Social media (and the wider media) is getting a pretty bad rap at the moment. There’s a trend online to highlight how damaging comparing ourselves to the constructed social media presence of those that are ‘social media famous’ can be. The social media famous teen, Essena O’Neill, recently quit Instagram, deleted over 2,000 photos and edited the remaining captions to show her 500,000 Instagram followers that social media isn’t real life, and it has got a fair bit of media coverage. I also shared a ‘real selfie' earlier this month as part of Mel Wells’s #showyourrealselfie project to celebrate reality, and our beauty minus all the posing and filters (she explains why here). I think that this is a really important message to share and raise awareness of. BUT (and it’s big but) I think there’s also a tendency to blame social media.
The thing is, by blaming social media for all of its potentially negative influences, we aren’t acknowledging our own choices.
We get to choose how we use these platforms. We get to choose who we follow and engage with online. We have control over how we represent ourselves, our lives, and our values. We control how we respond to what others post.
We already know that what people put on social media isn’t always reality. We know that people with large followings on social media are often paid to promote certain products or travel to exotic places, just as they are in films and in business. We know that Instagram photos are posed and edited (of course we do, because we've all done it). We know that celebrities in the media are air-brushed and have the best PT’s and nutritionists on speed dial. We know that transformation photos are often faked or manipulated. We know that people mostly post about the good times.
But still, we continue to compare ourselves to others on the internet, and beyond the virtual world.
The real problem is that we’re all hellbent on comparing ourselves and seeking validation of our worth externally from likes, shares and comments.
Of course, there are 14 year olds that don’t know this stuff and are particularly vulnerable to the influence of the messaging of the media and social media, which is why I don’t suggest we stop raising awareness of the constructed and misleading nature of them. Sure, there is some seriously deceptive and crappy reporting taking place and we should be concerned, as members of society, in improving the portrayal of men, women, celebrities, sex and physical ideals in the media. But even if we all conducted ourselves with complete integrity online it would still be possible to compare ourselves and judge (ourselves and others). Social media might make it easier to mislead and lie, but it’s not as if people don’t mislead and lie in person or ‘real life’ too. Whether or not social media has a negative or positive effect is up to you and how you use it.
I don’t, personally, think that the solution is to leave social media altogether because social media can be an incredibly powerful way of spreading positivity when used wisely. And that’s something I want to be part of.
Social media is what we make it. Stop buying into the negativity.
If you find that social media is bringing you down then it might be time for a social media audit. Unfollow accounts and people that trigger you, and get to work on building your inner confidence and self-worth.