Buck up and stop whingeing on Facebook

People with low self-esteem tend to make themselves pretty unlikeable on Facebook, new research shows.

You might think that social networking would improve friendships, as it lets insecure people interact without the terrors of face-to-face contact. But it can be counter-productive for those with low self-esteem, who are often, not to put too fine a point on it, seen as whingers.

“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. But, she adds, “On Facebook, you don’t see most of the reactions.”


Forest and her team asked students how they feel about Facebook. They found that those with low self-esteem were more likely to think that it gave them a chance to connect with other people, and to perceive it as a safe place that reduces the risk of awkward social situations.

They also asked the students for their last 10 status updates, which included sentences like, “[Name] is lucky to have such terrific friends and is looking forward to a great day tomorrow!” and “[Name] is upset b/c her phone got stolen :@.”

Each update was rated for how positive or negative it was, and for each set of statements, a coder, an undergraduate Facebook user, rated how much they liked the person who wrote them.

Unsurprisingly, people with low self-esteem were more negative than people with high self-esteem – and the coders liked them less. While the coders were strangers, that’s still realistic, Forest says, as nearly half of Facebook friends are actually strangers or acquaintances.

People with low self-esteem should make the effort to post positive updates, says Wood, as this gets a much better response. People with high self-esteem, on the other hand, get more responses when they post negative items. Wood suggests this may be because these are rarer for them; maybe it just looks like showing off.

Part of the trouble is the lack of feedback from online interaction.

“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. On Facebook, though, they’re that much less likely to tell you to shut up and stop complaining. Be warned.