On Facebook Status Updates (And What I Could Have Said)

facebook graffiti

Facebook makes us jealous. Competitive. Depressed.

Facebook stirs up that fear of missing out.

Facebook’s meaningless, frictionless sharing—think automatic Spotify updates—makes us care less.

Facebook is destroying our friendships. Our connections. What it means to truly interact and be social.

And so on. You’ve heard this all before.

There are many of these articles floating around, but after reading this Gizmodo piece, Facebook Is Making Us Miserable, I finally decided to toss some thoughts into the pot. The article, like others I’ve come upon, notes Facebook’s culture of comparison and competition:

First, it’s creating a den of comparison. Since our Facebook profiles are self-curated, users have a strong bias toward sharing positive milestones and avoid mentioning the more humdrum, negative parts of their lives. Accomplishments like, “Hey, I just got promoted!” or “Take a look at my new sports car,” trump sharing the intricacies of our daily commute or a life-shattering divorce.

Our friends’ status updates force us to look at what we have (or don’t have) compared to others. And how we naturally want to share good (and major) news: vacations, births, marriages. (For the record, when I announced my fake engagement on April Fool’s Day, I received more “likes,” comments, and private messages than any other status update I’ve posted. Ever.) Aside from the times of need, hardship, or grief in which many of us want or need to express ourselves, we tend to share positive updates: To show we’re doing well. We’re living the good life. We’re fabulous.

I scrolled through my profile back to early 2011, and my posts are mainly upbeat, with the exception of a few cranky ones. That’s my virtual persona for you: she tries to be perfect, you know. I shape myself online for my family. For my friends. For friends of my friends. For subscribers I don’t even know. I present the reflection I want to see. I leave a lot of shit out, and I think many of us do this.

So if you’re still viewing Facebook as a portal to real life, well…I think you should stop doing that.

Because for every positive status update, there’s a bad one—one that is not shared. It’s not that we lie, and I wouldn’t even say we embellish. But we present our best selves: untainted, intriguing, and exciting. And to some degree, one-dimensional. So as I revisited my Facebook updates from this year, I wondered how different they would be if I stripped off the mask for a moment and instead highlighted the negative aspects of a particular situation.

How would my Facebook updates read if I licked off the sugar coating? Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Facebook update

ALTERNATIVE: I’m totally broke. Pity me and give me money. Quarters for the cheap slots will do. Please don’t think less of me if I use my cleavage or legs to get free drinks or skip to the front of a line.

Facebook update

ALTERNATIVE: I write so much crap that it overflows out of my computer’s trash bin. It’s not good enough to post on my blog, so I have created another forum for self-promotion where I can compile all of my mediocrity.

Facebook update

ALTERNATIVE: I graduated from my MFA program in creative nonfiction over four years ago and still agonize over it: how I viewed graduate school in general, how I approached my book project, and how I did everything ALL WRONG. I’ve failed as a writer: click on the link to see how and why.

Facebook update

ALTERNATIVE: I really miss my boyfriend but will just say it in French because a) it sounds cooler and b) not everyone will understand what it means so they won’t see how bummed out I can be. But I still need to say it.

Facebook update

ALTERNATIVE: Sometimes, all of you are fucking idiots and it pisses me off.

Facebook update

ALTERNATIVE: I just signed a stack of papers agreeing to pay off a mortgage and have absolutely no idea what I’m doing or how I will do it.

Facebook update

ALTERNATIVE: Oftentimes, I think I’m trying to live a lifestyle in San Francisco that I cannot afford. So when I manage to escape to live somewhere cheaper, will you join me so we can do the things we really want to do with our lives?

* * *

I’m happy with my life, but it’s not exactly what I want it to be; I’m generally in a good mood, but I have dark, confusing days that seem to come out of nowhere. Both versions and perspectives above define me. This duality isn’t a discovery, but it’s interesting to sift through my profile—an eerie, permanent, public record of my crests and troughs—and see how I divulge. Or hold back. Or open up. Or retreat. How I sometimes want to share, sometimes would rather keep to myself, and sometimes choose to be cryptic.

It’s strange and fascinating, this Facebook. It’s as if we must be artful and precise in our use—when life can be hard to document.

