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Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction?

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The wealth of social information presented on Facebook is astounding. While these affordances allow users to keep up-to-date, they also produce a basis for social comparison and envy on an unprecedented scale. Even though envy may endanger users' life satisfaction and lead to platform avoidance, no study exists uncovering this dynamics. To close this gap, we build on responses of 584 Facebook users collected as part of two independent studies. In study 1, we explore the scale, scope, and nature of envy incidents triggered by Face-book. In study 2, the role of envy feelings is examined as a mediator between intensity of passive following on Facebook and users' life satisfaction. Confirming full mediation, we demonstrate that passive following exacerbates envy feelings, which decrease life satisfaction. From a provider's perspective, our findings signal that users frequently perceive Facebook as a stressful environment , which may, in the long-run, endanger platform sustainability.
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11th International Conference on Wirtschaftsinformatik,
27th February 01st March 2013, Leipzig, Germany
Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life
Satisfaction?
Hanna Krasnova1,*, Helena Wenninger2, Thomas Widjaja2, and Peter Buxmann2
1 Institute of Information Systems, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany
krasnovh@wiwi.hu-berlin.de
2 Chair of Software Business & Information Management, Technische Universität Darmstadt,
Darmstadt, Germany
{wenninger, widjaja, buxmann}@is.tu-darmstadt.de
Abstract. The wealth of social information presented on Facebook is astound-
ing. While these affordances allow users to keep up-to-date, they also produce a
basis for social comparison and envy on an unprecedented scale. Even though
envy may endanger users’ life satisfaction and lead to platform avoidance, no
study exists uncovering this dynamics. To close this gap, we build on responses
of 584 Facebook users collected as part of two independent studies.
In study 1,
we explore the scale, scope, and nature of envy incidents triggered by Face-
book. In study 2, the role of envy feelings is examined as a mediator between
intensity of passive following on Facebook and users’ life satisfaction. Con-
firming full mediation, we demonstrate that passive following exacerbates envy
feelings, which decrease life satisfaction. From a provider’s perspective, our
findings signal that users frequently perceive Facebook as a stressful environ-
ment, which may, in the long-run, endanger platform sustainability.
Keywords: Envy, Facebook, Passive Following, Life Satisfaction, Mediation.
1 Introduction
With users sharing a whopping 30 billion pieces of content each month, Facebook
(FB) represents the largest database of social information the world has ever wit-
nessed [1]. By sharing their updates, users keep in touch and broaden their horizons
[2]. As users learn more about each other, bonding and bridging social capital can be
created [3], [4]. Despite these benefits, opponents warn against negative repercussions
these developments bring along. For example, past research has linked consumption
of social information on FB to such undesirable outcomes as jealousy [5], increase in
social tension [6], social overload [7], isolation [4] and even depression [8].
While findings on the negative effects of social information consumption are
alarming, the underlying logic of this dynamic is little understood. In this regard, first
reports underscore the proliferation of upward social comparison among members of
Social Networking Sites (SNSs), suggesting that envy could be one of the most com-
mon negative consequences of following information of others on these platforms [9],
[10]. Indeed, defined as “an unpleasant and often painful blend of feelings […]
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caused by a comparison with a person or group of persons who possess something we
desire[11, p. 49], envy can be triggered in a multitude of ways in the SNS environ-
ment. First, unprecedented
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scale of information sharing registered on SNSs naturally
provides a ground for envy, which is typically induced when new information is
learned about the other [ ]. Second, SNSs offer users easy and transparent means to
compare and “benchmark” themselves against their peers, inducing them to engage in
social comparison. Moreover, an asynchronous and “controllable” way of communi-
cating on SNSs creates vast possibilities for impression management, with SNS
members often over-emphasizing their achievements [12].
Triggered by over-exposure to social information on a SNS, envy feelings can
cause significant damage to users’ well-being and impact their life satisfaction [11].
Indeed, past research from social psychology reveals that envy may lead to frustration
[13], mental suffering [14] and even depression [15], [16]. To limit their contact with
envy-inducing information, users may consciously reduce platform use, as described
for other contexts by past research on organizational psychology [17]. This, however,
is undesirable for SNS providers, who face significant pressures to maintain a stable
user base [18]. Overall, it appears that envy can indeed be the missing link explaining
the negative effect of social information consumption on users’ emotional states and
loyalty behavior. However, despite potential seriousness of these effects, no study to
the best of our knowledge directly investigates the phenomenon of envy in the SNS
context.
