Does Facebook Cause Depression?

The definition of society has undergone some change in the last two decades. Apart from email and instant messages, Facebook, Twitter and other online social networking platforms have stepped in to replace the personal face-to-face interactions that used to make up almost all of social interactions. This comes with the ability to look closely at the life and activities of other people, some of whom you might not even know on a personal level. The normal trend is to portray only the bright side of life and to leave out the conflicts and strife that day to day life is for most people. So what you get to see is a bunch of happy faces in exotic locales doing fun things. When you compare it with your own life, it makes your own struggles seem huge. This is believed to lead to low self esteem and a general resentment against what life has to offer you.

The prevalence of the term Facebook Depression is an indicator as to how widespread this phenomenon is today. Here is a closer look by guest blogger Kristie Lewis at the validity of this alarming development.


Facebook Depression

Facebook Depression? A Tale of Two Opinions

I never really paid much attention to how social media supposedly affected its users until the issue became impossible to further ignore. After hearing about a rampant wave of young-adult suicides, due in part to cyber-bullying and a new phenomenon called "Facebook Depression," I became extremely concerned for my emotional well-being. Even though I was a healthy, emotionally stable adult, I began to wonder if my social media usage could afflict me without me even being aware. So I set out to learn how Facebook affects the emotional states of its users.

Throughout my quest to uncover a definitive answer, I have encountered two varied opinions. According to some studies, Facebook has no correlation to causing a depressive state in its users. On the other hand, there are other studies that believe it can cause minor to significant depression in its users. For those interested in the debatable linkage between depression and Facebook, let's take a look into the two stances.


Yes, Facebook causes depression

According to a 2011 story in Opposing Views, a study conducted at Edinburgh Napier University found that Facebook was not only linked to depression, but also to tendencies of feeling stressed and anxious. Of the 200 participants in the small university study, 32 percent admitted to feelings of embarrassment/guilt after getting their friend requests rejected, and 12 percent emphasized that Facebook in general made them feel anxious. “The responses we got in focus groups and one-to-one interviews suggest the survey figures actually under-represent aspects of stress and anxiety felt by some Facebook users, whether it’s through feelings of exclusion, pressure to be entertaining, paranoia or envy of others’ lifestyles.” Dr. Kathy Charles, the survey conductor, said in the news story.

In this instance, Charles brings up a rather noteworthy point: Facebook has over 850 million users and gets an estimated 1 trillion pages views per month. Can you imagine how overwhelming and distressing it must feel to keep up with the lives of hundreds of "friends" who come in and out of your life? Let's say you got out of a heartbreaking relationship, but never deleted that former lover off your friends list. How depressing would it be to see them in images with a new boyfriend or girlfriend so quickly after your breakup? Wouldn't that make you feel a little depressed?

Years ago, when we lost connection with people, they vanished from our lives. Facebook has transformed our ability to reengage with people, and though that may sound like an exciting innovation, it isn't always a positive thing. The prestigious Atlantic Magazine even ran a cover story dedicated to that very topic, saying, "We are living in an isolation that would have been unimaginable to our ancestors, and yet we have never been more accessible. Over the past three decades, technology has delivered to us a world in which we need not be out of contact for a fraction of a moment." In this case, I believe the magazine brings up a noteworthy point. In a day and age when we are constantly in contact with each other, when is there a chance to build independence and self-confidence by ourselves?

In general, human solitude has grown over the years, and websites like Facebook only increase our tendencies to feel isolated and alone. According to The Atlantic "in 1950, less than 10 percent of American households contained only one person," but nowadays nearly 27 percent of households house one person. And as countless studies have already proven, living alone is a chief cause of depression and anxiety.

Many experts argue that the pressure to be on Facebook coupled with rejected friend requests, hurtful commentary, and a list of hundreds of "friends" to follow can lead us to feel depressed, anxious, and stressed. But, as expected, there is another side to this argument.

No, Facebook does not cause depression

A more recent news report released just last week countered the belief that "Facebook Depression" was a real ailment. In fact, the university study mentioned in the news report strongly suggests that Facebook has no linkage to feelings of depression in its users.

