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  • Brendan Stec

Don't compare your insides to everyone else's outsides

You had a rough day at work? Why don't you hop on LinkedIn and "Congratulate Julie Smith on her promotion." Still getting over your ex? Isn't it great to check your Snapchat stories and see how smoothly your friends' relationships are sailing? Ah, the challenges of social media. Always showcasing the best in our friends, it can make us feel so inadequate, ordinary, and depressed.

The trap of social media is that it convinces us to compare our reality with other peoples' carefully-filtered theater. The doubts and mistakes we keep to ourselves seem so pathetic compared to other peoples' endless confidence and success.

You probably understand this. You're probably thinking "yes, this is exactly how I feel. I've talked about this time and time again with my friends. Nothing new here."

Here is something that is new: some hard evidence to prove this issue exists. In his book Everybody Lies, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz uses text mining to analyze thousands of women's Facebook posts and Google searches. The goal? To see if women describe their husbands the same way in posts on Facebook as they do in searches on Google. Not surprisingly, these women frequently posted on Facebook positively describing their husband as "the greatest" or as "their best friend." But on Google, the most frequent searches about husbands include "why is my husband such a jerk?" and "why is my husband so mean?"

In another interesting example, Stephens-Davidowitz shows that the national circulation of the National Enquirer tabloid and The Atlantic magazine are roughly the same. Every time someone searches on Google to read celebrity gossip from the National Enquirer, there is another person searching to read thorough policy articles from The Atlantic. It's a 1:1 ratio. But on Facebook, The Atlantic has 50 TIMES more likes than the National Enquirer. People are just not as proud to announce they like the National Enquirer to all of their friends.

Everybody lies, but on social media, everybody lies all of the time. There is no incentive to be truthful. On Facebook, we're smiling, we're successful, we just started a new job. In the real world, we're struggling, we're dealing with a breakup, and maybe we're even reading the National Enquirer for some consolation.

Big Data shows us that people often tell us very different things than what they actually do. This is especially true on social media. That's why it can be so important to avoid comparing our insides to other people's outsides. Chances are, those outsides aren't the entire story.


Further Reading:

Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

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