The Hard Facts: Is Facebook Social or Stressful? Or Both?

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“A large number of friends on Facebook may appear impressive but, according to a new report, the more social circles a person is linked to online the more likely social media will be a source of stress.” (“More Facebook Friends Means More Stress, Says Report”; 11/26/2012)

I find scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed both stress-inducing and addictive. It’s like a bad drug. Every time I lose 30 minutes to the social network, I feel worse. Like I’ve just wasted time spying on others, while doing nothing productive myself. It stresses me out to see all the fabulous activities others are doing or links others are reading or vacations others are taking. I should be doing those things–and more!

But for most people, the source of Facebook stress isn’t that it’s virtual crack (apparently, I’m flying solo on that one). The issue is who to add as friends, and then what to allow these friends to see. “The more groups of people in someone’s Facebook friends, the greater potential to cause offense. In particular, adding employers or parents resulted in the greatest increase in anxiety,” this report says. “Stress arises when a user presents a version of themself on Facebook that is unacceptable to some of their online ‘friends’, such as posts displaying behavior such as swearing, recklessness, drinking and smoking.”

When I started working at my last job, I was hardly on Facebook. I had a profile, but I logged in once every two months. This was in 2007, before everyone posted every moment of her day. As my superiors started adding me as a “friend,” I got more familiar with privacy settings. I didn’t allow my bosses to see my photos. (Not that they were particularly incriminating, but you never know what someone else is likely to post. And there are some pics of me in college–scanned from actual print photos and posted online, thankssomuch guys–that I didn’t need out there.) I created a work group listie thing that I could exclude from seeing certain status updates. That job is behind me now and so are those privacy settings, but I understand why it might cause anxiety. Thank God I was a bit older when Facebook hit the scene. If I was in college now, having pictures of every drunken night plastered all over the Internet, I’d be stressed too. Especially when it came time to apply for jobs.

According to this study, plenty of our Facebook friends aren’t necessarily friends, anyway. “Researchers found that on average people are Facebook friends with seven different social circles. The most common group was friends known offline (97 per cent added them as friends online), followed by extended family (81 per cent), siblings (80 per cent), friends of friends (69 per cent), and colleagues (65 per cent).” It’s no shock that one might get anxious when parents, grandparents and colleagues are constantly kept abreast of her actions.

The author of this study gave this analysis, and I think it’s on point: “Facebook used to be like a great party for all your friends where you can dance, drink and flirt. But now with your Mum, Dad and boss there the party becomes an anxious event full of potential social landmines.”

Do you agree? Is Facebook the awesomest frat party ever? Or the most awkward family gathering of your life?



Filed under The Search

16 responses to “The Hard Facts: Is Facebook Social or Stressful? Or Both?

  1. This is something I’ve always wondered about in real life too. Is it better to have a small group of friends who all know each other, or a wide group of friends that you see as frequently, but they don’t all know each other. (creates awkward party situations when you try and combine.) I’m always finding myself more the latter type of person, and I think I might be missing out. What do you think? – Beth

  2. My main stress comes from feeling great about my day, being stuck somewhere for ten minutes waiting for something, seeing that little blue f on my phone (it’s just so easy!), I touch it, and what do I see? It seems that everyone I know is either getting married or having a baby. I’m just at that age. And throughout a regular day, I care a little, yeah… but when facebook slaps me across the face with it’s cold “you’re going to die alone with many cats” hand… well that’s stressful. And ditto on the virtual crack… you’re not alone!!

  3. Krystal Rose

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    This has often been something that I have wondered about…especially given how many of my FB “friends” have hundreds of “friends” of their own. Is it all truly worth it?

  4. katieleigh

    I don’t worry so much about the social landmines (I do a lot more looking than posting on Facebook), but I agree that it can be a source of stress. And I worry that I don’t think as often about the people who don’t post on Facebook – a 21st-century version of “out of sight, out of mind.”

  5. SnowfoxBandit

    I think it’s the search for self-affirmation that’s stressful! “Did anyone ‘like’ my status update? Do I look good enough in these pictures?” That combined with the detailed security settings and “friending” etiquette is far from relaxing or enjoyable. I went without facebook during my junior and senior year of college, but when I started one again, I got sucked in quickly — even though I’d promised myself I wouldn’t. Even though my 80 friends might number far fewer than people with hundreds, it’s still too much for me. I might have to ditch it again just to keep my social sanity!

  6. I completely agree with this. I got facebook at the beginning of my freshman year of college, which meant that four years of drinking in undergrad and three years in law school are posted all over that. That’s a lot to clean up. Especially now that I’m applying to jobs and becoming a grown-up. It wasn’t a big deal in college, but the long-term effects of all those posts is something I’m dealing with now that I didn’t think about 8 years ago. Blah. Totally stressful.

  7. I used to think FB was an awesome online party with 300 of my closest friends, but that all changed when I copied a post from my blog and it offended a family member. I didn’t know I wasn’t, according to this situation, allowed to write about my opinions. I thought all my FB friends were mature enough to allow for differences in each other. Now, I keep FB light-hearted, and keep my blog as the place where I write (anonymously) about the more important and profound things happening in my life.

  8. Reblogged this on Bohemian Wildebeest is: and commented:
    Is ‘fauxbook’ social, stressful or both!? – I say: It’s manageable, but one has to remain very vigilant at all times… Because of all those unwanted and unasked changes and features they appear to implement again and again. Tumblr, Google plus and WordPress are more social, more customer friendly and they all offer superior privacy settings, among things…

  9. Great post & your first paragraph sums up FB perfectly. I find that FB is useful for family (sharing videos & photos in particular), but other than that it is a waste of space as it encourages a narcissism already far too evident in generation me (gen y & beyond mostly). FB is the friendship version of romantic literary tripe. It creates false expectations of what ones social life should look like & belittles the concept of friendships down to a superficiality that serves no purpose other than to encourage a negative competitiveness that merely makes everyone feel bad.

    FB newsfeed & status updates etc are a bit like wages/salaries – embellished to make one feel better about the inadequacies of their own lives. Even if someone posts fabulous photos of an apparently fabulous trip you can never assume that things are quite as perfect as what they want you to believe.

    And if someone is busying typing how fabulous their life/activity/kids/holidays are whilst in the middle of enjoying those things then clearly they are lying as if was so great why interrupt such fabulousness to boast via your phone, tablet or computer?

  10. Amy

    It is definitely social crack! I want to get out sometimes but I can’t. It’s my connection to a lot of people in my life. It’s my way to share my family life and my blog posts and to keep up with others I care about. The fact employers use it to hold your college drinking escapades against you is absurd to me. But then again, college drinking escapades are absurd to me. There’s a delicate balance though between being real and letting people derive some satisfaction from your struggles, should you choose to expose them. I like to find people I really connect with. But there is surely a lot of drivel.

  11. JL

    Hi Rachel, just wanted to tell you that I absolutely loved you book! You’re a wonderful writer, cannot wait for the next one 😉 I’m a whole decade older than you but you’re my inspiration!

  12. Janelle

    Hmm. Funny timing. I have been off Facebook for almost two weeks now. If I log on, it’s so I can get some coins on Bejeweled. I’ve been feeling incredibly anti-social until I looked it up and realized that my pride was hurt. My pride! I would post something occasionally on Facebook and get few to no replies and a series of likes. How dare they!? (I jest). My time off Facebook allowed me to reflect and realize I was looking to Facebook to measure how well I was liked when I was feeling down. I set my friends and family up for failure (in my mind) by not meeting my expectations. But it was me who failed. I was subconsciously testing them. They all failed in my mind until I pulled my head out of my bum and realized I was being petty and completely ridiculous. Being off Facebook has been awesome. I have since contacted true friends by text, email, or phone call. The quality of the relationships have improved remarkably. Facebook is evil! Okay, not evil, just annoying. In all honesty, I wouldn’t miss it if it completely disappeared off the internet.

  13. I got Facebook to keep my mom in the loop about what was going on in my life. I’m not a huge status update person in real life hence her need for the additional connection. Having been interpret savy and social media savy for nearly half my life Facebook is definitely not a source of stress. I could care less about some of the random updates and anything I put up is with the expressed understanding that my mom will likely be reading it within a day. I can certainly see it being a source of stress and regrets for those less fortunate to have lapses in judgement before posting but in the end what you say and do in your life is what is true and real for you. We should all learn to accept each others bad sides as well as their good side. Truth and acceptance lead to growt both personal and societal.

  14. I think a lot of the stress comes from forgetting the cardinal rule of the internet: if it’s on the internet, it isn’t private, and it will probably be there forever. Privacy settings help a small amount and give us a sense of security, but i think the bottom line is that no one should post things they’re not okay with everyone seeing at some point.

  15. I feel like people take Facebook way too seriously. I use it to interact with my friends and family, many of whom are spread across the world and I don’t get to see very often. I follow news and entertainment sites for ease of information consumption in one place. So, it’s informative and entertaining. I don’t use it as a way to measure my self-worth. I don’t compare myself to my friends. I don’t get jealous if a high school classmate seemingly has a great life, because I know better. Good for them. If I want, I can find plenty of ways to self-flagellate offline, I don’t need Facebook to do it. Whatever negative feelings Facebook or other social networks evoke, were probably going to surface anyway, it’s just that Facebook helps some get there sooner. Facebook isn’t the problem.

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