Articles What Facebook Tells Us About Human Nature by Ana Harris

Published on May 21st, 2013 | by Ana Harris

What Facebook Tells Us About Human Nature


With looming deadlines and constant activity it’s easy to drown out the loneliness. When the busyness subsides, it’s scary what we find. A recent injury drastically altered my summer plans and I immediately fell into a sort of zombie mode. I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to set goals and accomplish things — but I didn’t want to do anything. My to-do-list just sat there silently.

This kind of indifference terrifies me.

I checked Facebook more times a day than I would ever like to admit. Honestly, I was too embarrassed to count. Is reading a “friend’s” page really going to solve the aloneness? How ridiculous it is to think a tiny red box with a little number 1 or maybe even 2 would help. Not even a 7 or 14 could erase the problem. What do we think Facebook can give us anyway?

Some have deemed Facebook the best thing since who knows what. “It’s great. It connects you with old friends and helps you make new ones.” Others condemn it with a passion. “Facebook is the devil. It’s an enormous waste of time.” But what does Facebook teach us about humanity? There’s actually a lot we can learn about ourselves from observing the dynamics of this social network.

We are self-protective, lazy and afraid of commitment

We are self-protective, lazy and afraid of commitment

We all hunger for relationships, but true relationship takes work. Real love costs us something. Getting to know people always involves an element of risk. We might get into a conflict. They might reject us. They might betray us or hurt us. Facebook seems to offer an alternative to the difficult path of sincere friendship. It promises relationships with no commitments or risk.

You log onto Facebook whenever it’s convenient for you. You choose who to friend request. You only talk to whomever you feel like talking to. If someone ignores your wall post, well, maybe they were busy with something else. If someone is angry, well, you can’t hear him or her through the letters in the chat box. All this makes it easy for us to interact with people without having to address our self-centered perspective.

We probably do want to know others. We might even want them to know we care deeply. Our selfishness keeps us from speaking to the core of somebody in person, but on Facebook it’s less awkward. We desire relationships that go beyond the superficial, but we also want our own space. Facebook allows for this paradoxical way of relating. We can control the distance between others and ourselves. It all seems less painful and so easy. You don’t have to go anywhere. You don’t even need to get dressed or brush your hair. No need to commit to being at a certain place by a certain time. If you need to leave, you just leave.

Can we really have genuine friendship with so little effort?

We are afraid, but we want to be known

We Are Afraid, But We Want to Be Known

Despite the layers of laziness and self-protection we can’t deny the deep desire to be known. We’re afraid, but we really do want to let people in. Even with all the hype about privacy settings, Facebook seems like the safest place. Some say it allows you to make yourself into whoever you want to be; that it helps you polish up your image for the world. Although Facebook does make it possible for you to do this, my observation is that people tend to go the opposite way. There are at least two major reasons why people are willing to put themselves out there on Facebook.

First of all, Facebook definitely corners you. If you’re keeping up different images for different circles of friends and acquaintances, Facebook forces you out. They’re all there. They can all read your page. Your family, your school, your church and your workplace are all one big mess on Facebook. You can’t keep up multiple images anymore. Now, the only reasonable person to be is yourself. Besides, the risk is lower and if we’re honest we’ll admit that we’re sick of all the masks. Maybe Facebook will show us who really loves us, and who only loves the mask we wear. We are hoping that it’s possible for someone to know us and still love us.

Secondly, the reaction time is delayed. It’s easier to expose yourself when no one can jump at you right away. If they do, you don’t even have to respond. We can open up on Facebook because we don’t have to face the person we are talking to. We have an emotional outlet but we don’t have to see the reaction. We can’t hear their voice or see their facial expressions. We don’t have to worry about our words getting jumbled up in our nervousness because they’re typed out and we can delete anything we don’t like. We feel in control.

