A colleague recently had an ‘aha’ moment when listening to her client talk about Facebook. Her client had been struggling with low mood and nothing seemed to make a difference in shifting her thoughts and mood. The ‘aha’ came when she heard her client say things like ‘everyone seems to have a better life than I do’. When asked where this thought came from the reply was “Facebook”. After more discussion my colleague recommended her client take a Facebook sabbatical for a couple of weeks. It worked. The client’s mood elevated, their motivation and focus increased. When the client went back on Facebook they noticed a marked decrease in mood again. For this particular client social networking seemed to increase their sense of isolation, envy of the lives of others and the more the client read and looked at Facebook posts the worse they felt.
This conversation sparked me to find out what research is being done on social networking. While there are numerous studies on social networking and potential negative effects I want to focus on one of the most recent studies. “Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction?”  was a joint research study conducted by Berlin’s Humboldt University and the Darmstadt’s Technical University, led by Dr. Hanna Krasnova.
The authors of this report shared past research that “linked consumption of social information on FB to such undesirable outcomes as jealousy, increase in social tension, social overload, isolation and even depression”. What their research focused on was examining some of the underlying dynamics, in particular the role that envy plays in these negative outcomes.
The researchers conducted two separate studies with 584 Facebook users. The first study looked at the “scale, scope, and nature of envy incidents triggered by Facebook” and the second study focused on “the role of envy feelings…as a mediator between intensity of passive following on Facebook and users’ life satisfaction”. The focus on envy was based on other research, which indicates, “endured over longer time periods, envy can damage one’s sense of self-worth, result in group dissatisfaction and withdrawal, lead to depressive tendencies, reduce perceptions of well-being, and poor mental health”.
What were the findings?
The researchers found “that envy about “travel and leisure”, “social interactions” and “happiness” belong to the three most frequently mentioned causes of envy triggered by Facebook use”. They also found that Facebook was “responsible for causing 21.7% of recent envy cases”. Interesting!
There is a difference between those who actively participate on Facebook and those who passively consume information (e.g. browse news feeds, click on stories or photos, follow communications). The researchers conclude “passive following triggers invidious emotions, with users mainly envying happiness of others, the way others spend their vacations; and socialize. The spread and ubiquitous presence of envy on social networking sites is shown to undermine users’ life satisfaction”. Hmmm.
I’m not sharing this information to sound the alarm and suggest our clients and we exit social networking sites en masse as a way to improve our life satisfaction though it may offer an insight into what might be troubling some of our clients. Maybe, in addition to our usual assessments, we need to enquire into our clients’ use of social networking, how they perceive it and how they feel about themselves before, during and after. Then we can suggest appropriate strategies for managing their use of social networking.
If anyone else has stories to share I’d like to hear them.
Dawn M Schell, MA, CCC, CCDP is an affiliate of Worldwide Therapy Online Inc. http://www.therapyonline.ca
 Krasnova, H., Wenninger, H., Widjaja, T. & Buxmann, P. (2013) Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction. Retrieved from http://warhol.wiwi.hu-berlin.de/~hkrasnova/Ongoing_Research_files/WI%202013%20Final%20Submission%20Krasnova.pdf
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA