Facebook: devalues true friends (and undermines well-being)

Studies are confirming what we already know – if we aren’t guarded in our use of Facebook, it can have a negative emotional, psychological and, I add, spiritual impact on our lives.  This past week articles about Facebook’s negative impact have been trending on my wall.  Even the sermon at church touched upon Facebook and friendship.  I thought it would be timely to repost this article I wrote in January.  It’s had hundreds of views since then.  It’s not meant to make anyone feel guilty about what they post, but to think about how we respond to the posts of our Facebook friends and what we allow our eyes to see and then personalize or internalize.  Most importantly, “are we robbing our true friends the honor of friendship” by not sharing our struggles and joys with them in person vice a mass Facebook status update?


Why would someone post a picture of themselves in a bikini on Facebook?  Do they know that half the people who are their friends on Facebook may, perhaps, be married men who are trying to be faithful to their wives, even in their thought life?  It doesn’t matter to you.  It’s your Facebook, so you post what you want, calling it your freedom.  You post about how great your husband is and that he watches your kids for a weekend so you can have a girl’s weekend away (maybe in the name of publicly affirming him or maybe because you didn’t think about it at all), also well-aware that some of your Facebook friends are single moms, moms with deployed husbands or women whose husbands wouldn’t be caught dead changing a diaper.  (If you want to publicly affirm him, you could consider doing it in person, verbally, in front of a bunch of his guy friends).  But your Facebook page is about you, so that doesn’t matter.

You post about your weight-loss successes, pictures included, oblivious to your Facebook friends who are struggling with eating disorders because you don’t know they’re struggling with eating disorders (but statistically speaking, you definitely have friends who are).  But that’s okay, your facebook page is about you.  You post about what an amazing time you had with your girlfriends and the girlfriends who weren’t at the party wonder why they weren’t invited.  But that’s okay.  Your Facebook is about you and how great you’re doing.  And you want your friends to know, those who live in your town and the Facebook friend who was your partner in French class in 10th grade and that Facebook friend who you met at a party a few months ago who you wouldn’t recognize if you saw them on the street or that Facebook friend who friended you because your settings are public and they saw your “like” for a restaurant you don’t remember the name of but you liked something on the menu. . .

Or maybe you don’t want your friends to know.  Everything is great.  See how happy I am on Facebook?  But no one really knows you.  No one really knows you because they’re reading your Facebook statuses instead of inviting you over to sit and talk face-to-face about real life.  Marriage troubles.  Eating disorders.  Relationships.  Anger. Shame. Loneliness.  Isolation.  But not just struggles, joys too.

Maybe you are thrilled about a parenting breakthrough.  You can call a friend who knows you and understands your parenting struggles and can share in your joy.  Does your French partner from 10th grade truly share your joy?  Indeed, should your French partner from 10th grade who happens to be of the opposite sex and who you had a crush on at the time – come on, French class?! – be your Facebook friend, oh married one?  What are we doing to ourselves?  What are we doing to each other?  We’re robbing our true friends the honor of friendship.

Yesterday afternoon for two hours I had my cake and ate it too.  My three-year-old was at her first day of school.  My one-year-old was down for a nap.  Wasting no time reading updates on my Facebook wall, I started a fire, made one of this season’s last eggnog lattes, and curled up to read.  It was amazing.  I was tempted to post my great fortune on Facebook, when my thoughts immediately turned to the topic of this blog.  And then my thoughts turned to my friend J.  She would truly share in my joy if I told her what a blessing it was to have those restful, peaceful hours to myself.  All 649 of my Facebook friends don’t need to know that.  J would be honored that I shared this simple pleasure with her just as she is honored when we share our trials.

So often our default is to share joys or trials as a status update and we devalue our true friends by not talking and sharing directly with them.

So often our default is to share joys or trials as a status update and we devalue our true friends by not talking and sharing directly with them.  How often have you been startled by a troubling status update of a close friend, maybe even a friend you recently spoke with, only to wish they had told you in person what they were struggling with?  I just saw you!  Why didn’t you tell me?  You just posted it on Facebook instead?  Now you know they have the same trust and confidence in you as their 10th grade French partner who we’ve already established shouldn’t even be their Facebook friend.  We’re killing off our real relationships!