A mental health story on MSNBC discussed the disputed belief that Facebook causes feelings of depression. The story refers to a study conducted by Wisconsin-Madison University in which 190 students, aged 18-23, were surveyed about the effects their Facebook exposure caused. As part of the study, the students were screened for depression and separated into categories based on their overall Facebook usage, ranging from high use, average use, and low use.

In the end, the study found that students "who spent the most time on Facebook were no more likely to be depressed than those who spent just a few minutes a day on the site."

Furthering the study's point, in opinion column from The Huffington Post, journalist Larry Magid firmly disputed the belief in Facebook depression. He believes a number of previous reports failed to take into account some crucial nuances and details in their research, such as verifying the emotional states of users before they ever used Facebook and the quality of friendships a user had established with their "friends" on Facebook.

Throughout my inquiry and research into whether or not Facebook caused depression, I hoped that I would uncover some definitive, concrete answers. Yet, as I suspect is the case in most any phenomenon, we can never really give a definitive yes or no answer to anything. Some of us may be more inclined to being depressed and Facebook only fuels that fire. Others might be perfectly content all the time, in spite of all the loneliness Facebook is suspected to create.

In this case, I'll let you decide for yourself how Facebook affects your emotional state. If it seems to be affecting you negatively, perhaps dial back your usage and talk to a professional. If it is doing no such thing, then, by all means, keep using it in an appropriate manner.


*****


This is a guest post by Kristie Lewis. A blogger who writes about the construction management industry, Kristie knows that not all construction management careers are the same. You can contact her directly at Kristie.lewis81@gmail.com.



49 comments:

  1. The day you post something about a party or a movie or even a happy song, all your mates will come forward with comments and 'likes'. The very next hour, a post about a problem goes surprisingly unnoticed..

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    1. online digital social media is not only fickle, but also impulsive and thoughtless. the majority of people who spend their time looking at other people's lives do so because they cannot bear to look at their own lives. moreover, you end up exposing yourself to the judgment of others, many of whom might be totally unaware of your circumstances or your context.

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    2. Yet another nice thought provoking entry from you..

      What I believe is,,, there are so many things which influence our lives,,
      like "facebook is doing now "

      It is imporatant that teenagers are monitored how they are using thier internet connection...

      particularly it is human physcology ,,, that when we are alone and not monitored we tend to do wrong things ""

      www.readitt.in (the e magazine)

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  2. This is an important post. I think FB depression is strongly correlated with age also. Like I am a middle-aged woman. Frankly, peer pressure does not get me anymore nor do I care for someone so much to be depressed of their new friends.
    FB, on the other hand, has been my salve out of depression--an anchorless woman finds her home in FB where she finds friends who are closer than blood relatives. If I do not update for a long time, to me that is an indication that I am depressed. FB is my barometer for well-being:)
    But I know younger ones suffer a lot. But I have also found several of my students reach to FB to pour their pain, stress, even suicidal ideations...

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    1. maturity and clarity of purpose goes a long way in preventing social media from adversely impacting your self image. used properly, social media can turn into a vital support system like you have mentioned, bhavana. perhaps, at the bottom of it lies one's exposure to real life bonding and relating. for youngsters who are growing up knowing facebook as the last word in social worth, there are obviously major pitfalls that we are not equipping them to deal with.

      i use social media heavily as a means of sharing my thoughts about how to live more meaningfully, and i feel intensely rewarded by the response i get. i am not so sure i would like to use it as a substitute for real life relationships or even feedback. but then, thats just me.

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  3. interesting article indeed. although FB is a good channel to network and stay updated wid ure friends' lives,,, excess of anything is bad.

    http://styledestino.blogspot.com/

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    1. thanks, SJ. facebook is a great way to stay in touch and to share ideas. it is when you start using it as a barometer for your spiritual health that things start going awry.

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  4. I was just thinking about this topic today in the context of social media. At the risk of sounding judgmental, I cannot for the life of me imagine how some people just spend their entire day on their smartphones or PCs relentlessly checking, putting updates and commenting on them. I have very deliberately cut down on my internet time on FB. Twitter is almost dead to me. And, as far as your question is concerned, like your opening paragraph says, FB I believe can lead to depression. It does portray a very false picture of the lives of people. Children are especially prone to being affected. Besides, getting into mindless conflicts over comments can harm long-term friendships too or leave one feeling bristled over a stray comment.

