“My friends are better than me!”: how social comparisons on
Social Networking Sites could destroy us.
Dr Mohd Faizal Kasmani
I have a confession to make. I was once an avid user of Facebook. I would curate my post – making sure I was at the happiest and brightest state of my life and posts them; almost every day. I went through my timeline at least twice a day, commenting on my Friends’ posts and very much attached to the most popular Social Networking Site (SNS).
Five years ago, I quit Facebook. There was no apparent reason for it, but I remembered the feeling of being consumed and dragged down by it. I felt my life revolves around my Facebook timeline, and I was being dictated by it. Even worse, I judged the standard of life based on what I posted and what other people posted on their SNS. It was becoming like a competition.
For a year, I didn’t use Facebook at all. As expected, I am feeling much better and well informed. I have better empathy towards other people way of life and way of thinking. I still maintain my Facebook account. Nowadays, I am using it occasionally for informational and work purposes. But I am glad that I have been out of my echo chamber’s trap. I believe that I am not the only one who has gone through this, many more have done that, and glad they did it.
For someone like me, whom other people would consider quite accomplished, career-wise, and appear to be well and happy, the social comparison on SNS can still affect my mental state.
Let’s put a different scenario to this. Let say I am an 18 years old teenager who is shy, insecure and always feels incompetent. I have some mental health issues, such as stress and anxiety, although I have not been clinically diagnosed. I would religiously go through my timeline and get fascinated by the perfect facade and life that people portray on social media, which I wish to have. I have tried to achieve the standard of looks and perfection shown by my friends on SNS, but I do not think I have done enough. I could not keep up with what I see on my timelines every day. Things are going downhill for me.
Imagine that 18-year-old boy and other youth who are actively using SNS nowadays; how they would tolerate and navigate the social comparisons. We are not generalising that everyone will be affected by SNS usage negatively because it has many more great benefits, i.e. increasing our social capital and making us feel connected. We are talking about those vulnerable groups, especially among youth with mental health issues, who could not handle such unreasonable social comparison on SNS.
Like it or not, SNS is an essential medium of connections and communication in today’s world. According to Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commissions (MCMC), more than 90% of Internet users in Malaysia use social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn.
SNS is part of social media where the user creates a public or semi-public profile and develop a list of friends where the user share connections. SNS allows its users to view other’s list of contacts and creates a network that consists of weak and strong relationships.
Through SNS, we are conjuring and portraying the best version of ourselves; the ideal self; the self that we always want to be. That may explain the perfect visions that we always see on our Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn timelines. To some of us, such an ideal portrayal of everyday life bring us happiness and inspire us to work harder to achieve that particular standard of life. For others, such unreasonable comparisons can harm their well-being. Comparisons in social dynamics like positional competition, achievements, or beauty can negatively impact their pursuit of happiness.
So what we can do when we think our SNS usage does not make us feel good anymore. What advice can we give to our kids and our younger generation so they would not be affected by the peculiarity that resulted from SNS usage?
First, take a break from SNS. We would not miss anything at all. We will only miss our friends’ perfect portrayal of the ideal life. Second, if we decide to continue using SNS, share more and use them actively. Research shows that passive usage of SNS, such as scrolling through your friends’ timelines, would induce feelings of envy and bring unrealistic social comparisons. Third, reduce social media usage that involves visuals elements, such as Facebook and Instagram, which could lead to unrealistic social comparisons. Twitter, a primarily text-based SNS, maybe a better option, or Youtube, a video sharing service where users can watch, like, share, comment and upload their videos. Fifth, when we are in an unhappy state of mind, consider stopping using SNS for a while and deal with the issues. Unhappy SNS users tend to bring more unpleasantness to their posts.
In the Alchemy of Happiness, al-Ghazali wrote, “He who knows himself is truly happy.” Let us, therefore, in control of our happiness. Do not let our SNS dictate it.
Associate Professor Dr Mohd Faizal Kasmani is a lecturer at the New Media Communications Program, Faculty of Leadership and Management, USIM