Social media has swept the Western world and thrown it into the dustpan. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. LinkedIn. Heck, why don’t we throw Tinder in there, too? The average person spends nearly two hours browsing his or her accounts every day. Imagine what you could do with two more hours each day! Maybe get some exercise, catch up on sleep — even accomplish something you’ve always wanted to do. At least something more productive than Facebook stalking. And the statistic for teenagers alone is much higher. One study found that many 13-year-olds were checking their Facebook accounts up to 100 times a day. I don’t think I do anything more than 20 times a day. Maybe breathe.

Let’s look at some research as to why we’re so eager to check those statuses.

Collective Self-Esteem

Much of it stems from the idea of collective self-esteem.

  • This is the part of your self-image that stems from your interactions with groups — basically, it measures how you feel about your relationships with your friends. If you have positive collective self-esteem, that means that you are happy with your group of friends, and generally, this group membership is very important to your self-image. Social media can enhance these relationships (or destroy them).

Gender Differences

  • When it comes to social media, studies have shown that women are more likely to have positive collective self-esteem, while it tends to be negative in boys. This means that girls are strongly motivated to use social media to increase their social standing among peers, and they use it a lot more than boys. This means a lot more time sitting down, and a lot more chances to ruin relationships.
  • Men are more likely to use social media as a means for social compensation. This means that many guys overuse Facebook or other internet outlets to make up for the fact that they don’t like their own group of friends. Hmm…can you see how this could also go wrong?

Group Belonging

No matter if they are male or female, people invariably use social media for a greater sense of group belonging — to increase their collective self-esteem. It is extremely important to us — sometimes, even more important than real life — that we present a positive social media presence. Maybe it’s how we were raised, or maybe it’s because we lack the confidence to tackle our social anxieties face-to-face. More likely, it’s bigger than that.

Social Media Fuels Teenage Anxiety

Lots of teenagers use social media to monitor their own popularity. Imagine all of the parties happening at your high school during any given school year. Now, imagine all the parties you weren’t invited to. What if you knew about all of them — and the pictures appeared before your eyes as they were taken? Suppose that you could see proof that your friends got together without you. Wouldn’t that mess with you? It’s what teenagers go through every day in the digital age. You can see how this would lead to compulsive checking, or even paranoia. Checking your Facebook account 100 times a day doesn’t sound too crazy, when you think about all of the things you could be missing. Now add in some raging hormones — pretty frightening stuff.

Social media can be both a blessing and a curse. It helps us stay connected to one another and see what’s happening in the world. It provides an unending source of entertainment and promotes social bonding. But it can also be a terrible addiction that can mess with our self-esteem.

Now I’ve got some homework for you: for every time you log onto Facebook, call or meet with a friend in person. It could do wonders for your collective self-esteem.

Camille Buffington
Research Analyst and Neuroscience Writer

American Confidence Institute