by Craig Blewett
"Wow, you look great in that photo, Jess!"
"LOL, see what Maggie is wearing there standing at the back behind Dan! I'd never be seen going out like that!"
Comments like these are very common on social networks like Facebook and MySpace. As these digital meeting places become the standard place to share news, photos and idle chat, they also become the places where self-worth, perceptions and even values are created. With millions of users signing up every month, more and more are looking at their Facebook wall as a mirror of who they are, or should become. However, unlike a real mirror that reflects reality, the enchanted Facebook mirror reveals the hidden and feared images of the heart, most often those related to imagined inadequacies.
It's a constant game of comparison. In fact new research conducted by Dr Derek Lackaff and Dr Devan Rosen, is suggesting that women who base their self worth on appearance are most affected by this digital mirror. "Those whose self-esteem is based on public-based contingencies (defined here as others' approval, physical appearance and outdoing others in competition) were more involved in online photo sharing," said Dr Stefanone from the University of Buffalo.
This constant gazing into the Facebook mirror often does not provide the affirmation that the gazers seek, but rather can have the opposite effect. It can result in what is now being called "Facebook depression". This new term has been coined to explain a startling problem facing many Facebook users. With all the photos, friend-counts, and status updates, people are constantly trying to keep up, or just feel adequate. Whether it is the amazing photo that someone has posted of themselves (chosen from many to look so good), or the daunting number of friends others seem to have (which obviously means popularity), the effect is the same - inadequacy. The more the beholder tries to garner more friends, post better photos, make wittier comments, the more the mirror reflects their inadequacy to measure up.
It's a sad fact that so much of our modern day image is based around looks, yet as long as this is the case, the magical power of the illusion depicted by the Facebook wall will remain.
"Facebook, Facebook on the wall, who is the fairest of all?"
"You are fair, 'tis true, but Jess is fairer than you!"
For more information on staying safe online visit www.internetdangers.org or join Keep Facebook Safe - http://www.facebook.com/internetdangers
About the Author - Craig is a senior University lecturer in Information Technology and the lead researcher on a project that is investigating ways to use the Internet in effective ways for education. Craig runs a variety of seminars and workshops on Internet dangers for schools and other organisations. For more visit http://www.craigblewett.com