We want to know we’re not the only ones

We all enjoy reading wall posts in order to learn all about the lives of other people. Who can resist the urge of looking at the pictures and reading all the comments? Nosiness is socially acceptable on Facebook. We can study people without them ever knowing it. Facebook just magnifies the spying tendency Ed Welch speaks about:

“Spying might reveal the vulnerability of others so that we can believe that they are no different from us (or even not as good as us). Disgrace wants company. On the other hand, it might reveal someone who is strong and can be our hero. With a hero we might feel less isolated because we can enter into a safe fantasy relationship.” – Ed Welch

Facebook makes fantasy relationships even better. We can use real facts. We can find out how someone is doing without ever having to ask. We can know our “friends’” favorite music and hobbies without ever speaking to them. We are even allowed to read other people’s conversations. Perhaps a dumb comment will prove that they aren’t any better than we are. Or maybe their large number of fans will indicate that they are someone we should admire.

We don’t know who we are

We like to categorize ourselves. All the little quizzes that tell you what Disney princess you are or what celebrity you could date are pitiful expressions of a search for identity. We somehow think these absurdities will help us to discover ourselves. All we discover is that we don’t know who we are and we feel like we need others to tell us we’re okay.

disney_princesses

“In my own life, I notice I validate people who like or validate me. When I say so-and-so is a nice person, what I really mean is so-and-so thinks I am a nice person.” – Don Miller

This is not love or friendship; it is a game of becoming someone. Facebook is just the Internet-documented version of this universal game. The nature of the game becomes blatantly obvious; the goal is to prove yourself. We are all vying for identity. We measure ourselves relative to other people. We want to know how others perceive us and compare that to how we perceive others and ourselves. It all becomes one big mess of “compare people.”

Somehow we think that others’ opinions have the power to shape us into who we are. Why else do we feel rejected when we are not on the top friends of someone we admire? Why else do we burn with curiosity when Facebook tells us “so and so answered a question about you”? We write on walls because we want everyone else to know that we’re cool enough to talk to certain people. When we broadcast our relationship status many times we are just saying, “Hey look, this guy or girl thinks I’m valuable. Now you really have to believe that I am somebody.” When we get one of those little notifications “so and so thinks you are hotter,” we wonder “Hotter than who?”

Why are we so obsessed with being better than the people around us? Why do these silly games threaten our identity to the point that we are willing to rank our friends? Ranking our friends in order to make sure we are liked is just plain cruel. We’re building our friends into a ladder for our own self-validation. We are using others to boost our image.This is clearly not the correct path to finding ourselves. When did we lose ourselves anyway? Is this search even justified?

The losing is the finding

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and I’m not sure I know who I am. This used to bother me enormously. The pressing need to be someone drove me to dangerous extremes. With this intense focus on finding myself, I ended up losing myself even further. So I’m starting to wonder if “finding ourselves” is even something we should pursue.

I’m starting to wonder if anyone ever finds out who they are.

It’s true that every human being is uniquely valuable. It’s true that we all have different personalities, talents, families and occupations. Even so, none of these things are secure enough to hold up our identity. Any one of them could disappear at any given time. Then who would you be?

The Losing is the Finding

I can already hear the believers reacting, “The problem is that we are looking in the wrong places. We can’t get our identity from people. We can’t get it from what we do. We must get it from God.” I do believe that. I do know who I am in Christ and I can’t help but notice that it’s the same as what every other believer is in Christ. Our identity in Christ doesn’t make us better than others. It doesn’t make us stand out in any self-glorifying way. I’m not saying that our identity in Christ is deficient; it just doesn’t exactly pump up our self-esteem.

We’re so dead that we need him to give us life. We’re so wretched we need Jesus’ righteousness to cover us up. We’re so weak that we need him to be our strength. This kind of sacrificial love completely blows apart the search for self. God doesn’t come to tell us how great we are. I think he comes to ask us why we are demanding the worship of our fellow creatures. He certainly doesn’t come to worship us. We are not God. He is. He is the only one who can rightfully demand worship and remain perfect in love.

Maybe finding out who you are is just getting comfortable with not knowing who you are. Lasting security comes when we forget about trying to figure out who we are and fall on our faces before a worthy God. It comes from losing ourselves in love for God and others. It’s what happens when you stop thinking about yourself and look at Jesus. Finding ourselves is really getting lost in something bigger than us. Maybe we aren’t anything and He is everything.

“I’ve been thinking ’bout everyone, everyone you look so lonely.
But when I look at the stars,
when I look at the stars,
when I look at the stars I see someone else
When I look at the stars,
the stars, I feel like myself.” – Switchfoot

A challenge

Facebook is a stage for human fallenness. It puts our selfishness and brokenness under a microscope. Perhaps the magnified view of the pieces will help us to make out what the whole picture should look like. The desire for relationship is not a bad thing. These problems arise out of a good thing that has been distorted. We were created for community, but we mustn’t turn relationships into a means of self-fulfillment. This destroys love. We can’t demand that others care about us, but we can and should love and appreciate others.

What would happen if we turned the selfishness upside-down? What if we embraced commitment? What if we invested our time in other people instead of crying for attention? What if we showed interest in knowing another person instead of wondering why no one cares enough to ask us how we’re doing? What if we were willing to get messy with our friends that are hurting instead of bemoaning the fact that we are the only ones? What if we looked for ways to serve others instead of using them? What would happen if we quit stalking people and started loving them? Lets do it!

Some ideas:

  • Ask yourself: “Are there any people I interact with on Facebook but not in person? Why? Are these reasons legitimate?
  • Follow up meaningful online conversations in person. Bring up the topic instead of resorting to the typical superficial mode.
  • If you find out something significant about someone’s life from your news feed, ask him or her about it in person.
  • Call your friends when you need to talk to them. Even if they’re online.
  • Use email instead of broadcasting your conversation to the whole world.
  • Have a reason. Don’t log on to Facebook without a specific purpose. Don’t get sidetracked by clicking everything in the news feed. If you’re just checking for notifications, close it as soon as you’re done.
  • Set a limit to your Facebook time.
  • Talk to the people that are already around you. Do something with your family.
  • Set up a time to meet with a friend. Be there.
  • Send somebody a snail mail. The time and effort it takes, proves that the other person is worth it.
  • When you ask someone how they are doing, don’t settle for “alright.” Probe a little further. Ask hard questions. Remember, they want to be known too.
  • Be vulnerable. You shouldn’t be allowed to see someone else’s flaws if you aren’t willing to expose your own.
  • Do something practical for someone else.
  • Love somebody who can’t love you back.
  • Be bold. Take risks!

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.” – C.S. Lewis

Note: This article was written when Ana was 17-years-old. It was originally published as a note on Facebook.

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About the Author

is the happy wife of Brett Harris and a joyful follower of Jesus Christ. She is currently waging an intense battle with Lyme Disease, but when healthy she loves to worship God through ballet ministry. She has a passion for writing and evangelism.



  • http://notjustateen.blogspot.com/ Nathan Tasker

    Very well put!

    While I don’t currently have Facebook, the points here are quite helpful. I find that many times I “want to be known” by others as well. But when you sit back and think about it, “wanting to be known” is a bit of a silly concept, isn’t it? We want people to see us, who we are, what we like and do, etc. But how much do we want Christ to be known?

    When it all boils down, I want Christ to be known more than I am. And if people are going to see who I am (which they will), I want to resemble Him so much that the “me” they see points only to my Lord and Savior. That’s who I want my life to reflect. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

    I definitely need to reach out more instead of relying on virtual relationships and hoping that does the trick. Jesus went out and DID, as must I. Thanks for such a great reminder of this!

    • http://www.therebelution.com/ Brett Harris

      Great points, Nathan. I really appreciate your emphasis on Christ’s example and the importance of making Him known through our lives, not being known ourselves.

