Although sharing our thoughts and feelings can be an important part of building friendships, a new study says people with low self-esteem who bombard friends with negative details about their lives on Facebook actually make themselves less likeable.
“We had this idea that Facebook could be a really fantastic place for people to strengthen their relationships,” says Amanda Forest, a graduate student at the University of Waterloo, who co-wrote the new study with her advisor, Joanne Wood.
In one study, researchers learned people with low self-esteem were more likely to think Facebook provided an opportunity to connect with others, and they also considered it as a safe place that reduced the risk of awkward social situations.
The team then looked at the volunteers’ most recent Facebook status updates, and rated each one for how positive or negative it was. At that point, a coder — an undergraduate Facebook user — rated how much they liked the people who wrote those updates.
Volunteers with low self-esteem were more negative than people with high self-esteem — and the coders liked them less. The coders were strangers, but that’s realistic, Forest says, because earlier research found nearly half of our Facebook friends are not close friends, but actually strangers or acquaintances.
What’s more, the researchers found, people with low self-esteem get more responses from their real Facebook friends when they post highly positive updates instead of less positive ones. On the other hand, people with high self-esteem get more responses when they post negative items, possibly because those types of updates are rarer for them and thus attract more attention.
The bottom line is that while people with low self-esteem feel safer making personal disclosures on Facebook, doing so isn’t winning them any fans — and they may not even know it.
“If you’re talking to somebody in person and you say something, you might get some indication that they don’t like it, that they’re sick of hearing your negativity,” Forest says in a press release. But when people have a negative reaction to a Facebook post, they tend to stay quiet. “On Facebook, you don’t see most of the reactions,” she added.
The study will be published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.