If you use Facebook a lot, chances are you're a materialistic narcissist

From collecting friends to self-glorification, Facebook helps promote materialism

21 Nov 2017
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I stopped using Facebook months ago, and it’s not because I’m a hipster contrarian. In fact, it was more that I wasn’t seeing any real benefit in using a platform that’s entirely positive, and dare I say it, one that’s structured around a false environment that works as “feeding time” for humans’ egos. It’s been evidenced multiple times. Facebook’s founding president Sean Parker even admitted a couple of weeks ago that the social network was initially created to exploit a vulnerability in human psychology. Now a study conducted by researchers from Ruhr University reveal the effects of that exploitation, with the results suggesting that heavy Facebook users are most likely materialistic and narcissistic.

The researchers recruited 242 Facebook users from the Rohr university campus and asked the 54 male and 188 female participants to rank statements from one to five. Statements included things like ‘I admire people who own expensive cars, homes and clothes’, ‘Having many Facebook friends contributes more success in my personal and professional life’, and ‘I often compare how I am doing socially’.

The study was replicated again with 289 students, this time majority male, and the results were always the same. The researchers found that narcissists use Facebook for self-glorification, while people with low self-esteem used Facebook to interact with others and to feel better about themselves. Materialists, on the other hand, used the platform to acquire and promote possessions, and yes that includes the acquisition of Facebook friends and likes.

“Materialistic people use Facebook more frequently because they tend to objectify their Facebook friends – they acquire Facebook friends to increase their possessions,” Phillip Ozimek, lead researcher at Rohr University, told Science Daily. “Facebook provides the perfect platform for social comparisons with millions of profiles and information about people. And it’s free – materialists love tools that do not cost money!”

However, whilst I cast Facebook in a pretty harsh, negative light. The researchers are keen not to do the same.

“Social media platforms are not that different from other activities in life – they are functional tools for people who want to attain goals in life and some might have negative consequences for them or society,” Ozimek explained. “We found that materialists instrumentalise their friends but they also attain their goal to compare themselves to others. It seems to us that Facebook is like a knife: it can be used for preparing yummy food or it can be used for hurting a person.”

While the study concentrates on students – who may have a very different world view to older Facebook users – it’s interesting to speculate how were Zuckerberg and Parker wielding that knife in the early days of Facebook. I’ll leave that for you to mull on, but it’s worth mentioning that the creator of the Like button has a few regrets too...

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