Published by Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Senior editor at Longreads / Automattic

42 thoughts on “On Facebook Status Updates (And What I Could Have Said)

  1. Oh what a gas it would be to discover that Facebook has added another button at the bottom of posts. You’d have Like, Comment, Share, and Naked Truth. Press this button and the post is translated to the nitty gritty of real life.
    It takes courage to be vulnerable. And it takes an element of fine writing skills to communicate so that people will truly care. I think with the saturation of social media, where everyone has a voice, it’s been a subtle education where we’ve been given the opportunity to learn about the difference between communication and noise. Social media requires us to be curators. And some days, it’s purely exhausting to find evidence of somebody saying something worthy.
    I loved the post, Cheri, and the creativity that went into it. It’s clear you care about your words.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. I’d written this three years ago and yet it still reveals much about how I view/approach social media. I’ve since deleted my Facebook account, which has cut some of that noise out.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. I agree that people can spin their own life on FB and sometimes that’s not always for the better (i.e. can’t tell your friends the TRUTH, what would the FB world think?)

    But, then again, the opposite is terrible. Those offenders who are constantly posting about what bad things happen to them? Or the ones on a pity trip? They’re the bad blind date who tells you about his paranoia and celibacy.

    I prefer the creative spin. I think most people I meet in real life are puttin a creative spin on bad situations anyway. Best to stay happy.
    Anyway, your posts are pretty funny. They were witty to begin with and the spin was wittier. Fun.

    1. Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond! I love how you put this — putting a “creative spin” on things, on bad situations, on life. Indeed, that sounds like what many people do, me included. Another way of “polishing” our online selves. Thanks for the note!

  3. This tempts me to write a commentary of my statuses I’ve posted on Facebook over the years. There are lots of things I’d write in a blog that I would never post on Facebook. It’s sad. Oh well.

    I like the way you write, by the way.

    1. You’re conscious of the distinction between posting on a blog versus Facebook — you use the two for different purposes, have different audiences/readers, etc. It’s not sad at all; it’s good to sense that struggle and to question what is appropriate to post, and where. I feel like we should be asking those kinds of questions.

      Thank you, also, for the compliment.

  4. I do not think anyone has 700 “real” friends?? Just had dinner with a friend of mine who told me that they had one qualification to be a friend of his on FB… The qualification was just to have met him. They do meet the qualification of someone having over 700 friends.

    1. Ah, yes. I’ve never understood the collecting of Facebook friends. People I’ve met just once — over a 10-minute conversation in a loud, crowded bar, for instance — add me. I don’t get it.

  5. Exactly! I think you hit it on the nose with the whole idea of sugar-coated status updates. Though, I find that usually I type in an update that I really want to make, that honestly says something about how I feel and what is going on in my life, and then, instead of pressing “update,” I delete it and don’t end up updating anything. It’s interesting to see when people DO post unhappy updates – usually, when people on my friends list do that, those are the updates that do not receive any feedback (unless it is something significant, like the death of a loved one or end of a relationship).

    I was linked to your blog through your Freshly Pressed post (congrats, by the way), and I have to say that I really like your writing. If I were you, I wouldn’t mark myself as a failed writer just yet.

    1. I do that, too — writing an update about how I feel — maybe a bit more vulnerable than normal — and then deleting it. As someone commented above, it often feels like unhappy updates are just as attention-seeking. I think at times we’d like to share our hardships because we need a bit of a boost, or we know others will understand. But sometimes those updates appear to be a passive-aggressive cry for help.

      Your final comment is quite kind. Thanks so much — I’ll keep writing!

  6. I’ve really enjoyed your posts on virtual life, especially this one. I submissively joined FB to be able to keep in touch with friends and happenings as I realized I was being left in the dark by not joining. Ever since I’ve been wondering if there really was that much benefit in joining and how genuine the whole experience has been. Now I think I’ve passed the point of no return.

    I do wonder about the true nature of what people say/share. When someone posts pictures of their Hawaiian vacation, are they truly just sharing pictures for those interested, or are they saying, “Look at ME, I went to HAWAII!” I do think there is a temptation and a resulting trend to portray a certain online image, but also think you have to give people the benefit of the doubt. Likewise, I’d echo a few of the comments above in that I have some friends that post negative updates in shocking detail. They might be genuine attempts at sharing what’s happening in their lives, but many come across as pleas for pity or at least attention. At the heart of it, those posts don’t seem to be much different from the positive ones that come across as cries for attention. Regardless, we keep on reading, and that could be the biggest mystery of all. I’ve heard many complain about the crap they see on FB, but few, myself included, stop reading.
    Anyway, I guess I don’t have anything intelligent to add to your post or the comments above and am just sharing my opinions. I’m really enjoying this exercise you’re doing and will look forward to future posts. Thanks

    1. THIS: Regardless, we keep on reading, and that could be the biggest mystery of all. Yes.

      Don’t say sorry for writing so much! I’m glad you’ve followed along on my virtual life posts, and I hear you on your comments here. Funny how we’re conscious of that “point of no return,” huh?

      Thanks for the note, Jim(?). (My guess from your URL…)

  7. I agree with your observations, but I’d like to add that generally I post the more positive side of my life on Facebook because I don’t necessarily want to invite my less intimate friends into private areas of my life (and if it’s potentially public, well, I just don’t trust filters even though I COULD use them and know how). I also don’t want to bring others down with a bunch of depressing status updates. Usually, if I have something awful to say, I don’t say anything at all on Facebook. Luckily for my friends, though, they don’t have to worry about being envious of me or feeling lacking in some way. My life is relatively normal and nowhere near as interesting as some people seem to think from my “mysterious” silence. Everyone has their reasons for why they “sugarcoat”. Then again, there are those people who never stop using public forums as platforms for venting excess emotion, including, or even limited to, only the negatives.

    1. In these days of social media, the expression “she wears her heart on her sleeve” is now “she wears her heart on her Facebook profile.”


      Uhh, you know what I mean (I hope!).

      Thanks for your note — I concur with your thoughts!

  8. Definitely a worthy endeavor to lick the sugar coating off things now and again – love that turn of phrase. Thanks for the post, nicely done.

    1. Thanks, Noel. “Sugar coat” was the first verb/wording that came to mind — I think that’s definitely what I tend to do. I mean, I guess it’s not a “bad” thing, though I’m definitely more conscious of my updates after sifting through all of mine from this year…

  9. THANK YOU! Someone understands. Someone gets it. I was thinking here I was, an island in a sea of insanity. Facebook is complete rubbish. It’s gonna be the death of us all one day. How can someone not feel inadequate when you see friend after friend posting status update about how they had the time of their lives weekend after weekend, posting photos from exotic locales that they wish they could go? I mean, when’s the last time I saw a depressing status update on Facebook? Can’t remember.

    I just know it seems like all my “friends” lead cheery rosy lives. I know that can’t be the case. Facebook encourages a person to one up another their competition. Just watch The Social Network. The whole premise behind the platform is not connectivity, it’s separation.

    1. I loved this reply. Yes, the feeling of inadequacy (and irritation!) one feels simply by scrolling through a “news feed” of status updates, “check-ins,” and default photos of sonograms…

      I think the key is to graze lightly over your Facebook news feed, rather than examine everything with a magnifying glass. Yes, it’s part of our lives and here for good (or if not Facebook, its future version(s)), but when we take it too seriously, or dive into it so often or long that it eats away at our offline time, it can f**k with us.

      Thanks for the note and glad to see a comment from you again!

  10. Cheri, I love this post so much. Thank you for it.

    A friend tweeted this link today, and I thought of you. I’ve never been able to bring myself to make a single tweet, even though I’ve had an account for years and follow a tiny handful of close friends and relevant organizations. I don’t know why, but I have HUGE anxieties about tweeting – of not having a perfect online identity, of being ignored and left out, of making worthless comments, or now of being seen as uncool for starting to tweet so late. I don’t know why I have these hang ups about Twitter when I use the Facebook function to share with people, many of whom are surface acquantances at best.

    1. Been trying to visit this page that you linked to, but it doesn’t load — will try again later.

      That’s interesting that you have anxieties about Twitter, when you don’t have them in regard to Facebook. I’d actually felt this way about Twitter in the beginning, because a) I was outside of (and irked by) the clique of established travel bloggers, b) I wasn’t a thought leader in any field (so who would listen to what I have to say?!), and c) I didn’t have much of a following (and actually still don’t, at least compared to others).

      But I got over it. I realized I’d done just fine on my own socially in “real life” — I’ve rarely felt the need to follow others or join cliques — so navigated Twitter in the same way I’ve navigated my regular social/professional life. I just do my own thing: I tweet what I like and what I’m interested in, period. Some people on Twitter are serious curators — of niches and specific fields — and while that’s great, that doesn’t really work for me.

      So yeah, I think sometimes I tweet something viewed as uncool, or days-old, or uninteresting to some people. But that same tweet may be interesting to someone else, and I start a dialogue with them. That’s the random beauty of Twitter, and its noise is constant and ever-changing.

      I think to start, interact with friends and people you know — but I definitely think the platform is worth experimenting with. So, so different from Facebook, and over time you can use it the way you want to. Personally, I’ve found value in it in ways I never thought I would.

  11. I second Nick – I really like the juxtaposition of the “sugar-coated” status updates and their translations. Just like in real life, we show people what we want them to see, apart from very very rare exceptions. I have two friends on my 450ish friends list who have used their status updates to recount every excruciating detail of their divorce and tragic child bereavement/eventual dissolution of their romantic partnership. Some might argue that Facebook isn’t an appropriate forum to discuss these real and powerfully raw emotions. It’s certainly shocking when we’re accustomed to seeing only “I love my hubby!” or, at most, passive aggressive rants against no one in particular.

    1. Ah, your last thought: “Passive-aggressive rants against no one in particular.”

      I am guilty of this occasionally (but mainly in tweet form). Passive-aggressive updates are interesting — it’s like, a person doesn’t have the guts to say something to someone’s face, and yet they have the balls to post something to hundreds of “friends.” Humans are weird.

  12. Interesting piece, and I like all these juxtaposition-y ones you’ve been doing lately.

    I think it’s natural though that people post only the varnished highs. I have ‘friends’ that post more negative status updates, and it always comes off as attention seeking and a kind of self-indulgent cry for help. (Rather than just attention seeking and self-indulgent, I guess.)

    [Slightly off topic: I must admit, I’m not sure why I’m still ‘on’ Facebook. Probably because I hope that one day I’ll figure out some sort of ‘use’ for it.]

    1. Hate to say this, but even though I’ve deleted/deactivated my profile in the past, I’ve reached a point where I don’t think I could cut FB out completely. It’s such a part of everyone else’s daily lives that not having access would make me left out of things (hearing about parties, seeing photos, etc.)

      At some point I thought there’d be a point of no return, where I’d just accept FB as a natural extension of my life. I think I reached that point earlier this year. And I’m okay with this, because I know not to take it seriously and treat it, as I say above, as a portal to real life.

  13. Agreeable, FB used to be fun in college when it first came out and it was all about making connections and throwing parties. All you had to do is throw it up on an event when you and your friends wanted to have a spur of the moment beer pong touney or what have you. It all went down hill when your mom, boss, potential bosses, and 13 year old sister got on, among other things (adds and what have ya, and it turning in to a sinister big brother type thing by selling your info to the highest bidder). It was great mindless activity when all your foremost goal was meeting the opposite sex and having rediculous party time, at whichever friends place had the most fun photos posted). It used to be free and easy going because nothing really mattered because it was a silly little outlet for like minded college kids. Now it’s a prison of censorship as judging eyes look to see if your character has always been perfect throughout the history of your photo library, because that will be the difference of career alowance and Thanksgiving conversation.

    1. Love how you refer to FB as a prison of censorship. You know, I’ve applied to two dozen jobs in the past few months and have heard from just two. Sometimes I wonder if I’m being watched. Not that I’m careless with my FB profile or Twitter stream, but I definitely feel ever-present judging eyes are watching us in every little thing we do or say. Scary.

  14. I’m sorry to say that I find that piece on gizmodo to be a work of utter garbage.
    What number of people did he/she interview?
    Are his ‘interviewees’ just his/her friends? What stats does he have to back up his ‘research’.

    The title makes it seem like the piece was scientific as opposed to it largely being his/her opinion. Which is what makes me particularly irate.

    I’d be willing to accept all negatives and positives about the effects of facebook both psychological and sociological, if the piece reeked less of bias and actually had some basis in fact.

    He needs to re-title ‘Facebook Is Making Us Miserable’ to the more truthful:
    ‘Facebook Is Making Me Miserable, And I Found Some People Who Agree With Me So That I Look Like I Know What I’m Talking About’

    PS – the translation/ alternative for your posts are great and fun to read. You should do that for all posts for real.

    1. Good points here. But it *is* Gizmodo — not the best site, so I feel it’s expected.

      ‘Facebook Is Making Me Miserable, And I Found Some People Who Agree With Me So That I Look Like I Know What I’m Talking About’ << This is awesome. +1.

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