To fill this gap, we adopt a two-stage approach. In study 1, we explore the scale,
scope, and nature of envy-inducing incidents triggered by FB use. In study 2, the role
of envy feelings is examined as a mediator between FB passive use and users’ life
satisfaction - a critical indicator of value engagement with SNSs brings along.
2 Theoretical Background
Indeed, outcomes of SNS use are tightly coupled with passive following of infor-
mation others share on the platform a behavior also synonymously referred to as
content consumption[4]; “social searchingand social browsing” [19]. Passive
following takes place when users browse their News Feed, click on ‘stories’, follow
communication of their friends, or proactively examine profiles of others. State-of-
the-art research recognizes the importance of studying consequences of passive con-
sumption of information since it represents the dominant activity on SNSs [19].
Apparently, widespread engagement in this activity signals a positive affect users
experience in the process of social browsing [19]. Following details of others’ lives
may also have positive cognitive effects since it helps to reduce uncertainty, thereby
providing basis for social trust, civic engagement and political participation [20].
Koroleva et al. [2] show that by passively following others on FB, users broaden their
horizons and build a sense of connectedness. This helps them realize an array of tan-
gible networking benefits. On the other hand, a growing body of research warns
against this one-sided positive view. Indeed, most recent evidence suggests that con-
tinuous engagement in passive following may lead to feelings of exhaustion, annoy-
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ance, irritability and overload [7], [21]. In a seminal study, Burke et al. [4] uncover a
significant link between social content consumption and perceptions of loneliness.
Altogether, these findings are alarming, since they signal a potential of SNSs to inter-
vene with userswell-being and life satisfaction and, over long-term, impact platform
sustainability. Nonetheless, little research exists uncovering the roots of the observed
dynamics.
The findings of Jordan et al. [22] suggest that upward social comparison and envy
can be rampant in a peer-dominated SNS environment, which can provide explanation
to negative outcomes passive following was shown to produce. Specifically, in a non-
SNS related study, the authors show that people tend to underestimate negative expe-
riences of others and overestimate their positive experiences, which causes negative
emotions to proliferate. SNS environment is particularly likely to exacerbate envy
feelings, since it promotes narcissistic behavior, with most users sharing only positive
things about themselves [12]. For example, Chou and Edge [9, p. 3] find that re-
spondents actively using FB were more likely to agree that “others had better lives
than themselves”. Moreover, friend lists typically consist of individuals with a high
degree of similarity to the profile owner [23], which is particularly conducive for the
proliferation of envy feelings [11].
However, despite the obvious potential of SNSs to promote envy and social com-
parison, no study to the best of our knowledge has investigated the scale and conse-
quences of this phenomenon in the SNS context. Recognizing this lack of studies, we
draw on research from social psychology and organizational science to discuss poten-
tial effects of this emotional state. In this research, envy is typically described as a
painful emotion that emerge as a result of upward comparison to advantaged others,
who possess something, that one covets but lacks [11]. Envy is an unalienable part of
social interaction, with people experiencing this feeling in private and workplace
settings, or any other environment, where inter-personal interactions take place [24].
On the positive side, benign envy was shown to lead to learning, motivation, better
performance, and achievement [25]. On the negative side, malicious envy leads to
desire to harm the envied object and breeds hostility [24]. Endured over longer time
periods, envy can damage one’s sense of self-worth, result in group dissatisfaction
and withdrawal, lead to depressive tendencies, reduce perceptions of well-being, and
poor mental health [11]. Considering these detrimental effects of envy, in this study,
we explore the dynamics of envy processes in the SNS context. Specifically, in the
next step, we examine the scale, scope, and nature of envy-inducing incidents trig-
gered by FB. Building on our findings, we then explore whether envy feelings can
explain a negative impact of passive consumption on individual well-being.
3 Study 1: Exploring the Scale, Scope, and Nature of Envy on
SNSs
Considering the lack of studies directly addressing the phenomenon of envy in the
SNS context, the scale, scope, and nature of envy phenomenon on SNSs have been
studied first in an explorative manner. To do so, a short online survey including a
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mixture of open- and close-ended questions has been conducted. Responses to open-
ended question have been always content-analyzed in two steps. First, authors have
identified relevant categories. Next, two independent coders were trained to code the
data. This allowed us to calculate Inter-Coder Reliability (IRR) measured by Cohen’s
kappa to ensure the quality and validity of the coding procedure. In case of disagree-
ment, a final decision on the attribution of a code was achieved via consensus by au-
thors. We refrain from describing questions in a separate part of this paper due to
space limitations, but rather present them in the course of our analysis below.
