Are Your Facebook Friends Stressing You Out? (Yes.)
Facebook's expectations about users' social lives can be very different from users' own.
Your (Facebook) friends may be stressing you out. And the more you have, the more stressed you may be.
Per a new report from the University of Edinburgh Business School, the more friends you have on Facebook -- or, perhaps more accurately, the more "friends" you have on Facebook -- the more stressed you're likely to be about actually having them. The finding, which is similar to one determined last year, is nice as a headline: It's both unexpected (friends! stressing you out! ha!) and ironic (the currency of the social web, taking value rather than adding it!). What's interesting, though, is the why of the matter: the idea that, the report theorizes, the wider your Facebook network, the more likely it is that something you say or do on the site will end up offending one of that network's members. The stress comes from a kind of preemptive, pervasive sense of propriety. Unsurprisingly, per the study's survey of more than 300 Facebook users, "adding employers or parents resulted in the greatest increase in anxiety."
Yep. And that's largely because, as Facebook approaches ubiquity, it's changing in its scope and its permissions. "Facebook used to be like a great party for all your friends where you can dance, drink and flirt," said Ben Marder, an early career fellow at Edinburgh and the author of the report. "But now with your Mum, Dad and boss there the party becomes an anxious event full of potential social landmines."
The stress comes, Marder theorizes, from the kind of personal versioning that is so common in analog life -- the fact that you (probably) behave slightly differently when you're with your mom than you do when you're with your boss, or with your boyfriend, or with your dentist. And it comes, even more specifically, from the social nuance of that versioning behavior colliding with the blunt social platform that is The Facebook. Behaviors like swearing and drinking and smoking, the study suggests, are behaviors that you (might) do with friends -- but not (probably) with your boss. And, more subtly, language that you might use with your friends -- in-jokes, slang, references toBreaking Bad -- probably won't track when you're in a different social context. The awareness of that discrepancy -- Facebook's tendency to disseminate even highly targeted social interactions -- leads to stress.
(Image via Catalin Petolea/Shutterstock.com)