Those who feel bad after browsing their friends' vacation photos on Facebook are in good company.
A new joint study (pdf) by Berlin’s Humboldt University and Darmstadt's Technical University found that more than a third of the 600 participants felt frustration and envy after visiting the social network, citing “good news” like vacation photos and the profiles of successful friends as the source of their misery.
"Although respondents were reluctant to admit feeling envious while on Facebook, they often presumed that envy can be the cause behind the frustration of 'others' on this platform – a clear indication that envy is a salient phenomenon in the Facebook context," said project manager and Humboldt University researcher Dr. Hanna Krasnova. "By and large, online social networks allow users unprecedented access to information on relevant others – insights that would be much more difficult to obtain offline."
The Facebook experience is especially painful for passive users who do not engage in interpersonal communication, but rather use the social network for information like friends’ postings and browsing photos, the study said. In fact, the researchers identified a link between passive users and personal happiness.
"Confirming full mediation, we demonstrate that passive following exacerbates envy feelings, which decrease life satisfaction," the report said.
To combat the negative feelings, some users tend to embellish their own Facebook profiles, which in turn provokes feelings of envy in other users in a phenomenon known as “envy spiral.” These instances that occur in the Facebook environment make up one fifth of the events that induce envy among the respondents.
The report also found that people in their mid-30s were more likely to envy family happiness and that women tended to envy physical attractiveness.
Some users avoid jealous feelings by unfriending, or avoiding friending, people who cause the negative experiences, according to the report. This strategy can result in social tension and should give Mark Zuckerberg a cause for concern.
"From a provider’s perspective, our findings signal that users frequently perceive Facebook as a stressful environment, which may, in the long-run, endanger platform sustainability," the report said.