“What’s on your mind?” That might seem like an innocent question to most Facebook users, but for fans of oversharing, it can reveal a whole lot. A new study has found that those who keep their profiles public and regularly update them are the loneliest.
Researchers at Charles Sturt University (CSU) in New South Wales analyzed the ways in which 616 women with open profiles used the site, finding that 98% of Facebookers who label themselves lonely set their relationship status to public (instead of restricting the information to just their friends), and that over 79% of this group share their personal preferences over movies and books on their page. Those surveyed who did not describe themselves as lonely were more likely to broach topics such as religion and politics in their status updates.
“It makes sense that the people who felt lonely would disclose this type of information. They want to make it easier for others to initiate contact with them, which may help them overcome their feelings of loneliness,” explained CSU associate professor and co-author of the study Yeslam al-Saggaf.
The study also highlights that those who “like” an excessive number of things, share statuses overly regularly, and post revealing personal information on other people’s walls may be suffering from emotional stress in their real lives.
A number of studies into the health implications of Facebook and other social networks have uncovered largely damning evidence, such as citing it as a cause for depression and isolation. One project found that using the site offered temporary satisfaction thanks to its ability for instant connections, but that this ultimately caused mood fluctuations and severe FOMO. Another found that people whose status updates and posts went unliked were more prone to feeling lonely as a result.
“Overall we’ve benefited greatly from social media as a society,” Le Moyne College professor of psychology Krystine Batcho told CBS DC. “But I think there are a lot of fears of what’s happening that we’ve made interactions with other people too impersonal and a distancing phenomena is taking place.”
For some, however, Facebook can have the reverse effect, eradicating loneliness and allowing people to stay in touch with those they would otherwise struggle to keep in contact with.
“I use Facebook more than I used to, and it’s 100% because I get lonely,” says Anna Lowe, a museum producer who recently relocated from London to Buenos Aires. “I feel like I’m missing out on fun at home with my real friends, so I do things like posting more photos than I otherwise would because I’m trying to make memories more quickly.”
“Weirdly, it does make me feel better about myself that I can easily see how everyone’s doing. It’s reassuring,” she continues.
For the elderly, too, being well connected online can be a crucial tool for avoiding feelings of isolation. A report published Tuesday said that encouraging the digital savviness of seniors could help them improve their lives by staying in touch with loved ones, and teach them new skills such as paying bills online and how to access public services.
“In an increasingly isolated and fast-moving world it is vital that everyone in society is able to use the Internet and understand its benefits,” said Eddie Copeland, the author of the report. Having the ability to “access a social networking site could provide older people with a way to stay connected to their friends and families, who may live hundreds of miles away. Maintaining these important relationships will help an aging society vulnerable to loneliness and disconnection from a fast-moving modern world.”
It’s easy to blame Facebook and the like for making us outdoor-dodging keyboard warriors, but as with everything, social networks can be great—when used in moderation. Being able to occasionally cast an eye over the online activity of your pals, relatives, and errant ex-boyfriends is, believe it or not, something of a blessing, and in a digital age, it’s impossible to avoid this kind of thing completely.
But it should also encourage us to see more of our 2D friends in our 3D lives—particularly the ones who click like on everything, and update their status every seven seconds—because in a world dominated by new media, an anguished selfie is very possibly 2014’s incarnation of a call for help.