The survey was advertised using a mailing list of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
and was positioned as a study of “emotions of Facebook users” to avoid priming. A
lottery of 15 €5 Amazon.de gift cards was offered as an incentive to take part in the
study. 357 respondents answered most parts of the survey (the answers were not
forced). 34.2% (65.8%) of respondents were male (female). The median age com-
prised 24 years. 93.8% stated Germany as the country, where they have spent most
time of their life. 89.9% (3.9%) of respondents were students (employed). 25% of
respondents studied language / culture studies, 7.6% studied law, with the rest study-
ing a great variety of other disciplines. The median number of FB friends reached
169. 50.0% of respondents stated to spend between 5 and 30 minutes daily on FB.
Question 1: Emotional Outcomes of Facebook Use. To avoid priming, a general
open-ended question was asked first: “Please think about the last time you used Face-
book. What did you feel afterwards? Which emotions have you experienced?” 347
(97.1%) of respondents gave a short answer to this question resulting in a data corpus
of 3167 words. Initial analysis and subsequent coding of responses reveal a plethora
of emotional outcomes the use of FB can produce (see Table 1).
Table 1. Emotional outcomes of most recent Facebook use.
Emotional
Outcomes Share of
respondents Emotional
Outcomes Share of
respondents
Positive (at least one)
43.8%
Negative (at least one)
36.9%
joyful / fun 28.8% bored 13.8%
satisfied
9.5%
angry
9.2%
informed
7.8%
frustrated
8.9%
excited
6.1%
guilty
3.5%
relaxed
4.3%
tired
2.9%
Neutral 28.8% sad 2.6%
Other 4.3% lonely 1.4%
envious 1.2%
Specifically, five positive and eight negative emotional outcomes emerged from
the data varying in their degree of intensity. 29.7% of respondents reported two or
more emotional states, with the rest reporting only one emotional outcome. IRR was
high reaching 0.733 (p=0.000), which shows that our data is suitable for further anal-
ysis. We find that 43.8% of respondents report at least one positive emotional out-
come following their Facebook use. At least one negative emotional state is reported
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by the lower share of respondents (36.9%). Among positive outcomes, “joy and fun"
feelings were the most prevalent with 28.8% of respondents reporting these experi-
ences. These were followed by feelings of “satisfaction”, feeling of being “informed”,
excitement” and “relaxation”. Among negative outcomes, 13.8% of respondents
reported feeling “bored”, 9.2% admitted “anger” and 8.9% reported “frustration".
Envy”a subcategory in the focus of our study was only mentioned by 4 respond-
ents in our sample. The seeming unimportance of envy revealed in this analysis may
be rooted in respondents’ reluctance to directly admit to experiencing envy, rather
reporting such general outcomes as feelings of anger, exhaustion, frustration, and
irritation [11], [26]. Admitting to these feelings is more socially acceptable, since they
can be equally caused by information overload [21] or social conflict [6], which carry
less social stigma. Whether this explanation holds, was tested in a follow-up question.
Question 2: Causes of Frustration with Facebook. The second question was not
directed at the respondent but rather targeted emotional outcomes of “others”. Specif-
ically, respondents were asked: “Many users report feeling frustrated and exhausted
after using Facebook. What do you think causes these feelings?Projective tech-
niques are often used in survey design, as they help to elicit honest responses [27].
307 (86.0%) respondents answered this question resulting in a data corpus of 5831
words. As a result of initial content analysis, 13 sub-categories have been identified,
as summarized in Table 2. IRR was high reaching 0.735 (p=0.000). Most respondents
mentioned only one reason for frustration, 17.3% mentioned two, and 2.0% men-
tioned three reasons. We find that “envy” emerges as the category of the highest im-
portance with 29.6% of respondents mentioning it as a major reason behind frustra-
tion and exhaustion of “others”. Feelings of envy by far surpass such causes, as “lack
of attention” (19.5%), “loneliness” (10.4%), and “time loss” (13.7%). This outcome
suggests that even though respondents do not admit feeling envy when asked directly
(question 1), they readily relate this emotion to frustration resulting from FB use.
Table 2. Reasons for “others” being frustrated after Facebook use.
Reasons Explanation Share of
Respondents
Social Causes
lack of attention
lack of comments, likes, feedback
19.5%
social problems
conflicts, tension, quarrel
2.0%
loneliness
social isolation, no face-to-face contact
10.4%
having missed smth
missing events, concerts, not invited
5.5%
jealousy jealous of one’s (ex-)partner, friend 2.0%
envy envy, social upward comparison 29.6%
Informational Causes
content of news sad news, frustrating news 10.1%
uselessness of news information overload, bad content 7.2%
boring news boredom, no news, uninteresting news 5.5%
Functionality long loading times, missing functionality 4.2%
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Time Loss losing time 13.7%
Other Causes other non-classified causes 1.3%
Unidentified Causes
not being able to identify a cause
5.9%
Moreover, when subsequently asked “How often do you experience feelings of frus-
tration and exhaustion after using Facebook?” with pre-specified answers on a 7-
point scale: 1=(almost) never; 4=sometimes; 7=(almost) every time, 36.4% of re-
spondents reported feeling frustrated and exhausted at least sometimes or more often.
Among those respondents, 29.2% mentioned envy as a major cause of frustration
behind FB use, thereby indirectly admitting to envy. This outcome leads us to con-
clude that even though respondents are unwilling to admit to it, envy is a common
consequence of SNS use.
Question 3: Triggers of Envy and Role of Facebook. The scope and nature of
the envy phenomenon on SNSs has been further explored by asking respondents
about the context of their most recent envy experience: “Please think about the last
time you envied someone. Where did you experience this feeling?”. Pre-specified op-
tions included personal encounter”, “Facebook”, Xingand other”. We find that
71.5% (238) of recent envy-inducing incidents are still experienced offline. Nonethe-
less, Facebook is responsible for causing 21.3% (71) of most recent envy cases, with
the rest being triggered by “Xing” or “Other” settings. This magnitude of envy inci-
dents taking place on FB alone is astounding, providing evidence that FB offers a
breeding ground for invidious feelings. To better understand in which areas incidents
of envy are common and whether FB provokes incidents of different nature, the fol-
lowing question was posed: “What have you envied that time?”. This autobiographical
narrative methodology has been successfully used in eliciting envy-related and other
secretive experiences [28].
Table 3. Envy-inducing incidents in offline settings and on Facebook.
Envy-inducing incidents Share of
Mann-Whitney Test
p-value
Offline FB
N sample
238
71
Travel and Leisure 19.3% 56.3% .000
Social Interaction 6.3% 14.1% .035
Love, Family and Relationship
5.9%
4.2%
.592
Success
money / material posessions 8.0% 1.4% .049
success in studies 8.4% 2.8% .109
abilities 11.8% 2.8% .026
success in job 15.5% 2.8% .005
success in general
10.5% 5.6% .218
Appearance 7.1% 2.8% .184
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Personality 6.3% 1.4% .103
Happiness 6.3% 7.0% .824
Other 2.9% 5.6% .283
No Envy 2.5% 1.4% .581
333 obtained responses resulted in a data corpus of 2834 words. In most cases only
one subject of envy has been stated, with 9.6% indicating two subjects. In total, 13
categories have been identified and subsequently coded, with IRR reaching an appro-
priate level of 0.706 (p=0.000). Table 3 summarizes the differences between envy
subjects for offline and FB contexts. We find that envy about “travel and leisure”,
social interactions” and “happiness” belong to the three most frequently mentioned
causes of envy triggered by Facebook use. In daily encounters, however, “travel and
leisure”, “success in job” and “abilities” of another person represent the three most
common categories. Overall, the fact that “travel and leisure” account for a whopping
56.3% of all envy incidents triggered by FB is interesting. The reasons for this are
likely rooted in a high share of travel photos posted by FB users. Indeed, while shar-
ing content directly depicting expensive material possession might be seen as brag-
ging by others; posting photos from vacations has long established itself as a norm on
SNSs [29]. As a result, by sharing this type of content respondents do not risk to be
accused of engaging in the outright self-promotion, while still, in a way, doing so.
4 Study 2: The Role of Facebook Envy in Users’ Life Satisfaction
In line with study 1, we found that envy feelings are often triggered by following
information of others on FB. Experienced over a long time period, these invidious
emotions can lead to frustration and exhaustion, damaging individual life satisfaction
a critical indicator of users’ well-being. To investigate whether these effects take
place, a follow-up study investigating the role of envy feelings in the relationship
between passive following and life satisfactionwas undertaken.
4.1 Research Hypotheses
Most studies consistently find a positive link between active communication or gen-
eral FB activity and such desirable outcomes as life satisfaction [30], social capital
[20], and emotional support [2]. The evidence, however, is mixed when it comes to
the impact of passive use of SNSs, suggesting that directionality of FB impact de-
pends on a specific type of user activity. Since passive use is central for the emer-
gence of envy feelings, we concentrate on this type of user behavior in our model.
Using a convenience student sample and self-report measures, Koroleva et al. [2]
find a positive link between intensity of information consumption and such favorable
outcomes as horizon-broadening and networking value. Nonetheless, a number of
recent studies voice an array of concerns regarding negative effects of passive follow-
ing, including feelings of exhaustion [7], information overload [21], and social ten-
sion [6]. Apparently, while passive following satisfies users’ needs for novelty and
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cognitive stimulation, thereby resulting in a positive affect in the short-run [19], [31],
in the long-term excessive consumption of social information leads to depletion and
exhaustion. Confirming these effects, Burke et al. [4] find a positive link between
intensity of passive following and perceptions of loneliness. Based on FB log data as
a measure of user activity, the findings of this study appear to provide the most relia-
ble snap-shot of long-term consequences of FB usage available so far. Therefore,
considering that global life satisfaction and loneliness are related components and are
both parts of the concept of well-being [32], we cautiously hypothesize that: Intensity
of passive following on FB is negatively associated with Life Satisfaction (H1).
With an average user having 130 friends in her profile, SNSs offer a fertile ground
for episodic envy feelings to proliferate. These feelings can be triggered as users en-
counter positive information of others and engage in social comparison while brows-
ing the News Feed [9]. Presence of friends with similar background is likely to mag-
nify these effects, since demographic similarity is often used to identify a suitable
reference group one attempts to match with [11]. Moreover, proliferation of narcissis-
tic self-presentation, well documented by past research [12], makes activation of in-
vidious emotions hard to avoid. In fact, both men and women find themselves under
high pressure to communicate their best sides to their peers, even though in different
areas. For example, male users have been shown to post more self-promotional con-
tent in “About Me” and “Notes” sections on FB, as they attempt to communicate their
accomplishments and establish social standing [12]. Women, on the other hand, stress
their physical attractiveness and sociability [33]. Overall, however, shared content
does not have to be explicitly boastful” for envy feelings to emerge. In fact, a lonely
user might envy numerous birthday wishes his more sociable peer receives on his FB
Wall [4]. Equally, a friend’s change in the relationship status from “single” to “in a
relationship” might cause emotional havoc for someone undergoing a painful break-
up. Against this background, we hypothesize that: Intensity of passive following on
FB is positively associated with Envy on FB (H2).
Social and organizational psychology research provides a well-documented body
of scientific studies on the negative consequences of invidious emotions [11], [24]. In
work settings, job-related envy was shown to lead to extreme general, job and group
dissatisfaction, and even health problems [34]. Similar effects have been also regis-
tered in other settings. For example, Salovey and Rodin [35] show that unfavorable
social-comparison on self-relevant dimensions elevates anxiety in college undergrad-
uates. Moreover, experienced over longer time periods, feelings of envy were shown
to cause inferiority attitudes, which lead to depression and poor mental health [11].
Equally, we expect Facebook-induced envy to have a negative impact on personal
well-being. We, therefore, hypothesize that: Envy on FB is negatively associated
with Life Satisfaction (H3).
Central for our work, Hypothesis 4 disentangles the relationships described above
(H1-H3). Indeed, a number of studies provide evidence for the link between passive
following on FB and such outcomes as feelings of exhaustion [7], social tension [6],
and loneliness [4]. Considering the central role that Envy plays in the interpretation
and internalization of information about others [26], [36], it is plausible to hypothe-
size that these negative outcomes are mainly enacted by the Envy processes it triggers.
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In other words, in the context of our study it is not (only) passive following by itself
that reduces individual life satisfaction, but also (and rather) these are envy feelings,
passive following is likely to produce, which lead to this negative outcome. We hy-
pothesize that: Envy mediates a relationship between Intensity of Passive Follow-
ing on FB and Life Satisfaction (H4).
4.2 Control Variables
Past research offers significant support that SNS-enabled outcomes are contingent on
user demographic characteristics. For example, women were found to emphasize
relational uses of SNSs more than men, which make women particularly likely to
engage in upward social comparison [37]. Hence, we include gender as a control vari-
able. Additionally, age differences may also intervene with SNS-enabled outcomes
and envy processes. This is because older people are likely to have more experience
in coping with envy-inducing incidents, which helps them minimize the impact of
invidious emotions [11]. Hence, we also integrate age as another control variable.
Further, size, and structure of one’s friend list has often been used as a predictor of
SNS-enabled outcomes [4]. Therefore, we integrate number of friends as the third
control variable into our model. Finally, users who actively participate on a SNS by
sharing status updates, links, and comments may simultaneously be eager consumers
of social information. In this case, both active and passive participation can impact the
reported level of life satisfaction. To discern the confounding influence of these vari-
ables, active participation was additionally controlled for.
4.3 Survey Design and Sampling
To validate our research model a follow-up online survey was conducted by distrib-
uting the invitation via a mailing list similar to study 1. Participation in a raffle of 40
€5 Amazon.de gift certificates was offered as an incentive to take part in our survey.
While we relied on the pre-tested measures where possible, some scales had to be
developed anew or slightly modified to fit to the context of our study. A 9-item Envy
scale reflecting the FB context was self-developed. Examples include: When on Fa-
cebook, I catch myself envying: (1)...how much of the world others have already seen;
(2)...how successful others are; (3)...what abilities others have; (4)...how happy oth-
ers are. The 7-point scale used ranged from 1= (almost) never” to 7= (almost)
always. Four items for the Life Satisfaction Scale were borrowed from Diener et al.
[32] and measured on a 7-point Likert scale. Examples include: (1) In most ways my
life is close to my ideal; or (2) I am satisfied with my life. The measure for Passive
Following included items: On Facebook, how often do you? (1)...look through the
News Feed; (2) ...look through the conversations your friends are having;
(3)...browse the profiles of others, which were largely based on Koroleva et al. [2].
A 7-point scale was used: 1=never; 7=several times a day. All constructs were meas-
ured as reflective. Active Participation was measured based on Koroleva et al. (2011).
227 usable observations were obtained. 31.7% (67.8%) of respondents were male
(female). The median age comprised 24.3 years. 94.3% stated Germany as their coun-
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try of residence. 86.3% (4.4%) of respondents were students (employed). 25.1% of
respondents studied language / culture studies, 10.1% studied social sciences, and
7.5% business and economics. The median number of FB friends reached 179. 5.7%
of respondents stated to spend less than 5 minutes per day on FB; 45.8% spend be-
tween 5 and 30 minutes; 22.0% spend between 31 minutes and 1 hour; and 26.4%
spend more than 1 hour on FB.
4.4 Evaluation of the Research Model
Exploratory nature of our study as well as a non-normal distribution of our data dic-
tated the choice of Partial Least Squares (PLS) approach to test our hypotheses using
SmartPLS 2.0.M3 [38]. Model A was evaluated to test H1, H2 and H3 (see Figure 1).
Following Baron and Kenny [39], model B only including a direct causal link from
Passive Following to Life Satisfaction was additionally assessed to test the media-
tion effect of FB Envy (H4) (see Figure 1).
H2: (0.368**)
Life Satisfaction
R² =15.4%
H1: Model A: (-0.073)
Passive Following on
Facebook
Age
Number of
Friends
(0.126*)
Envy
R²=13.5%
H3: (-0.374**)
Gender
(0.192**)
(-0.066)
Model A
Model B
H4: Model B: (-0.187*)
Active
Participation
(0.072)
Significance: * at 5%; ** at 1% or lower; R2
Fig. 1. Results of the Structural Model
values reported for Model A.
Assessment of Models A and B included two steps: First Measurement Model (MM)
and then Structural Model (SM) were evaluated. MM was evaluated by verifying the
criteria for Convergent Validity (CV) and Discriminant Validity (DV). To ensure CV,
parameters for Indicator Reliability (IR), Composite Reliability (CR) and Average
Variance Extracted (AVE) were assessed. For IR, constructs should explain at least
50 % of the variance of their respective indicators. Items with factor loadings below
0.4 should be removed from the model [40]. The majority of item loadings in both
models satisfied the former strict criteria, exceeding the level of 0.7 [41]. Two items
in Model A and two items in Model B were only slightly below 0.7. Taken together,
IR was assured. Further, CR values for all constructs in both models were higher than
the required level of 0.7 [41]. The AVE values for all measured constructs by far sur-
passed the threshold level of 0.5 [42]. Finally, Cronbach’s Alpha (CA), a measure of
Internal Consistency of construct scales, reached 0.92 for Envy, 0.84 for Life Satisfac-
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tion, 0.68 for Passive Following, and 0.81 for Active Participation. Taken together,
CV can be assumed. Next, DV was assessed by ensuring that the square root of AVE
for each construct was higher than the correlation between this construct and any
other construct in the model [41]. This requirement was fulfilled for all constructs in
both models. Moreover, the correlation between Passive Following and Active Partic-
ipation comprised only 0.505, providing evidence that two types of participation are
related, yet different constructs. Altogether, MMs for both Model A and B are well-
specified (all item and construct-level data is available from authors upon request due
to space limitations).
Next, the Structural Model (SM) of Model A was assessed (see Figure 1). With
Envy included, we find no link between intensity of Passive Following on FB and
users’ Life Satisfaction (H1 rejected). At the same time, we find a strong positive link
between Passive Following and Envy (H2 supported) and a negative link between
Envy and Life Satisfaction (H3 supported). Interestingly, being a woman and having
more FB friends increases one’s Life Satisfaction. Altogether, our model A explains
15.4% of variance in Life Satisfaction. Considering that a multitude of other factors
can be responsible for individual perceptions of Life Satisfactionsocial status, fami-
ly situation, culture, just to name a fewthis degree of explanatory power is astound-
ing. Finally, the presence of the mediation effect was evaluated by assessing Model B.
According to Baron and Kenny [39], full mediation can be observed when a path
significant in a direct model (Model B) becomes insignificant when the mediator
variable Envy is present (Model A), assuming that relationships between inde-
pendent variable and mediator; and mediator and dependent variable are significant,
which was confirmed in Model A. For our case, removal of Envy construct revealed a
significant negative path between Passive Following on FB and Life Satisfaction. The
Sobel Test statistic used to test the mediation effect in Model A was also significant
(p=0.000). Taken together, we conclude that Envy fully mediates the relationship
between Passive Following on FB and Life Satisfaction (H4 supported).
5 Theoretical and Managerial Implications
Our study is the first step in understanding envy dynamics on SNSs in general and FB
in particular. We find that envy feelings are common on FB, with 20.3% of all recent
envy incidents being triggered by FB use. The subjects of envy are contingent on the
content users provide on these platforms with “travel and leisure”, “social interac-
tions” of others, and “happiness” landing on the top of the list. This is in some con-
trast to offline encounters, where “travel and leisure”, “success in job”, and “abili-
ties” are envied more often.
By confirming the mediating role of envy in the relationship between passive fol-
lowing on FB and individual life satisfaction, our findings significantly enrich exist-
ing literature on the role of SNSs in defining users’ well-being. We show that intensi-
ty of passive following is likely to reduce users’ life satisfaction in the long-run, as it
triggers upward social comparison and invidious emotions. We expect these findings
to hold across cultures, since envy feelings are a ubiquitous phenomenon, represent-
12
ing an important building block of evolutionary processes [11]. Our findings com-
plement the findings by Burke et al. [4], who were first to link intensity of infor-
mation consumption on SNSs and loneliness, but left explanation of this phenomenon
for future studies. Discovered in our data, a full mediation role of envy provides ra-
tionale for the dynamics Burke et al. [4] reveal.
In addition, our findings suggest that outcomes of SNS participation are a function
of user behavior. While directed communication has been shown to lead to positive
outcomes [3], effects of passive following are more complex. As a result, we recom-
mend future studies to avoid combining different types of user activity into one “gen-
eral” variable. Instead different types of user behavior should be integrated as inde-
pendent constructs.