How do we stop this madness that we’ve defaulted to? I’m not advocating we all close our Facebook accounts.  Facebook is good for so many things.  Sharing links [and likes].  Finding old crushes.  (Wait, Facebook is not for that.)  Sharing photos of a family vacation.  But Facebook is still madness.  Before you post your next status update, think about your friends, Facebook friends and otherwise – not yourself.  Why am I posting?  Do I need attention?  Affirmation?  Is there a friend I can call or meet with who would appreciate the real-person interaction and who values our friendship?  Who can I honor by sharing this in-person or – GASP – in a mass email to people I actually know and can choose who receives the message?  

I have a dear friend who struggled for years with infertility.  When they got pregnant they were very deliberate in not sharing updates about the pregnancy on Facebook because they know how many people in general struggle with infertility – often silently.  They emailed all their friends they knew would want to know about the pregnancy and kept us updated with ultrasound photos and baby growth via email.  Would you gush about your pregnancy to a friend who is struggling with infertility?  Most likely not.  So why gush on Facebook where it’s likely some of your friends might be struggling with the same thing?  Of course, when my friend gave birth to the baby they announced his birth on Facebook, but they were cognizant about not rubbing their pregnancy in the face of people who were struggling to conceive.  They were so thoughtful and considerate, even as they were overjoyed with the blessing in their life and had every right to make that joy known.  [I am not suggesting you do not post pregnancy updates on Facebook.  I love pregnancy updates with growing belly pictures.  My point is that my friends put great thought into what they post, why they post, and who the intended audience is].

Facebook has your name on but, like everything in life, it shouldn’t be about you.  What?!?   But I post comments and check every thirty seconds to see who has liked them or responded so I can be affirmed. I struggled with this same issue when starting my blog.  Why blog?  Initially, it was so I could record our family memories of travel and share that with interested friends and family.  And that’s who usually reads it – all ten interested people – people who love me and know me.  And that should be all that matters.  I continually fight the drive to check for comments from people I’ve never met and see how many views I’ve had every day.  That’s still something I’m working through in the blog and on Facebook.  Hopefully you are to.  In the meantime, be considerate.  Be encouraging.  And don’t post pictures of you in your bikini because my husband and I have a joint Facebook account and neither of us want to see it.


The original post with comments can be viewed here. The study cited by numerous news agencies this week can be viewed here.

13 responses to “Facebook: devalues true friends (and undermines well-being)”

  1. I have found myself assuming I know about people and what they’re going through and then, when I see them in person, I reference their fb posts to start a discussion. Sometimes they’re thrilled and sometimes they are taken aback. Sometimes what I perceived based on their fb posts was totally incorrect in regards to how they were feeling and what they were trying to convey. We can’t control how we’re perceived, though we can control how often and what we post. I guess my takeaway most recently from FB has been that I should never assume people have read what I post and always initiate conversation with someone, even though I might feel like I’m all up to date with their lives. The golden rule applies – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Thank you for sharing your experience that I think we can all relate to various degrees!

  2. Very interesting points. The reason I landed here is because at a funeral this weekend, some of my best friends from college had nothing to say to me. I feel like I’ve spilled all of my beans through FB, and people don’t feel the need to talk to me IRL. FB has done this to high school class reunions, too. People aren’t interested in seeing people IRL because they know all they want about the people they are interested from what they read online.

    This kind of goes with the concept of your time being valuable to others. If you are completely and instantly accessible, people don’t value your time/services. It’s dawning on me that through heavy FB updates I’ve devalued my presence to others. Gonna pull back and take that time to call people for 5 mins, schedule dinner parties and see if that’s more rewarding. Thanks for the post!

  3. Marilyn, I always appreciate your comments. Good point about distilling things into “likes” or “comments.” How we use it (or let it use us) can bring out the best or worst in us. And I’m challenged that most things, including fb, shouldn’t be about me!

