Be true to yourself on Facebook

It’s at first hard to know what to do with research that links “Facebook” and “authenticity”. Or perhaps that’s merely a grumpy old social-media-avoider’s take on it.

Nevertheless, findings just published in Nature Communications suggest that if users engage in self-expression on social media, there may be psychological benefits associated with being authentic. To wit: individuals who express themselves more authentically on Facebook tend to report higher levels of subjective well-being.

Nearly 80% of Americans use some form of social media, and three quarters of users check their accounts on a daily basis. Many users tend to focus on social media’s perceived benefits (connectedness, wider social catchments), but it has been suggested that trends towards self-idealisation on these platforms may be detrimental to individual well-being.

“Social media can seem like an artificial world in which people’s lives consist entirely of exotic vacations, thriving friendships, and photogenic, healthy meals,” write the study’s authors, led by Erica Bailey of Columbia University, US.

“In fact, there is an entire industry built around people’s desire to present idealistic self-representations on social media. In line with this ‘self-idealisation perspective’, research has shown that self-expressions on social media platforms are often idealised, exaggerated, and unrealistic. That is, social media users often act as virtual curators of their online selves by staging or editing content they present to others.”

The study analysed data from 10,560 Facebook users collected betyween 2007 and 2012.

First, users completed a series of psychometric tests, including a measure of the Big Five personality traits – an established personality model measuring the traits of extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. 

To estimate authenticity on social media, the authors compared an individual’s self-reported personality (based on the psychometric tests) to their personality on social media – as predicted by a computer model based on their likes and the language they use in their status updates on Facebook. 

They found that authentic self-expression was correlated with higher self-reported levels of life satisfaction – a measure of overall well-being. The well-being effect appeared to be consistent across different personality types.

In a separate study involving 90 participants with an average age of 23, the authors found that individuals who were asked to post more authentically on social media reported higher levels of subjective well-being.

“Our results suggest that whether or not engaging with social media helps or hurts an individual’s well-being might be partly driven by how they use those platforms to express themselves,” write the authors.

“While it may be tempting to craft a self-enhanced Facebook presence, authentic self-expression on social media can be psychologically beneficial.”

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