Social media is a complicated thing. As a platform, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter started as a way to help people stay connected in an increasingly globalized world. With social media, it’s possible for individuals to connect with people they know across the globe, without wasting huge amounts of cash on things like texts and phone calls.
At the same time, some social channels also give people a way to make new connections. For instance, LinkedIn is a place where professionals can find potential mentors, peers, and individuals to help them reach their professional goals. However, as powerful as it is, social media isn’t always a good thing. The social world has prompted is to start marking comparisons between our own lives, and the often-unrealistic representations of other people’s lives that we see online.
Social Media and Social Comparison Theory
The biggest problem with social media comes from the issue of “social comparison theory.” Social comparison theory is a psychological concept that suggests that people will generally compare themselves to the people around them, even if they don’t know much about those people beyond what they share online.
People on social media frequently compare themselves to the people that they see on their news feeds – without considering the fact that people will generally only share positive things about their life on social media. Social channels provide individuals with a space where they can create an image of themselves that ignores the crucial details that would be required to make an accurate comparison.
Everyone on social media gets to see the fun days out that their friends spend with their loved ones, or the relaxing weekends on the beach – but no-one gets to see the difficult days, the arguments with friends and so on. While comparing ourselves to others is a common way to measure how we’re making progress in our lives, this practice becomes problematic when we only compare ourselves to the perfectly designed versions of others.
Why Do We Keep Using Social Media?
Although we know that using social media makes us feel depressed and anxious at times, many people still stay connected to their news feeds at all hours of the day. People are constantly checking to see whether their friends have hit the crucial milestones that they hope to hit. However, while many people feel better when they leave social media behind the “fear of missing out” or not being able to partake in important social conversations keeps us going back for more.
Ultimately, if people are going to continue using social media, then they need to learn how to use it in a healthier way. To some extent, this means changing the way that we compare ourselves to others. The first step towards healthy comparison is identifying the right peer group by looking at people that are more like ourselves. Comparing ourselves to successful stars and influencers on social media increases the problem with social comparison theory because it pushes us to set unrealistic goals.
Once people have found the right peer group, they also remember that the things they see on social media aren’t necessarily the whole story.