Wish you were here?Photo: Getty Images
It's a truism that Facebook is the many-headed frenemy, the great underminer. We know this because science tells us so.
The Human-Computer Institute at Carnegie Mellon has found that your "passive consumption" of your friends' feeds and your own "broadcasts to wider audiences" on Facebook correlate with feelings of loneliness and even depression.
Earlier this year, two German universities showed that "passive following" on Facebook triggers states of envy and resentment in many users, with vacation photos standing out as a prime trigger.
Yet another study, this one of 425 students in Utah, carried the self-explanatory title They Are Happier and Having Better Lives Than I Am: The Impact of Using Facebook on Perceptions of Others' Lives. Even the positive effects of Facebook can be double-edged: viewing your profile can increase your self-esteem, but it also lowers your ability to ace an arithmetic task.
All of these studies are careful to point out that it's not Facebook per se that inspires states of disconnection, jealousy and poor mathematical performance - rather, it's specific uses of Facebook. If you primarily use Facebook to share interesting news articles with colleagues, exchange messages with new acquaintances, and play games, chances are the green-eyed monster won't ask to friend you.
But if the hours you log on Facebook are largely about creeping through other people's posts - especially their photos, and especially-especially their holiday snaps - with an occasional pause to update your own status and slap on a grudging "like" here or there, then science confirms that you have entered into a semi-consensual sadomasochistic relationship with Facebook and need to break the cycle.
A closer look at Facebook studies also supports an untested but tantalising hypothesis: that, despite all the evidence, Facebook is actually not the greatest underminer at the social-media cocktail party (that you probably weren't invited to, but you saw the pictures and it looked incredible). Facebook is not the frenemy with the most heads. That title, in fact, goes to Instagram. Here's why.
Instagram distils the most crazy-making aspects of the Facebook experience.
So far, academic studies of Instagram's effects on our emotional states are scarce. But it's tempting to extrapolate those effects from the Facebook studies, because out of the many activities Facebook offers, the three things that correlate most strongly with a self-loathing screen hangover are basically the three things that Instagram is currently for: loitering around others' photos, perfunctory like-ing, and "broadcasting" to a relatively amorphous group.
"I would venture to say that photographs, likes, and comments are the aspects of the Facebook experience that are most important in driving the self-esteem effects, and that photos are maybe the biggest driver of those effects," says Catalina Toma of the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "You could say that Instagram purifies this one aspect of Facebook."
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