It’s a question for the Internet ages: Do you have no social life because you post too many selfies on Facebook? Or do you post too many selfies to Facebook because you have no social life?
A new study by three U.K. business schools might have the answer.
It concluded that spending too much time posting and sharing photographs via social networks actually decreases the amount of meaningful real-life social interactions selfie-lovers have.
The three-year study, conducted by business schools at the University of Birmingham, University West of England, and the University of Edinburgh, found that the more your loved ones share pictures of the two of you doing things together, or of just you, the more supportive you find them. That makes sense given that the survey also found the more anyone close to you shares pictures of themselves, the less you find them to be sources of support or intimacy.
In other words, if a picture speaks a thousand words, then just like in real life, people who won’t stop talking about themselves have a harder time getting people to like them.
Meanwhile, older social network users were seen as less supportive and less intimate across the board. So were coworkers. Sorry, mom. Sorry, boss.
And any romantic partners who posted more pictures of friends than they did of their sweetheart? Well, let’s just say that their relationships probably have some trust issues. If your partner shares more pictures of their family, however, you tend to trust them more.
This isn’t the first notable Facebook study. Researchers have previously argued that staring at your own page could reduce motivation and the social network could have a detrimental effect on those already suffering from low self-esteem.
What’s interesting about this particular study is the way it explores the ways in which social networks have merged formerly complex and distinct levels of social boundaries into a single amorphous group of “friends,” which in turn produces “necessary alternative behaviour, such as flattening the intimacy or sensitivity of a post to make it suitable for most recipients.” In other words, where you once had separate groups of social relationships, each with their own dynamics and nuances, now you’re stuck trying to craft status updates that your best friend will understand but that your mom can still read.
Surprisingly, perhaps, the study found that increased frequency of picture-sharing helped improve the user’s support and intimacy levels with their fellow Facebook contacts. It’s only the type of photo you post, relative to your relationship, that can be off-putting to your friends and family.
The study’s bottom line, which seems to be “when you post a selfie, everyone loses,” is probably as near a universal law as you can find on the Internet.