Send Hugs. They Help.

It’s rather creepy to think that folks at Facebook are reading everything you post on their social network. But they are. It’s fine because it’s in the name of science. Besides, their findings are fascinating.

Two Facebook researchers recently analyzed millions of status updates. (Not to worry, the identities were removed, so they don’t actually know what your restaurant meal looked like or how much you enjoyed Zootopia.) The researchers did uncover some notable differences, depending on whether the posts were positive (“My brilliant kid just scored a full scholarship to her top university!” “My husband is the most attentive man on earth!” “I may never come home from this amazing dream vacation in Tahiti!”) or negative (“Blew the job interview!” “Will this back pain ever go away?” “Missing my dog…”).

It turns out that when we write about our struggles, it’s much more likely to provoke comments from friends. And these comments are more emotional, more supportive and lengthier compared to comments made under positive status updates. Friends are also likely to send us private messages of support when they hear troubling news.

The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, argues that this is a good reason to share our troubles on social media. “Your tough times can bring out the best in your friends—and help make Facebook a better place for everyone,” says an article on the centre’s website. Your network will rally, admirably, to help you get you through a challenging situation. You won’t suffer alone.

Well, we all have our own comfort levels and TMI buffers, so I’m not so quick to suggest that we should paste all our problems onto Facebook, sit back and wait for the fruit baskets to arrive. But on the other hand, I’ve also witnessed what a comfort it has been for friends and colleagues, after experiencing an unspeakable tragedy, to have that tremendous online support. It doesn’t excise the pain, but it does provide some solace.

For me, the takeaway is this: If you’re considering reaching out to your network with bad news, don’t hesitate. They’re there for you. And, conversely, when we read about a friend’s terrible distress, and we’re debating whether or not to post a comment, we should feel encouraged to extend our sympathy and support. Because chances are it will make a difference. And at a time like this, that’s all we want to do for our friend, isn’t it?

This post is dedicated to the memory of A.S.


9 responses to “Send Hugs. They Help.

  1. Hi Lisa. I am sorry for the loss of A.S. who obviously meant a great deal to you to get a mention in such a public forum. Thank you for sharing this post. I often question the benefit of posting bad news on facebook and tend to use social media only for positive information. Good happenings and things that I think will help people.

  2. Thanks for your note, Steve. I’m with you – I generally refrain from posting negative notes most of the time – but I’m all for reaching out if something devastating happens, because it can be such a comfort to know you have a community on your side. Nice to know, too, that when we make an effort to acknowledge someone else’s distress, it actually helps them. Now, ask me how much tolerance I have for the Wendy Whiners who have nothing positive to say about anything, ever…

  3. Ha… not a whole lot.

  4. It also helps those of us who don’t know how to help the person to see the comments by others to know that it affected so many. As in the case of A.S.

  5. Agreed, Erin. And I also love seeing the photos and poems that other members of the community choose to post in tribute.

  6. Cyberspace has powers for good and evil. We have experienced Facebook the good over the last 9 days. When tragedy strikes, you think you are the only person in the world that it’s happening to. And people want to support you but don’t know how. Every text, FB message and phone call reminds you that there is light outside of the darkness that exists in our life at the moment. I am grateful for Facebook the good.
    The mom of A.S.

  7. M.S., I am gratified to know that your online community is making some measure of difference to you and your family at this devastating time. We will always be there to send you hugs when you need them.

  8. Pingback: What You Read in 2016 | 50 Good Deeds

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