Researchers have found that heavy users of the social networking site Facebook tend to be more insecure and self-absorbed than others who do not use the popular site. "Individuals higher in narcissism and lower in self-esteem spent more time on the site and filled their pages with more self-promotional content," according to a recent York University press release.
"We all know people like this. They're updating their status every five minutes and the photos they post are very carefully construed," said principal researcher Soraya Mehdizadeh. "The question is, are these really accurate representations of the individual or are they merely a projection of who the individual wants to be?"
Mehdizadeh says her study was not trying to pick on Facebook users. Rather, she hopes that her findings may encourage use of social networking sites "to improve one's self-esteem and overall sense of well-being. This sort of finding may have great implications in the lives of the socially anxious or depressed" (ibid.).
What effect is Facebook having in the lives of its users? Professor Paul Kirschner of the Open University in the Netherlands has found that Facebook-using college students have grade-point averages 20 percent lower than non-users. Yet three-quarters of the Facebook users insisted that their time spent using Facebook did not affect their academic performance.
Does this mean that less gifted students are drawn to Facebook? Or does using Facebook cause a student's grades to drop? The study did not say. Professor Kirschner insists that he does not intend to single out Facebook as a problem; rather, he points to social networking in general as a trend that distracts today's students. "Our study, and other previous work, suggests that while people may think constant task-switching allows them to get more done in less time, the reality is it extends the amount of time needed to carry out tasks and leads to more mistakes" ("Using Facebook 'can lower exam results by up to 20%'," London Daily Mail, September 7, 2010).
Other researchers' results have mirrored Kirschner's; an Ohio State study in 2009 found that "GPAs of Facebook users typically ranged a full grade point lower than those of nonusers – 3.0 to 3.5 for users versus 3.5 to 4.0 for their non-networking peers. It also found that 79% of Facebook members did not believe there was any link between their GPA and their networking habits" ("What Facebook Users Share: Lower Grades," TIME Magazine, April 14, 2009).
Facebook's popularity, however, extends far beyond the college student crowd. With a reported 500 million "active" users, it can seem as though for every struggling student Facebook serves, there is a doting grandmother using it to stay in touch with children and grandchildren scattered across the globe. Facebook has even brought families together. Consider the experience of Ahmad Rifai, who had lost touch with his daughter Larissa for 19 years until he was able to find her on Facebook ("Dad, Long-Lost Daughter Reunited Through Facebook," The Boston Channel, August 12, 2010). From online games shared with friends, to a quick way to find out about a business or a vacation destination, people are using Facebook to connect with others as never before.
Of course, there are risks in disclosing too much information, too widely, via Facebook. There have even been reports of burglary rings using Facebook to identify victims who would be away from their homes.
God's word has a lot to say about communication – how it can help us, and how it can hurt. Just as a knife can cut vegetables for a meal, or can stab a person to death, so, too, can social media sites like Facebook be tools for good or tools for evil. It is vital that if we use these sites, we pay careful attention to what we share, with whom we share it, and what we reveal to others about ourselves in the content and the manner of our communications. As the Apostle Paul wrote: "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one" (Colossians 4:6).
For more, read our Tomorrow's World article, "How the Media Mold the World," or watch our telecast, "How Does Satan Deceive You?" Or find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tomorrowsworld – but only after you have finished your homework!