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    1. thanks, rachna. i hope that the kids of tomorrow will find ways to filter what they receive from these social networks. i remember when email and instant messaging first became commonplace, there would be a lot of misunderstandings because the dynamics of the medium were still new, and all the nonverbal aspects of communicating using language were absent. with time, this was overcome, but not without heartache. i guess we have to trust the wisdom of the new generation that they will find ways to effectively relate in the virtual world.

      as for me, i believe that in the realm of relationships and interpersonal communications, social networks are fraught with risks that we perhaps have not yet begun perceiving.

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    2. I hope what you say is true. I monitor the time my son spends on FB. He is young and has recently started blogging. I get scared when people leave messages on his blog that he feels are getting too personal. Luckily, he shares things with me. You rightly pointed that there is so much that we don't know, and we need to tread with caution.

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    3. Having a strong sense of self that is based on internal values is crucial in this aspect, Rachna. I though I would direct you to another interesting guest post related to this topic, in case you have not already read it.

      http://subhorup.blogspot.com/2012/03/internet-teen-self-esteem.html

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  5. It works either ways. A couple of months back a friend of mine came into contact with her friend from high school after ten years of not knowing each others whereabouts through Facebook. These are good. But I do receive some Friend Requests from people I definitely do not know at all. I dont see Facebook as a place where you make new friends. Its just a place for keeping in touch with existing ones. I think it depends on the way one views Facebook that would decide the impact it has. Like everything else in life it needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Interesting!

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    1. the value of social media in connecting people who might otherwise have been lost to time and geography is immense, jayashree. what is important is whether one can make decisions about other people's lives - and then compare it to our own - based on what one sees on facebook. i believe that this medium is still evolving and while it is sad to see so many youngsters facing self esteem issues from their online presence, it is perhaps a part of the maturing process of this avatar of society.

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  6. Obviously young 'uns are at risk here. I know a lot of my cousins and siblings who cannot go one day without updating something on FB. We adults have enough tools to cope with peer pressure and unrealistic FB environment, the same cannot be said of children and teenagers. I would also like to bring to your attention a book called The Information Diet by Clay Johnson, which might be helpful.

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    1. totally agree with you, sandeep. thanks for the book pointer, will look it up.

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  7. I can imagine feeling depressed after spending a lot of time on FB. Surfing the net does that to me and so does watching TV. Any prolonged activity without a change of pace with a different kind of activity would cause feelings of isolation. I have felt isolated even in crowded places when I have been denied my solitude :-)

    Knowing oneself and striving for that proper mix of activities which leads to a state of inner balance is key.

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    1. love this perspective, juggler. ultimately it is our groundedness that determines how we respond. sadly, for the generation that is growing up with these social networks, there might not be enough real life inputs to help them gain that groundedness.

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  8. Shubhorup,

    The study is interesting!!
    I think, the more we rely on technology as a median to communicate, the more isolated we become emotionally....but if we know our limitations, it can be a fascinating hub to reconnect!

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    1. thanks, panchali. i was very excited to receive this post too, since it is something i felt strongly about. the problem starts when one starts seeking validation from these networks and makes value judgements based on the what they find there.

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  9. I agree with Bhavana..about the age of the Facebook user and also his level of maturity. If people cannot separate from what is real and what is fake then feeling of loneliness, depression and low self esteem manifest. As a middle aged woman I do not get affected by such things. Having lived in a time when there was no Facebook and being in touch with friends meant writing letters or calling on land line. My generation can cope up with all these pressures..

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    1. i can see that this is one aspect of the issue that the author has not spelled out as clearly as it should have been, but the main segment of the population that is dealing with this syndrome is really teenagers and adolescents. i put that into the labels, but the post itself is more generic about it.

      i would not ascribe it as much to age, as i would to maturity and the presence of adequate social network and support systems outside the online networks.

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  10. Hi Shubhorup, very interesting post! Digital media effects on our real life can vary depending on how we use it, how often and for what purpose.Young folks would probably be more dependent on this for connecting with people than the earlier generation who knew of snail-mails, phone calls etc. And self-image/presentation is the most important criteria here. Inner circles, bullying, peer pressure, isolation definitely happens in this world too, but one should be balanced enough not to take it seriously. I have done a post here, http://wrenwarbles.blogspot.be/2012/06/digital-disconnects.html. It is just an expression of the futility of taking it seriously.

