In the vein of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, which features “fake” news fashioned with humor, The Onion is an online news parody whose writers come up with laugh out loud ‘non’ news that may be more like the real thing than we want to imagine.
Last week the fake news source ran a ‘story’ reporting that out of the 950 million active Facebook users, “only four derive pleasure of any kind from the popular networking website.” Citing a “comprehensive and groundbreaking study,” they say that despite the hordes of people who venture to Facebook multiple times a day, most do so with no joy and, in fact, “feel a profound sense of hopelessness and despair upon logging in.”
The Onion reported in jest, that all but four Facebook users are “overpowered by a deep, nameless sadness when exposed to the site,” and that “the vast majority of human beings tend to become depressed when they see the past five years of their life summarized right there in front of them in a sad little timeline,” but more and more real studies are showing that the Onion writers weren’t pulling this story from thin air.
A recent study - a real one - shows that Facebook users believe others have happier lives than they really do. Seeing “friends” with status updates saying they’re enjoying a day off, vacationing in remote locales, or dining out while surrounded by throngs of friends, tends to make us think our lives don’t stack up. The more time we spend on social networking sites, the more we see our own lives as sad by comparison.
Since 2004, over 125 billion friendship connections have been created on Facebook. With two billion “likes” a day and one billion comments, Facebook stimulates the release of chemicals in our brains that make us feel good. Conversely, it can fool us into thinking everyone else is happier than we are, ultimately making us feel sadder about our own lives. Whether intentionally stretching the truth or boasting just a touch, people put their best faces forward on Facebook.
And casual profile cruisers should keep that in mind, never judging the happiness of others through their status updates and pictures. The old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” should be amended to “Don’t judge a person’s happiness by their status update.”
According to the real study, even when we know that the image projected by our friends is not always accurate, those photos of happy people are still influential and tend to be the thing that pops into our minds when we think of our Facebook friends. This is what can leave the impression that others are happier than we are, which can lead to bitterness or dissatisfaction with our own lives.
If we are honest with ourselves, doesn’t Facebook ultimately just steal our time away from other, more important parts of our lives?
Recently, Toyota ran a funny commercial for its Venza model, which poked fun at college-age kids who feel sorry for their parents because they only have 19 Facebook friends. While the student is at home alone, glued to the computer, chatting with her 600-plus “friends,” her parents are out enjoying life with flesh-and-blood people.
At this point in time Facebook is practically ubiquitous, so what can really be done about these issues? It may take more than consciously knowing other people aren’t always happy just because their pictures look that way, or because their status updates say they are loving life. We need to spend more time figuring out what it is that makes for a happy and fulfilling life for ourselves, and devote real time and energy to those things, rather than creating a happy image on Facebook.