  • Molly Warren

    Ana,

    Thank you so much for posting this!
    The Lord has shown me that loving others is the opposite of selfishness … and if I had a FB, I think it would be another outlet for my selfishness (like I need that!), because it’d be all about me. My posts. My comments. My pictures. My profile. (Not that FB is all bad or evil…but I agree with what you have to say about how it can cause us to be consumed with our own little world.)

    I haven’t been allowed a FB by my parents’ rules, and honestly, I don’t think I even want one anymore. (I definately used to, though!)

    Oh, I “Want” one sometimes…but then I think, I do not Need one. Not for the friendships that really matter, and not for the One Relationship that ultimately matters.

    The friends who I am truly, deeply, at a spiritual level connected with, I don’t need FaceBook to keep up with them. Meeting for coffee, shopping, doing a Bible study, talking on the phone, texting about their day, hanging out at youth group…that’s what matters in those True Friendships. And it keeps me focused on Them instead of myself, because I want to ask questions and learn to listen to them.

    Again, thank you for posting this. I am so impressed that you first wrote it at seventeen~this shows that God has been working through you from a young age!! I want to be like that~ just over-flowing with His passion and love =)

    I am praying for you and your struggle with Lyme’s disease… God bless :)

    • http://www.therebelution.com/ Brett Harris

      Hey Molly, thanks for sharing your experience. Ana and I decided to take an extended vacation from Facebook (besides Rebelution stuff) and haven’t really missed it. We’ve found that we stay in good touch with friends through phone calls, texting, and in person.

      That’s not a decision we think everyone needs to make, but it’s probably worthwhile for most people to try living without Facebook for a month or more, just to see how it affects (or doesn’t affect) their relationships.

      Thanks for your prayers for Ana! She would be commenting too if she felt better today.

    • Sadie Clements

      “And it keeps me focused on Them instead of myself, because I want to ask questions and learn to listen to them.” I agree. Once connected, all you want to do is know the person more–which is how it also should be in our relationship with Christ. It’s not hard to want to know the other person, but to open ourselves up, to be vulnerable, that’s the scary part.

  • http://www.treasonoustruth.com/ Jessica

    Wow! Very challenging and thought-provoking, Ana! Thanks! The point that really resonated with me was the second, to follow up online conversations in person and not resort to small talk.

    Originally, I got on FB in January to keep in contact with speech and debate friends I’ve made in the past few years and who are scattered across the country. Since then, I’ve had several meaningful conversations with people I do see more often (mostly about controversial topics), and I do find myself shying away from those topics when I see them in person.

    I see both a plus and a minus to such a course of action. First, FB has served as a platform and facilitator for me to have those meaningful discussions. Second, I can take my time in responding to a statement or question, rather than getting into the heat of the moment and saying something I’ll later regret.

    On the flip side of the coin, however, there is a lot to be said for a realtime, face-to-face discussion. This post has been a great reminder that I need to embrace such opportunities when they present themselves!

    And I’ll be praying for you and your Lyme’s :)

    • http://www.therebelution.com/ Brett Harris

      Hey Jessica, you make some good points. Facebook can facilitate meaningful interaction. The solution to the problems Ana writes about isn’t necessarily to discard Facebook, but to use it very purposefully — aware of the relational pitfalls it presents.

      We’ll be posting more on this soon. =)

  • Sophia K

    I agree with some of these points, and they definitely can all apply in certain cases. But this article only addresses the bad points about Facebook. I believe that it is unfair to address only these points. I would like to help give a fair perspective by addressing some of the good points:

    Firstly – Facebook is one of the easiest ways for people (such as myself) who have friends that live far away to keep up with such friends. Take my friend Haley who lives in Ohio: when I do have a phone conversation with her, or get to see her, we have much more important things to talk about than, say, her prom. With Facebook I can see her prom pictures and learn more about the everyday things in her life that I wouldn’t know otherwise. And Facebook chatting provides a quick way just to check in if we both happen to be online – and we might not have time to talk on the phone right then, but it’s just a little “hi, how are you?” that keeps friendship alive.

    Secondly – Facebook isn’t ALL about you. Sure you have your own profile and places to post your thoughts and pictures but so does everyone else. It’s not for self-gratification (although some people use it that way). It’s for other people to learn about you and the things you like and for you to learn about others. It’s a good way to learn what kind of person someone is if you don’t know them very well and don’t get much chance to see them.

    Thirdly – Facebook can be used as a means of evangelization. I am a practicing Catholic and I “liked” a page called Catholic Memes. For example, they post pictures with bible references with funny captions. These motivate me to look up the verse. That’s a little daily reminder of my faith and a little prayer to God right there that I might not have otherwise.

    Those are just a few examples of the ways in which Facebook can be good. Facebook can become a vice if it is not used in a good way – but isn’t that the same with everything? Just to clarify, I am not one of those people who will friend every person I know. I only add people who I legitimately care about keeping in touch with and continuing a friendship with. I’m not on Facebook to get 1,000 friends or post a bajillion selfies or attention-seek statuses. I’m there to connect with my friends and get to know them better. That is its purpose and it is not a bad one.

    • http://www.therebelution.com/ Brett Harris

      Hey Sophia, thanks for sharing some of the good things about Facebook. Ana wanted me to tell you that she doesn’t claim Facebook has nothing good to offer. Her point was just that it reveals and encourages certain negative things in human hearts — things we need to be aware of and take steps to counteract. Hope that makes sense!

  • JessicaLetchford

    Hi Ana!
    Thanks for sharing this food for thought; there is a lot to learn here. The main thing that jumps out at me is your first point; we need relationships, and Facebook is a bit of a cop out in that regard, if used a certain way. The alternative is to take a risk and love someone – in person.

    Thanks again!

    • http://www.therebelution.com/ Brett Harris

      Hey Jessica, thanks for your comment. I like the way you summarized Ana’s first point. Facebook makes it easy for us to cop out relationally. We need to swim upstream to make sure we’re still taking risks to love people, in person and online.

  • Pingback: What Facebook Tells Us About Human Nature | YdoUbelieve

  • http://littlemaidofvirginia.blogspot.com/ Mallory O’Bier

    Thanks Ana! I don’t have a Facebook account, but I needed to read this! (I think it’s cool that you wrote this when you were 17, because I am seventeen right now:) I often feel that desire to be known and appreciated, to have friends, but I worry “If they knew this about me would they judge me because I am different?” “What if this girl won’t like me because of this?” I find sometimes I am scared to be myself, which is silly because we are all different, and it’s very unlikely that I would be shunned and condemned for reading “The Hobbit,” or wearing jeans! I will try, and just be myself the next time I meet someone. I’m going to start giving my time, and attention to others, instead of worrying about getting it.
    Thanks so much Ana!

  • Charissa McPherson

    So well said…this stuff weighs on my heart constantly. Thank you for the reminder of what real relationships, love, and risk is all about!

  • Grace and Glory

    I agree with Nathan – very well put! A gracious but pointed slow-you-down-to-wake-you-up call… I needed that.

    “Welcome to the FB drivethru, what are you craving today?”

    “Hmmm, I’ll go for the ego-booster combo: double-bragger buger, a large shallow-chat shake and a medium insecurity fries smothered in ‘misery-loves-company’ sauce.”

    “Well you’ve come to the right place for that! What would you like for your side?”

    “I’d like 100% Likeability” with 0% effort please.”

    “Here you are miss; have an easy day!”

    *As we speed back to our frenzied farm* “What a great place to go for a little ego boost!”

