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Essay: Exploring the Impact of Facebook on Adolescents’ Self-Esteem & Psychological Wellbeing

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  • Published: 1 April 2019*
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  • Tags: Facebook essays

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The penetration of social media into our social landscape has brought into focus the discussion of how it will affect our psychological well-being (Baruth, 2014). Social media is the sum of digital platforms which allow information and communication to be transmitted between users (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). Although the use of it has become increasingly salient, researchers are still divided in opinion as to whether social media has harmful effects on our psychological well-being (Shaw & Gant, 2004). On account of Facebook currently being the biggest social media platform with an expanse of 1.79 billion active monthly users (Facebook, n.d.) and 72% of adolescents using the site (MarketingCharts, 2016), this essay will explore the affect Facebook has on adolescents’ psychological well-being. As adolescents have been identified as being particularly vulnerable to factors impacting self esteem, due to their heightened belief of being judged and observed by others (Valkenburg, Peter, & Schouten, 2006), the impact that Facebook has on self-esteem in adolescents will be the focal point of this essay. Self-esteem is the measure one has of their own self-worth (Blascovich & Tomaka, 2013) and has been identified as being one of the main causes of psychological well-being (Baumeister, Campbell, Krueger, & Vohs, 2003). Considering the effects of viewing one’s profile, interpersonal feedback from peers and relations with others, it will be argued that Facebook has a fundamentally positive impact on adolescents’ self-esteem and thus psychological well-being.

As social media is considered to be such an intrinsic extension and representation of one’s self to such an extent that it could be viewed as autobiographical (Fallon, 2014), the implications of adolescents viewing their own profile should be considered. One theory which has been applied to investigate the interplay between Facebook and self-esteem is objective self-awareness theory (OSA). According to OSA, human beings have a dichotomous view of themselves as either the subject or object, becoming the object when stimuli prompts them to reflect on themselves, usually leading to negative self-evaluation (Duval & Wicklund, 1972). Given that Facebook presents users with information of the self, such as videos and photos, Gonzales and Jeffrey (2011) investigated whether the self-awareness these stimuli would trigger, would cause negative self-evaluation and lower self-esteem in adolescents. In contrast to traditional self-enhancing stimuli, such as mirrors, it was noted that Facebook profiles reinforced the participant’s self-esteem. Gonzales and Jeffrey (2011) suggested that this was due to the option of editing one’s profile and therefore enabling selective self-presentation. By giving users the option to edit their virtual profile, Facebook presents users with an optimal-self which in turn enhances self-esteem when adolescents reflect on it. Moreover, the process of selective self-presentation not only enhances how the virtual self is viewed but also the true self, increasing adolescents’ value of their self-image in an offline environment as well as Facebook (Zhao, Grasmuck, & Martin, 2008). Could not be looking at their selective self-presentation but their amount of friends – can not measure for that

As well as the personal view of one’s self, interpersonal feedback and peer acceptance also mediate self-esteem in adolescents (Orth, Schmitt, & Maes, 2015). Based on Harter (1999), due to Facebook being a platform that enables users to give each other not only positive but also negative feedback, it could be assumed that the peer judgement users get through message boards, comment sections or ‘likes’ directly impacts their self-esteem.  Valkenburg et al. (2006) explored this concept measuring the correlation between the type of feedback (positive or negative) adolescents received on their Facebook profiles and their self-esteem. Results of the study appeared to show a significant association between the tone of feedback and self-esteem, with positive feedback on profiles enhancing self-esteem and negative feedback diminishing self-esteem.

Findings of how social endorsement positively affect adolescents during Facebook use are also supported by Sherman, Payton, Hernandez, Greenfield, and Dapretto, (2016) and Meshi, Morawetz, and Heekeren (2013). Both studies found evidence of increased activity in the nucleus accumbens (NAcc) while participants received simulated peer endorsement on social media. The NAcc is an integral component in the brain reward circuitry and experiences a rise in extracellular dopamine levels when rewards are implemented (Carlezon & Thomas, 2009). Using an artificial construction of Instagram, another social media platform, Sherman et al. (2013) measured neural responses to virtual ‘likes’ participants received on their photos. Although the study did not specifically investigate Facebook, the results can still be applied as Facebook also possesses the ‘like’ option. It was found that there was an increase of activity in the NAcc, particularly when participants received a greater amount of ‘likes’ which acted as a more substantial demonstration of peer acceptance. Results suggest a positive correlation between experiences of reward and social acceptance through ‘likes’, which in turn enhance self-esteem.

Nevertheless, although ‘likes’ may be an aspect of Facebook which enhances self-esteem, other facets could still potentially have a negative impact on adolescents’ well-being. This can be illustrated with the negative feedback received from cyberbullying and the harmful impact it has on adolescents’ self-esteem (Cénat, et al., 2014). The impact that negative feedback from cyberbullying has on adolescents’ self-esteem should be considered and taken seriously, with cases potentially leading to self-harm or suicide due to the psychological distress experienced by victims (Patchin & Hinduja, 2010). However, results from Valkenburg et al. (2006) suggest that negative feedback is not very common with participants predominantly getting positive feedback and only 7% of participants receiving negative feedback. It could be proposed that although negative feedback on Facebook should not be taken lightly, it is not the norm and might therefore not be able to be generalised. Additionally, with users having the option to edit their profile, it could subsequently lead to optimising their feedback as can be demonstrated in impression management for dating profiles (Ellison, Heino, & Gibbs, 2006).

Another predictor that seems to mediate self-esteem in adolescents is friendship (Mahzad & Moyer, 2016). In particular, it is suggested that a deeper intimacy in friendship leads to greater validation, emotional support and consequently higher self-esteem (Mahzad & Moyer, 2016). It was noted by McKenna, Green, and Gleason (2002) that people who met each other first through the internet connected more than when they had initial face-to-face interactions. Because of the absence of ‘gating barriers’ (physical or discernable attributes that may hinder people from initiating relationships) users were more likely to disclose information, present their ‘true-selves’ and establish more intimate relationships (McKenna et al. 2002; Bargh, McKenna, & Fitzsimons, 2002). As there is lack of non-verbal cues in online platforms such as Facebook,  results suggested that users were found to be more mindful when composing messages, with reduction strategies leading to more information being disclosed and an increase in intimacy between individuals (Tidwell & Walther, 2002). Taking this into account, it could be implied that Facebook could act as a medium to not only develop adolescents’ social network but to also catalyse deeper and more meaningful relationships which in turn enhance their self-esteem.  

In conclusion, aspects of Facebook such as viewing one’s own profile, peer endorsement and interrelations, suggest that Facebook predominantly enhances self-esteem and is therefore positive to adolescents psychological well-being. Although adolescents should be weary of potential negative feedback, studies such as Valkenburg et al. (2006) demonstrated that Facebook could be used as a medium to purposefully enhance one’s self-esteem and psychological well-being. In light of this, research should investigate specific strategies that would enable adolescents to maximise the effects Facebook has on their self-esteem. One limitation encountered in the literature of this essay was that they were all singular studies and could therefore not imply what the long-term effects of Facebook use would entail. Consequently, future investigations should potentially carry out longitudinal studies in order to explore the long-term affect Facebook has not only on adolescents but on their eventual development into adulthood. This could have future implications in approaches to enhancing self-esteem in adolescents. To illustrate, potential alterations could be made in therapy regarding self-esteem and development in order to maximise benefits of therapy.

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