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FACEBOOK ENVY: Mizzou researchers confirm a sneaking suspicion about social media use

A lesson in electronic etiquette

COLUMBIA, Mo 02/07/15 (Beat Byte) -- Face it America.  Face it World. 

Lots of us post stuff on Facebook to make everyone else a tad envious.  You've seen the selfies.  She in her sexy bikini on that exotic island in the middle of winter.  He gripping a frosty mug of male envy (i.e. beer), showing off those $25,000 Super Bowl tickets. 

It may be envy we're hoping to inspire with these "in your face, wouldn't-you-love-to-be-me" social media *interactions,* but instead we might be prompting depression, says Margaret Duffy, a professor and chair of strategic communication at the MU School of Journalism.

"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," Duffy explains.  "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."

For their study of "Facebook envy" published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, Duffy and two former Mizzou doctoral students, Edson Tandoc, an assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, and Patrick Ferrucci, an assistant professor at Bradley University, surveyed more than 700 college student Facebook users. 

They found people who Facebook only to stay connected do not suffer negative effects, while those who browse to compare how their friends are doing with their own lives experienced envy-inspired symptoms of depression. 

"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," Duffy said. "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."

Facebook posts about expensive vacations, new houses or cars, or happy relationships can evoke feelings of envy, especially among so-called "surveillance" users -- social media lurkers who do more viewing than contributing.  Understanding such "envy prompts" and other less rational, more emotional Facebook responses is all part of "social media literacy", aka electronic etiquette.

"Social media literacy is important," Tandoc said.  "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."


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