Column: Facebook isn’t the source of your unhappiness

There’s more to treating depression than simply logging off.

by Chance Wellnitz

There are many reasons to quit Facebook and other social media — and even more articles are being written about why now is the time to do it. You know the ones. They’ll cite the most recent in an endless stream of studies that conclude social media makes us sadder. And if the article is written by someone who’s ‘finally kicked their Facebook habit for good,’ the author will usually brag about their newfound productivity and quality of life — citing activities the website never actually prevented them from doing in the first place.

What should truly bum us out about Facebook — the fact that Facebook freely sells our information to third-party advertisers and we have no ownership of anything we post — hardly ever factors into the decision to quit.

Here’s the thing: If you’re feeling depressed or overwhelmed by social media, it’s certainly reasonable to scale back your use, take a break or quit altogether. But using Facebook isn’t the root cause of your problem; it’s likely a symptom.

Social media abandoners will often link social media-induced depression to the Social Comparison Theory, which states that we determine our own self-worth based upon how we compare to those around us. But this is hardly a new concept. Social scientist Leon Festinger proposed this theory in 1954 — 50 years before Facebook launched and 35 years before the invention of the World Wide Web.

The age of the study doesn’t mean the theory is any less pertinent today, but it does suggest that Facebook and other social media only provide some of today’s most popular outlets for social comparison. To put it plainly, envy wasn’t invented by Mark Zuckerberg.

According to a 2010 study by economist Antonio Cabrales, our genes may be hardwired to be envious, with envy “the result of competition for limited resources.”

Envy may just be part of being human, and it’s something that affects all of us in varying degrees in varied situations.

For every reputable study which finds Facebook users are more depressed than non-users, there’s other research reporting its users find positive aspects in the social media site. Instead of choosing to believe certain sets of data over the other, maybe consider that both are valid.

If you’re fully engaged with your online community, it’s likely you’ll have a positive experience. But if you spend your time passively scrolling through your newsfeed, you’ll likely experience the opposite.

This is true online just as it is ‘IRL.’ If you go to a dance and spend your time standing against the wall watching others enjoy themselves, you’ll likely come away feeling pretty depressed. Or maybe dancing just isn’t your thing and it’s time you find a different activity altogether. That’s okay too.

Quit Facebook and pick up a book, go outside, or find a new hobby. But know that the potential for envy doesn’t stop just because you log off.