For the past few years I've been reading a lot about what's become known as "Facebook Depression." When an old friend who has since moved out of town came to visit and told me she had deactivated her Facebook account (I hadn't noticed), I asked why. She explained that she and her husband had been struggling to have another baby and seeing so many posts from her friends announcing they were pregnant was enough to drive her insane. Rather than endure the abundance of joyful posts of healthy ultrasound images and photos of pregnant bellies and newborn smiles, she simply pulled the plug on her Facebook account. What follows is my recent article on the so called "Facebook Depression" in the Detroit Jewish News:
In 2004 when Harvard undergraduate Mark Zuckerberg started The Facebook he never imagined that ten years later there would be over 1 billion users on the social networking site. He also never imagined that it would be painfully difficult for him and his wife to see the happy photos uploaded to the site of their peers smiling with their newborn babies.
On July 31, Zuckerberg made a public post to Facebook announcing that he and his wife Priscilla Chan were expecting a child. While nothing would be unusual about such an announcement on Facebook – they occur every day – the Facebook founder and CEO elaborated on the challenges the couple endured in sustaining a healthy pregnancy.
“Priscilla and I have some exciting news: we're expecting a baby girl!” Zuckerberg continued, “We want to share one experience to start. We've been trying to have a child for a couple of years and have had three miscarriages along the way… It's a lonely experience. Most people don't discuss miscarriages because you worry your problems will distance you or reflect upon you -- as if you're defective or did something to cause this. So you struggle on your own... When we started talking to our friends, we realized how frequently this happened -- that many people we knew had similar issues and that nearly all had healthy children after all. We hope that sharing our experience will give more people the same hope we felt and will help more people feel comfortable sharing their stories as well.”
It’s entirely possible that that Zuckerberg and Chan were suffering from what has been labeled as “Facebook Depression.” In their dark days of suffering through the emotional pain of their miscarriages, we can only assume that using the social network that he created became something of a torturous activity. Scanning through dozens of joyous memory-filled photos on Facebook of friends’ children likely had negative effects on their well-being. Each status announcement that rose to the top of their Facebook Newsfeed broadcasting another pregnancy or birth or milestone reminded this famous couple of their inability to sustain a pregnancy and produce a viable offspring – one they undoubtedly looked forward to showing off on Facebook.
Excessive use of Facebook – especially by teenagers – may lead to feelings of jealousy, malaise and low self-esteem in addition to a lack of acceptance. It can cause anxiety and withdrawal, as well as a propensity toward engaging in risky behaviors. In the digital age, we have mistakenly taken what is posted on networking sites like Facebook as a realistic snapshot of the lives of others. We see the bar of success placed higher than it actually should be due to the way people share only the best parts of their lives on the Web.
It is not only teenagers who are susceptible to “Facebook depression.” Men and women in all age demographics experience the fear of not living up to the triumphant lives of others in addition to what has become known as “FOLO” – a fear of being left out. It is all too easy to log into Facebook and scroll through the News Feed to see photos and videos of friends on magnificent vacations, at expensive Broadway shows and concerts, and celebrating life’s milestones in pure joy and contentment. This best-of-life imagery is not an accurate portrayal of the ups and downs of actual life. People share the best of times with their connections on Facebook and leave the ugliness behind closed doors.
Countless couple like Zuckerberg and his wife, who are struggling to start a family, are pained to see the seemingly perfect images posted to Facebook of happy couples with their babies and young children. Infertile couples often choose to deactivate their Facebook accounts rather than endure the feelings of envy and resentment seeing their friends posting announcements of their pregnancies. Teens waiting to hear from the college of their choice begrudge their friends who share the news of their acceptance on Facebook and other social networks. Those who recently experienced the death of a child are hurt to see posts on Facebook of friends with their children.
Older unmarried individuals dread logging in to Facebook where they will encounter another of their friends’ engagement announcements and those who are going through a divorce get distressed at the popular wedding throwback photos posted to mark another joyous anniversary. Children of divorce see their friends posing with their complete family and feel dejected. Those in financial hardship see entire photo albums of their friends’ vacations and feel inadequate. In a pre-Facebook time, those vacation photos would not have been shared on such a public level – they were in a tangible photo album rather than in the shareable Facebook cloud.
It’s a natural human emotion to see the grass as always greener on the other side. Facebook has taken these feelings to a whole new level – often resulting in depression and anxiety. What is essential is to remember that Facebook is not a depiction of the 24-7-365 real lives of anyone. People only post the highlights. Seeing photos of your friends on the golf course, at concerts and at sporting events with their family does not mean they don’t sit stressed out behind a desk most of the day doing work they do not enjoy. Photos of daily monotony, however, are not popular posts on social networks. Posts about the latest cute and endearing thing one’s child did are ripe for Facebook sharing, but the daily struggles of parenthood don’t often make it to the Facebook Wall. No one wants to air their dirty laundry on Facebook for public consumption making the majority of what we see in the Facebook Newsfeed wholly positive and an unrealistic portrayal of the totality of our friends’ lives.
Before unplugging all the computers in your house, deactivating your Facebook account and going back to the non-Internet cell phones of a bygone era, it is important to remember there are many benefits to Facebook and other social networks. We are able to share our memories with others, meet new people, engage with our community, support important causes and maintain longstanding friendships. Like everything in life, there are pros and cons. Just remember, Facebook is not an accurate portrayal of your friends’ lives.
Originally published in the Detroit Jewish News, a division of Renaissance Media.