Certain kinds of social media content can trigger those who are predisposed to making more frequent social comparisons. If the results of such comparisons are unfavorable, this can increase feelings of anxiety or depression.
Facebook conducts extensive research to understand the kinds of online experiences that worsen social comparisons.
In a mass survey, Facebook asked 37,729 users from 18 countries to recount an occurrence in the past two weeks in which they felt worse via comparison on Facebook.8 They also asked about the intensity and duration of the episode and whether the user wished they hadn’t seen the post.
Rather than rely solely on self-reporting, as most previous studies have done, they used log data of respondents’ activities during the prior month, such as the number of posts they viewed and the amount of time they spent looking at profiles of demographically similar people.
What they found is that viewing more social content—as opposed to news or commercial content—increased the frequency of social comparison.
Seeing friends’ social content with high levels of feedback—such as Likes, comments, or Reactions—was associated with some of the highest levels of social comparison in the study.
Specifically, social comparison frequency increased with the proportion of posts people saw in their News Feeds that received 20 or more pieces of one-click feedback. (Likes or Reactions), or received 20 or more comments.
Interestingly, people who saw more positive and less negative content from friends felt more social comparison. This suggests that when friends share negative experiences in their lives, the impact of social comparison may be tempered.
People who reported more frequent social comparison also spent proportionally more time viewing their friends’ profiles and a greater proportion of that time viewing their own profiles.
And people who saw more content from people within one year of their age, on News Feed, profiles, or stories, reported more frequent social comparison. This corresponds with social comparison theory which states that individuals only make social comparisons with relevant targets i.e., demographically similar people.