    Ok, ok. I’m exaggerating. And I don’t even have a FB page ;) But sometimes I marvel at how clever mankind is – how clever at avoiding, denying and hiding.
    I agree FB is not the “root of all evils,” but I’m also wary of singing its praises. It seems to be a smaller kind of black hole masquerading as a blue pedestal.
    It’s pathetic really. sometimes even our “inspiring quotes/verses” or our “links I like” lists – yes, even the comments on a blog that take half an hour because we want to word everything just right, can become self-praise seeking lures. “Maybe my friends or other people on this blog/FB that I admire will read this and think ‘Wow, that’s so true, I’d like to meet her, she sounds like Miss Wonderful!’ cross your fingers, I’m clicking post!”
    Praise God that he has given us this command “whatever you do, WORK at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for men.” Our job is to do hard things – yes, even down to messy relationships and though conversations. As my Dad’s coach used to say “No pain, no gain.”
    Ana, thanks for encouraging us down the narrow road; taking the easy way ends in a hard burden, but if we take the hard road, we are blessed for Christ’s “yoke is easy and [his] burdan is light.”
    Alright, I’ll make my fingers shut up, since this post is waay longer than it should be by now.
    Live by His grace and for His glory!

  • Grace and Glory

    P.S. Ana, Lyme Disease is a tough opponant – I watched from the sidelines as “he” fought it out with my cousin Sarah, who has it in her brain and central nervous system. That was a rough ride; but now she’s no longer skin and bones, and thanking the Lord for a slow but steady healing – Never give up, for the Faithful One is your strength.
    May the Great Physician cover you with His feathers of peace, and wrap you in His cloak of praise. Blessings on you and your husband!

  • Sadie Clements

    This is incredible! Mrs. Brett Harris continues to amaze me!

    This post prods a sharp-nailed finger right into the sore spot which we know as pride. Relationships are not to fulfill self. They are to glorify God, whether the other person feels the same way or not. I’ve never had a Facebook, but after reading this, from what I’ve seen of other people using it and my mother’s page, it is so true! The part of relationships which helps us to grow through difficulties is stripped away in the context of Facebook.

    Mrs. Harris, I also have a question. In the section labeled Some Ideas, you listed the suggestion “Love someone who can’t love you back”. Several instances/examples of this from my own life came to mind when I read this, but I would like you to clarify. Exactly what do you mean when you say this?

  • Esther

    Hi Ana,

    I loved the article and want to thank you for sharing it with us. I resonated with much of what you said.
    I also like the way you focussed not on what is right or wrong about the subject (Facebook) but instead took an attitude of learning toward it.

    I want to share a quote with you that I feel really reflects what you were talking about here:

    “Man is originally characterized by his “search for meaning” rather than his “search for himself.” The more he forgets himself—giving himself to a cause or another person—the more human he is. And the more he is immersed and absorbed in something or someone other than himself the more he really becomes himself.” – Viktor E Frankl

    Thanks again!

  • Libby

    I don’t have a Facebook. but like Nathan T. the points are very helpful.

  • Bethany Bratton

    Oh man! This is so true!!! Thank you, Ana!! Very convicting!!!

  • Christopher Witmer

    Wow, this is incredibly insightful. It is good for those of us on Facebook to every now and then sit back and evaluate how and why we are using FB.

    This is definitely an article I’ll keep in the archives to read again later. :)

    There are a lot of negatives about Facebook, but couldn’t we change some of that? Couldn’t we raise the quality of information that we post. Pointing the attention to Christ rather than ourselves. Along with accepting Ana’s challenge.

    Here is a profound video of Ravi Zacharias answering a question about Christianity and Social Media: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GiJDGkY_SUA

    May you feel God’s tremendous grace as you battle Lyme’s.

    Keep it up!

  • Tristan Hanes

    This article cut me to the quick. In fact, I came to this article through Brett’s and Alex’s technology article, where I just finished posting a fruitless comment I made just to get attention. This topic makes me question my motives in the things I say in conversation as well as online; the question arises: who am I highlighting in all of my activities? Am I pointing people to Christ, as Mr. Tasker mentioned, or am I trying to show people that I am deep, witty, holy, etc. Food for thought…

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