Social Media, Monitoring, and Fear
There Is a Downside to Following Friends' Online Activities
One morning you open Facebook and the first thing you see, much to your dismay, your viewing photos and vivid descriptions of what appears to have been a great party the night before.
Recognizing the faces of friends, colleagues, and God-forbid even romantic interests, you feel both distressed and discouraged.
Why didn’t you know about it? Why were you not invited?
Indeed, what a way to start the day. Then, you think, it would have been much better if you had never opened the app.
If this has ever happened to you, rest assured you are not alone.
But remembering that Facebook, Instagram, and similar social media platforms showcase more of a highlights reel than real life helps putting online posts in perspective, as can limiting the frequency with which you actively monitor your friends' activities.
Social Comparison and Fear of Missing Out
People of all age groups spend (arguably too much) time scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, reading about the celebrations, parties, and accomplishments of friends, fans, and followers.
Although this activity can vicariously garner enjoyment, especially when keeping up with family and close friends, it can also be depressing, distressing, and discouraging.
For some users, observing how much fun other people are having can lead to a fear of missing out.
And apparently, contrary to stereotype, this phenomenon is not limited to young people.
Christopher T. Barry and Megan Y. Wong, in "Fear of Missing out (FoMO" (2020), examined the impact of social media monitoring within one’s social circle within different age groups. They define "FoMO," which is enhanced through social media use, as "the desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing" and feeling worried that others are having a good time without them."
Studying a sample of 419 individuals from across the United States ranging from ages 14-47, Barry and Wong used the Fear of missing out survey (FoMOS), a 10-item measure assessing the extent to which study participants were concerned with missing out on activities within their social circle.
The survey included, among many other questions, whether participants agreed with statements such as "I get worried when I find out my friends/close friends/family are having fun without me."
Across age cohorts, Barry and Wong (ibid.) found FoMO to be linked with high levels of loneliness, low self-esteem, and low self-compassion. They note that this may indicate that FoMO may be more likely in people who don't think highly of themselves, feel socially isolated, or both. They also note that possibility that the process might work in reverse: that FoMO might cause loneliness, lower self-esteem and self-compassion, and lower satisfaction with life. They found the link between loneliness and low self-esteem and FoMO to be stronger for people with a higher level of social media engagement during daily activities.
Promoting Self-Compassion Instead of Social Comparison
Barry and Wong (supra) note that their findings suggest that cultivating self-compassion, through for example, viewing personal setbacks or shortcomings as an opportunity for personal growth, may lessen preoccupation with following the experiences of others on social media.
Because self-compassion does not appear to increase with age, they suggest it may be beneficial for people to make individual efforts to enhance self-compassion, instead of making upward social comparisons.
They note that emerging research indicates that making upward social comparisons is a significant form of stress that can result from social media engagement, because interpreting the posts of others as showcasing a better or more idealistic life may lower self-esteem and increase concerns with body image.
Barry and Wong (supra) suggest promoting alternatives to social media engagement that deemphasize social comparisons, and engaging in more in-person interaction may improve the mood of people prone to FoMO or feeling lonely.
Compellngly, Barry and Wong (supra) note that in their sample, FoMO was not related to life satisfaction. It appears to have a narrower effect, relating to lower self-esteem and a heightened feeling of loneliness, without impacting a sense of overall life satisfaction.
However, for the youngest cohort in their study, FoMO was adversely linked to life satisfaction. They opine that perhaps for adolescents, feeling left-out has a greater impact on their sense of subjective well-being.
Keeping it Real
If you are prone to FoMO, perhaps it’s time to close the app and pick up the phone.
Enjoying the present is better than focusing on the air-brushed, often exaggerated highlights of an event in the past— that was likely not nearly as exciting as described. In other words, you likely did not "miss out" on anything.
This article was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick, JD, MDiv, PhD, is an award-winning career trial attorney and media commentator. She is host of "Live with Dr. Wendy" on KCBQ, and a daily guest on other media outlets, delivering a lively mix of flash, substance, and style. Her over 4,500 media appearances include major news outlets including CNN, Fox News Channel, HLN, FOX Business Network, and weekly appearances on Newsmax. She is author of Red Flags (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House, revision). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin professionally with a rock band. Read Dr. Wendy L. Patricks's Reports — More Here.
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