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Facebook Updates: The Good, The Bad, and the Vague

One of my biggest pet peeves is “vague-booking”. You know, when people change their Facebook status to read “sigh” or “really?” or “I can’t believe that just happened :(“. Vague with a capital “V”. I know that the author of these atrocities just wants someone to ask them what happened, or express concern that they had a tough day, but my response is the exact opposite. To put it gently, I start to dislike the vague-booker.

And this generally has nothing to do with the real life individual who is sitting at his or her computer feeling put upon. Until the moment they hit “post” I probably thought they were an awesome human being. But complain in my news feed and I will show you little mercy.

Well, it turns out I’m not the only one who feels this way. In a recent study published in Psychological Science, researchers Amanda Forest and Joanne Wood at the University of Waterloo set out to look at the effects using Facebook had on individuals with low self-esteem. Their hypothesis was that Facebook would allow these people to strengthen relationships with their acquaintances online, and therefore start to feel more empowered. What they found, however, was that individuals with low self-esteem were far more likely to post negative status updates, which would in turn weaken their online social support network.

Another person told me I looked old today :(

Forest and Wood began their investigation by assessing how different people viewed Facebook. Sure enough, people with low self-esteem viewed it as a way of interacting with others in a less socially awkward environment. In effect, they felt they could be more open and honest online than in real life.

They next asked their subjects to provide their 10 most recent status updates, which were judged by an independent student. This judge was asked to rate how much the update made them like the author of the post. Sure enough, the more negative the post, the less the judge liked the person who wrote it.

In their final analysis, Forest and Wood found that people with low self-esteem were more likely to post negative information than people with high self-esteem, and when someone with low self-esteem posted something positive they got far more feedback from their social network than they otherwise would. While people are more than happy to encourage and congratulate a positive proclamation on Facey, they’re likely going to ignore a miserable one. And if the miserable posts continue, ignoring turns to silent animosity.

So it’s a vicious cycle it seems. You feel bad about yourself, you post something sad on Facebook, this makes people dislike you which in turn makes you feel worse about yourself, and feeling comfortable online, you post something sad on Facebook, etc. etc. etc. …

The moral of the story? Only use Facebook for good, and STOP VAGUE-BOOKING!!!!


Katie Pratt is a graduate student in Molecular Biology at Brown University. She has a passion for science communication, and in an attempt to bring hardcore biology and medicine to everyone, she blogs jargon-free at www.katiephd.com. Follow her escapades in the lab and online on Twitter.


Be the first one to mind the gap by filling in the blank as a comment and get your name in the blog along with a sweet new BenchFly mug!


UPDATE: Congratulations to the Raff Lab – winner of this week’s Mind the Gap!

About the winner: We are a lab at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, University of Oxford, under the supervision of Prof Jordan Raff. We study the molecular biology of centrosomes, and how they go astray in diseases such as cancer, using the fruit fly as our model organism. You can check what we are up to by following us on Twitter and find out about our research in our website.

About the prize: In addition to fame and glory beyond their wildest dreams, winners receive our new hot-off-the-presses large (15 oz) BenchFly mug to help quench their unending thirst for scientific knowledge… or coffee.



Miss a previous edition of Mind the Gap? Shame on you! Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered:

Scared of Dropping the Soap? Worry No More.

New Year’s Lab-olutions

A Social Network for Food: Why Won’t Vanilla Friend Garlic?

I’d Rather Die Fat and Young than Old and Skinny

Look Into My Wide, Vacant, Eyes

I’m Just Mad About Saffron

Sweet Relief: How Sugar May Help Reverse Climate Change

Laughter Really is the Best Medicine

All Work and No Play Makes Katie RSI Prone

Sexual Identity and Autocrine Stimulation: Oh, To Be Teenage Yeast

On Wine, Sunburns and the Tendency of Headlines to Mislead

Which Came First: The Opossum or the Snake?

Pigeons Know a Crazy Woman When they See One

To Boldly Go Where No Worm Has Gone Before

Another One Bites the Dust: Rinderpest Eradicated

Scientists Just Wanna Have Fun (Like Uncaged Monkeys)

Mosquitoes Eating You Alive? Cheesy Feet Could be the Problem




10 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. Raff Lab

    wrote on February 8, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Wateloo! Does the Raff Lab get the mug?!

  2. [email protected]

    wrote on February 8, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Waterloo it is- the Raff Lab's getting hooked up with a mug! (We assumed the "R" got lost in the shuffle of excited typing…)

  3. Raff Lab

    wrote on February 8, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    that is exactly what happened! really got too excited about getting a Bench Fly mug (being a fly lab and all!!!)

  4. [email protected]

    wrote on February 8, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Understandable – a "Double Fly" incident can be just as exciting, if not more, than a Double Rainbow

  5. Raff Lab

    wrote on February 8, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    Wow, that is excitement! Exactly the same happening here atm…

  6. Veena Thomas

    wrote on February 8, 2012 at 2:23 pm


  7. steve mone

    wrote on February 8, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    i absolutely loved this post and i cannot stand a vague booker. and i adore katie phd

  8. Matt Ritter

    wrote on February 9, 2012 at 10:48 am

    I've always been itching to write my own algorithmic filter for facebook status updates – every few days I stumble on a great link and/or conversation, but most posts aren't very interesting. I don't think that it would be too hard to write one that's at least somewhat useful – at the very least, you can filter out any posts than end in an emoticon!

  9. Shannen

    wrote on November 11, 2012 at 11:23 pm

    I encounter those a lot!

  10. Kyle

    wrote on November 12, 2012 at 12:10 am

    Thanks for this.

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