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    1. You have raised a very interesting point, that peer pressure, bullying, and judgements abound in the real world too - so why is the digital media picked on for being a minefield. I guess, at the end of the day, it is the presence of a durable value system that is the medicine for this ill, be it in the physical society or in the online social network. Thanks for the link. It is truly futile to take the unnecessary intrusion by the "social network" seriously.

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  11. Hi, yet another interesting post from you, as always! Here is my take on it - FB definitely tends to accelerate the onset of depression in people who would get depressed anyway. In psychology, we have a indicator of personality called neuroticm - it refers to innate tendency of a person to experience negative feelings. Some of us are more neurotic. Some of us are less neurotic.

    A person who is prone to experience anxiety or gloominess will do so anyway. He only needs to meet the right triggers. The same trigger might not do much to a person who is less neurotic. Hence, it is not the trigger which is the culprit but our nature.

    That said, I would say Facebook is definitely a strong candidate to act as such a trigger. The problem with Facebook is we tend to equate the 'wall' as it is called to a common unified public. We are prone to think that all the people out there are connected and having one big hell of a party while we are the sole one watching it all. We don't realize that it is simply a collection of 'sole' people. This decade is definitely seeing some very interesting trends in social behavior and in turn, individual behavior. I wonder where this will go.

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    1. Yes, yes, yes, Sinduja. While those who are prone to neurosis would be more likely to be impacted by the society that the facebook wall pretends to be, they are also the people who are more likely to turn to facebook for meeting social needs or for validation of their own beliefs.

      You have described the illusory society perfectly. Thanks for enriching this discussion.

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  12. Facebook can lead to unhealthy comparisons between oneself and friends... giving the impression that their seemingly glorified lives are a lot better than one's own boring existence. Have a look at my post on the dark side of Facebook here

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    1. Thanks, Ash, for joining the discussion. In some ways you have explained why the same thing does not happen in a more physical social network where you get to see the struggles and the darker side of life. Thanks for the link. Just love the snappy comments for stupid updates solution.

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  13. It is indeed sir, and not just facebook otherwise too, someone pointed out above that people press the like button or not .. usually i find if you put something sensible no one gives a damn , you put a pic of a celebrity everyone has the idea to press the like button

    so I do the best thing , I dont use FB ..

    Bikram's

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  14. There was a time when touch-deprivation was linked to low self-esteem. I do not know if any study has been done about whether FB users tend to be touch-deprived or not - considering that they spend more time with FB than with people - or, indeed, whether that touch-deprivation linkage to low self esteem has itself been debunked!

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    1. touch deprivation (skin hunger) and self esteem and personality issues have been conclusively linked. given the amount of time the younger generation are encouraged to spend by themselves (double income families, hectic social schedules, outsourced parenting), this might be a critical factor influencing their development. thanks for the perspective, Suresh.

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  15. Facebook does not cause me depression. For me it really is a social networking site that that keep me connected and conversing with friends and family on the other side of the world. For me, it's a happy place. :)

    But I do want to share something with you: Sometime last year, I had read about a study by a social scientist that said that the kind of messages our 'friends' put up do effect our moods. Happy /positive messages spread joy and sad and depressing ones drive negative emotions. For example when somebody posted messages with words that denoted happiness, the messages that followed or later fb postings by that person's circle of friends seemed to echo the emotion.

    That does make sense, doesn't it? :)

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    1. Very interesting, Divya. As a matter of fact, this leads me to think that just as many bloggers are spreading positive thinking with their work, facebook too can be used to re-engineer social attitudes. Thanks a lot for sharing this thought.

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  16. I am sure people were depressed before facebook. My point being, if one
    does not know where to draw a line, chances are one will suffer~

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  17. Unbelievable! But this was something that I too have been thinking for sometime now. If one doesn't use FB coz she is still searching for a groom and everyone in her friends list seem married, other will limit using FB coz he doesn't have a great job like his friends who have visited many countries. But I also know people who have found good friends on FB and somehow are happier about it.

    I guess it is the way we perceive things. Just coz a person is all decked up and has many photos of him in exclusive locations and a grin on his face is no way a guarantee that his life is rocking. FB is more of a flaunting medium today. Sadly today, one's happiness has become directly proportional to the likes and comments they receive on FB.

