Escapism, voyeurism, Schadenfreude, insubordination to the virtual world over the real—we have been warned of several damaging effects of our growing dependence on the social media which has taken on an almost ritualistic significance in our daily lives. But, a new study by scientists at Cornell University shows that the social networks are actually closer to the real world than generally thought of. It says that our emotional state can also be contagious, especially when it’s shared on social media. Those who had positive content experimentally reduced on their Facebook news feed for a week used more negative words in their updates and vice-versa.
The findings run counter to claims by several studies, which have suggested that users whose friends post extremely positive or happy news and updates on Facebook react with envy or gloom. It appears the opposite is true—an individual’s emotional state could be directly affected by the moods of those he or she interacts with. Sure, the social network cannot quite substitute interaction between people in the flesh. It leaves ample scope for dissimulation, as one can take recourse to the written word for an expression, and therefore easily project a stance that is completely uncharacteristic for his or her personality.
The Internet has simultaneously broadened and shrunk the conventional notion of social interactions. On the one hand a user may be “friends” with someone a world away without ever meeting him or her in person, and on the other we are increasingly getting sucked into a virtual society where social skills are irrelevant. What the social network does to one’s self-esteem and personality is most critical. Shared feelings of jubilation or despondency can be of no harm, for this is how we behave in the real world. Awareness of the real and the virtual and balancing both the worlds is the key for users in a digital age.