The fact that envy feelings are rampant in SNS environment and can be intensified
by passive following two important outcomes of our study should be worrisome
for providers. Indeed, Tai et al. [24] argue that whether malicious or benignenvy is
an experience characterized by pain. To deal with it, people are likely to seek ways to
minimize or avoid these experiences. In the SNS context possible strategies may in-
clude (1) avoiding adding friends one feels particularly envious about or (2)
unfriending these people. These strategies, however, are unlikely to be popular among
users, since they contradict social norms present on SNSs and can lead to social ten-
sion [23]. Further, as part of their envy-coping plan, some users may (3) engage in
even greater self-promotion and impression management. After all, overstatement of
personal accomplishment is a common reaction to envy feelings [44]. This behavior
can trigger the phenomenon we denoted as the self-promotion envy spiral, with
users reacting with even more self-promotional content to the self-promotion of oth-
ers. As a result, envy-ridden character of the platform climate can become even more
pronounced. Finally, the most straightforward way to cope with envy can be (4) to
hide posts from friends one feels particularly envious about or (5) to partly or even
fully refrain from passive following on SNS. While hiding posts is likely to go unno-
ticed to the other person, not following social content can lead user to miss out on
some relevant information about events or other occurrences, thereby harming a user.
Moreover, these strategies are particularly likely to undermine platform sustainability
in the long-run, since passive following represents an integral part of SNS participa-
tion. Hence, addressing this threat should be seen as priority by providers.
While providers cannot impact general propensity to envy, which is a deeply-
rooted personality characteristic, they can reduce users’ exposure to particular con-
tent, thereby reducing episodic envy[25], especially for those who are particularly
likely to experience invidious emotions. For example, past research shows that users
tend to envy those who are similar to them in terms of such characteristics as gender,
age, cultural background and social status, since they provide a suitable reference
group for self-evaluation [11]. Hence, demographics can be used as criteria for infor-
mation filtering by providers. Second, a series of experiments conducted by Hill et al.
[36] show that people tend to study information of others more attentively when envy
is involved. Hence, analysis of log files may provide relevant insights into which
friends may be triggering invidious reactions, which again can be used for filtering
information presented to a user. Third, Smith and Kim [11] suggest that only domains
13
of comparison a subject considers relevant can trigger envy. To identify these do-
mains, past research can be drawn upon. For example, people in mid-thirties are more
likely to envy family happiness, while teenagers will be indifferent to this infor-
mation. Similarly, women are more likely to envy physical attractiveness [36]. Inte-
grating these simple heuristics as part of information filtering mechanism can signifi-
cantly reduce users’ exposure to envy-inducing information, leading them to perceive
a SNS as a stress-free environment. Finally, users with more favorable self-
evaluations have been found to react less negatively when envious, while the opposite
was true for people with low self-esteem, low self-efficacy, high neuroticism, and
high external locus of control [24]. To elicit these personality characteristics, provid-
ers can offer users participation in “Personality Quizzes” highly popular on SNSs.
Responses to these tests can then be used to identify a group of users particularly
sensitive to envy and use special filtering techniques to limit their exposure to envy-
inducing content. Overall, regularly measuring the levels of envy on a SNS, and even
including an “envy barometer” as a key performance indicator appears to be a rational
choice in the light of destructive effects envy feelings can produce in the long-run.
6 Concluding Remarks and Future Research
This study uncovers a rampant nature of envy on SNSs. According to our findings,
passive following triggers invidious emotions, with users mainly envying happiness
of others, the way others spend their vacations; and socialize. The spread and ubiqui-
tous presence of envy on SNSs is shown to undermine users’ life satisfactiona ma-
jor contribution of study. In fact, feelings of envy mediate the relationship between
passive consumption of information on SNSs and life satisfaction, which provides
rationale for relationships identified but not explained in previous research [4].
Acknowledgement
Finally, our results offer an explanation to the ever increasing wave of self-
presentation and narcissism behavior witnessed on SNSsa phenomenon we refer to
as the self-promotion - envy spiral. On the limitations side we note that most respond-
ents in both studies were German students. While envy is a worldwide phenomenon,
German users might have a distinct sharing behavior, making specific envy subjects
particularly salient. Future studies may reveal these exciting particularities.
Multiple people have contributed their ideas or comments when this research was
developed. Among them: Dorin Toma, Johanna Sprondel, Sascha Friesike, Philippa
König, and Annika Baumann. We acknowledge their contribution in this note. (This
acknowledgement is not part of the official conference submission due to space limi-
tations).
14
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