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  18. I have been testing facebook, twitter, LinkedIn and recently G+. I have experienced other networks when these so-called social networks did not exist. I also certainly know how Medha Pataker, and my friend Surekha Dalavi could bring a few thousand half necked, illiterate adivasis – aborigines – for their public meetings, just within 2-3 days in forest areas.
    How could social networks on internet even last, when the civilized society is already decadent, fractured, disintegrated entity? They may give a zing or depression either way.
    I promote this post on Indiblogger, after placing my comment :-)

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    1. Very valid point, Archetypes. The problem is with the huge number of young adults and adolescents who consider digital social networks their prime source of social inputs and feedback. That is when it start getting scary.

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  19. It depends upon the person pursuing it.Personally speaking,i find it fake,frivolous & superficial.

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    1. As has been brought out in the discussion here, it is largely determined by the maturity or objectivity of the person concerned. The problem is that it is too young a phenomenon yet one that is used by huge numbers, numbers that are significant enough to lead to demographic trends. I too find a lot of the stuff that I see on my timeline frivolous, but I also benefit greatly from some of the stuff I see. So I guess there are really two sides to it.

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  20. Nice post.Yes,There is truth in this fact. The very simple reason for this is human tendency. Any human being expect reciprocation and in case of FB this point is proved.People say that they feel happy to have responses and reactions on their comments or posts but i am sure same people start getting fed up if the number of responses or liking to their post or comments are reduced or become zero. That is the time of real high depression and feeling of ignorance people may feel . Apart from this all users can not have all happy moments or sad moments together. The user who shares his happy moments (pics, updates etc ) is not liked by those who are not having good or favorable time and it creates a sense of envy and hatred among them though not visibly. So the moral of the story may be like this use FB as a simple tool for healthy entertainment and awareness without much expectations.

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    1. Thanks, Mohan. Your point about objectivity is well taken, but the trends we are seeing are contrary to that. I guess like anything else, this is a medium that is yet to mature, both in terms of how it is perceived and how the users interact.

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  21. Interesting post, I think it can cause depression in the vulnerable.

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  22. Definitely an worry , specially for the younger generation , which seems to be cocooned into a virtual world aloof of the realities life has in store for them...

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  23. good post; i would say anything in excess kills- moderation is the need of the hour in such cases but we seldom realise that. IF FB is indeed causing negativity and gloom it is imperative to step back and trickle back to reality

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  24. I would say Facebook works either ways! There were days of depression as well as happiness - it is up to people and how they take it. A good guest post! Thanks for sharing with us Sir.

    Someone is Special

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  25. I was just passing out from school when facebook came into the picture. Everyone wants to leave behind school and move forward,leave behind all those fights pestering people. But with facebook its like you are stuck in high school forever.
    Everyone wants to know where you are ,who you are with and what are you wearing. Its like you become a celebrity in your own friend circle. I have a friend who actually makes sure she never wears the same outfit in any two pictures on facebook.

    Its just all very stupid :/

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  26. Nice Post.
    I consider FB useful is being able to connect to old lost schoolmates/distant relatives etc

    Other than that, I find it intrusive and vague. Personally I could not adopt it so far.

    For younger generation, yes it could be addictive (and may affect moods) and would need maturity to handle.

    Recently I have heard some people in my circle have taken the step to delete their accounts after finding it too much to handle!

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  27. as long as you do not sit for too long on fb and you are using it in limit .. fb will never be a thing of depression !

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  28. Very interesting, well written, and well presented post. :-)

    I had an introspection on the bad effects of facebook and posted in my blog few months back … you may like to visit : http://www.leisuretask.com/goodreads/2012/05/facebook-can-be-harmful-time-to-introspect/

    The idea of this post was hitting in my mind from the time when one of my friend had a breakup with his girlfriend. This happened because he refused to share his facebook password with her which he used to do earlier. …

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  29. There was a time when touch-deprivation was linked to low self-esteem. I do not know if any study has been done about whether FB users tend to be touch-deprived or not - considering that they spend more time with FB than with people - or, indeed, whether that touch-deprivation linkage to low self esteem has itself been debunked!

    ReplyDelete

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