  4. Great post – I’m so glad you reposted as I wouldn’t have seen it. So many thoughts as I read this. One of the things I hate is that I feel like I go through a second adolescence at times with Facebook. When in my adult life have “likes” and “comments” been important? Never until Facebook made it so. I’ve wanted for the last month to close mine. (I kept it open because I do have a blog Facebook Page and you can’t have one if you close it). What I appreciate about your post is the challenge that if I want to keep it open it needs to be about others – not myself.

  5. Oh I can’t argue with you that it’s almost necessary to keep up with people. (And I’m a traveler and have no home.) But I have also found that as I’ve gotten more and more disconnected from my home culture, the less I need that contactt. Almost prefer knew friends, and I do the blog world. Eventually I may have to get back on FB.

  6. Joy, I think you’ve thought more critically about your facebook use than most people. You actually have a well-thought out philosophy on what you think facebook should be used for. I really think your insight is beneficial, particularly as it relates to how we get involved in discussions that might be better reserved for a face-to-face discourse or how we judge people based on their posts when that is such a small sliver of who they are. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Thanks for your input. I think the jury is still out whether or not Facebook has diminishing returns for the average user. I’m glad you found what works for you (no Facebook!). I still enjoy it for a lot of things like keeping up with friends from places I’ve lived in the past. I just have to not let the desire to know what’s going on with everyone control my online computer time!

  8. Good note. This past election (US) really made me question what should and shouldn’t be posted on Facebook. I felt really uncomfortable about the way it was being used to draw out ‘tribal’ lines. I also felt the “pull” when I would see an exceptionally active discussion, there was a desire to be a part of it, if it was something that my own opinions ran strongly on. However, after a couple, I realized that I couldn’t conscientiously participate because as a good moderate, I have managed to amass an equal number of friends on each side which means I would in affect be insulting the other half every time I posted anything.

    It actually drew me to question whether such discussions should be put on such a platform at all. As a Christian, how am I loving people by throwing my beliefs at them constantly?

    My conclusion is that Facebook should be kept “light” and that deeper questions should be handled personally. Overseas, I use the chat feature to talk to friends and family almost daily – its great for sharing pictures with them and during the Tohoku quake was one of the only platforms that was still working (cell lines etc went down everyone was checking on each other via Facebook) for people to locate and check in on their loved ones.

    I have also found that I have a tendency to start to judge people by their posts – so I have fixed a number so that they no longer show up in my feed. I don’t want to judge someone as a “complainer” because that is what I see. And seeing certain things makes it easy to draw conclusions – maybe the person just isn’t self aware and doesn’t realize – likely its me who needs to take a step back.

  9. Best note I’ve seen on the problems of FB. I closed my account back in May. Best decision I ever made. I’ve been happier for it.

  10. Kass, thanks for sharing so honestly. I can relate to everything you’re saying and, by writing the article, it helped me process and realize why I do what I do (what I post, why I comment, etc) on fb. It’s something I enjoy using to check up on the latest pictures and happenings, but I’m daily cognizant of how it can draw my attention from other things – those few snippets of minutes here and there that I take to read updates might be better spent sending a friend a note!

  11. Wow, this really really convicted me. As I read this I realized that I post a lot of things that are all about me because I need attention. With my husband gone for two months at a time which adds up to him being gone 9 months out of the year I don’t get to communicate with him on a regular basis. As I sit here and write this I am thinking of a few friends who might encourage me if I called them but I don’t bother because its easier to post your “wonderful life” on fb and get instant gratification from likes and comments. I don’t want to be encouraged because usually no one understands anyway. So I have excepted my life and I post wonderful things that happen in my day making it look like I have this great life. Sometimes I have to work real hard to find something really cool to post but I can usually pull it off, especially if I’m desperate for attention. I haven’t thought about how my post affects other ppl. I have been embarrassed by some of the things other ppl have posted and wanted to hide them from my husband. We also share a fb page and I don’t want to see my friends in bikinis on fb either. I admit sometimes I don’t even know how I am friends with some of these ppl. Like I literally don’t know how I know them or who they are. I’m am going to think more before I post. To any of my friends who might be reading this. I’m sorry if my posts ever made you feel like crap. Sincerely, Kass

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