There was one bright spot amid all the hand-wringing over Facebook and its supposedly negative effects on relationships. Psychologists thought that Facebook allows people with low self-esteem, who typically are wary of the kind of self-disclosure that fosters intimacy, feel safe enough to express themselves, thereby expanding their social networks. People with low self-esteem thought the same thing. Here, they thought, I can open up, show myself, make new friends.
First one set of coders rated the positivity or negativity of a collection of status lines culled from students who also had filled out a measure of self-esteem. Then another set of coders rated the subject lines according to the degree they expressed sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety, fear, tiredness, boredom, illness, embarrassment, irritability, happiness, excitement, and gratitude.
All this coding revealed that the people with low self-esteem walked on the whiny side. And when a whole new bunch of coders rated the status lines according to how much they thought they would or wouldn’t like the person who wrote them, the Debby Downers were not popular.
So it seems people with low self-esteem don’t do themselves any good on Facebook, especially if they stick to the sour side of life.
Is this surprising? Not really. Mostly it confirms what we already know: That we are essentially the same people online as off (with the exception of some whoppers told on dating sites). It stands to reason that Eeyore in real life remains Eeyore online.
The researchers also found that people who posted a lot of negative status lines tended not to get much response to their grumbles. This could be yet another blow to their already low self-esteem. Nobody likes being ignored. On the other hand, people who were mostly positive got lots of response to negative subject lines, because people were concerned. And vice versa—when an Eeyore posted something happy, he got lots of response, possibly from people hoping to encourage this trend.
So how does this play in the real online world?
It’s true that endlessly glum or gripe-y status lines can turn me off a person. But you know what? So can endless “I am blessed!” and “It’s a beautiful day on our beautiful Earth!” and “I’m the luckiest person in the world!” status lines. (And not just because of the overuse of exclamation points.) After a while, all those life-is-grand statements start sounding smug. My life isn’t bad, but it sure as hell isn’t lollipops and sunshine all the time. Besides, what am I supposed to do with that information? Congratulate them?
To be likeable on Facebook requires a balance of positive and negative. A little happy, a little sad, a little gleeful, a little kvetchy.
You know, human.
And, perhaps most important, it doesn’t all have to be about you. You know how annoying people who talk about themselves all the time are? Same with Facebook. Facebook should be a conversation, of sorts.
Like other relationships, generosity plays well on Facebook. If you’re going to put yourself out there, at least try to be entertaining. Status lines are not just for mind-dumps or mood vents. I like good conversationalists who give me something interesting to think about, or a laugh, or say something fresh about what everyone’s talking about. I like when people ask for advice so I can show off what I know.
Reciprocity is nice, too. If you want comments on your posts, comment on other people’s posts. Share things. Help them out if they need help. Give and take, give and take.
We all have Facebook faults. I post a lot, which surely annoys some people. I have a tendency to hijack discussions on people’s status lines—similar to my bad habit of interrupting people when I’m excited about a conversation. I’ve tossed out a glum or self-pitying status line now and then, but then sometimes reconsider and remove it. And sure, I’m a sourpuss sometimes. Isn’t everyone? At least everyone I like? But I try to stay balanced.
Facebook isn’t bad for people with low self-esteem, but people with low self-esteem might be bad at Facebook. Facebook is about people skills, just in a whole new environment.