they were all linked to a greater likelihood for depressive symptoms.

Hm. So you would assume that the main reason people hate FB is because they see friends and compare up (“She has a baby? Jesus Christ…”) but it turns out that pretty much any comparison — even “Jesus, that person is falling apart!” or “Meh, I saw a photo of someone” — could make you more depressed. It’s not just seeing people you think are doing better than you. It’s seeing like, uh, everyone.

And here’s your deep thought for the day:

Steers says the takeaway is larger than that – perhaps that our relationship with technology is often more nuanced than we think. For instance, as we’ve seen again and again, social networks aren’t purely social, and they may even veer into the realm of the anti-social.

This is one of the bigger “no-shit” moments in academic paper/article summarizing history. Of course social networks aren’t purely social. If they’re purely anything, it’s a mechanism for people to talk about themselves! Of course that’s going to make people depressed, and of course it’s going to showcase that our relationship with technology is highly nuanced. Sheesh.


Ted Bauer