Your Negative Status Updates Rub People the Wrong Way, Apparently

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Michael Dalder / Reuters

Those who use social media as a way to get an ego boost from friends and family (you know who you are), be warned: a new study has found that those with low self-esteem can actually make themselves less likable to others based on what they post to Facebook.

The study — co-written by University of Waterloo grad student Amanda Forest and her advisor Joanne Wood – is soon to be published in the Association for Psychological Science’s journal Psychological Science. The study monitored the Facebook status updates of those who admitted to having low self-esteem and who believed that the site was a safe space where they could connect with others and share information.

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Sadly, what Wood and Forest discovered was that sharing negative thoughts or feelings apparently made users less likable — it’s just that the results were less immediately obvious.

The study took 10 Facebook status updates from each participant and rated each one on a positivity scale before giving the updates to a “coder,” who would then rate each participant for likability based solely on those 10 updates. The coders didn’t know the participants, a potential discrepancy that Forest explains matches the reality of social media. According to earlier research, she says, almost half of most people’s Facebook friends are either vague acquaintances or strangers — not close friends. What Forest and Wood discovered was that the coders liked participants with low self-esteem less than those with higher self-esteem.

The study also found that for users with low self-esteem, negative status updates tend to get fewer responses than positive updates, leading to a false impression that their Facebook friends are more supportive and caring than they may actually be.

“If you’re talking to somebody in person and you say something, you might get some indication that they don’t like it, that they’re sick of hearing your negativity,” Forest said. “On Facebook, you don’t see most of the reactions.” However, those with high self-esteem get more responses for negative updates than those with low self-esteem, the study found.

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Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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