I AM 27 and consider myself to be an active social media user. I use Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp regularly, and Twitter and Snapchat less so.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that many of the problems we face as a society can be at least partly attributed to social media and its toxicity. I am glad I ended my teenage years when these massive social media sites were not quite at their peak, so I escaped relatively unharmed. I cannot imagine the same will apply to those who are now not only dealing with the inevitable and painful teenage angst but also the constant pressure to look and act in a certain way, according to what’s trending at the time.
You may have heard of the many stories involving young girls getting too drunk at parties (haven’t we all) and ending up in some terrible situations, usually involving boys taking very inappropriate photos/videos and sending them round. The terrifying part is that an image can go viral almost instantly. Something posted in LA can be all over London in seconds. When this happens it can be so mortifying for the people involved that they see no way out. Social media is ingrained in young people to be the most important thing in their lives. If you lose your reputation online, what’s the point in living at all?
I recently did a poll on my Instagram of my (not very many) followers asking them to vote on the question ‘Do you think social media harms your mental health?’ Sixty-six said Yes and 20 voted for No. That’s 77 per cent agreeing on a social media platform that using it does not do you any favours. So why do we all continue to scroll? Why don’t we delete the apps and read a book?
The simple answer FOMO. Fear of Missing Out. Fear of being thought of as ‘weird’ and out of touch with key events or the latest memes. Everyone is so used to constantly checking their socials that we can’t remember what we used to do before. A time when you had to go and knock on your friend’s door or ring their house phone seems medieval.
When I think of the countless dangers that social media presents, I can’t help but feel that the biggest issue is that it’s not real. The life you portray on your Instagram probably couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve seen couples gazing longingly into each other’s eyes for a photo and a cringeworthy caption highlighting how in love they are and how perfect their relationship is, when I know full well he spent last weekend cheating on her and they never stop arguing. It is very easy to pretend to be something that you’re not on social media. A prime example is a TV show calledCatfish in which people pretend to be someone they’re not by using photos of someone else to lure their victim into falling in love with them. Who would have thought you could have a long-term relationship without meeting or sometimes speaking on the phone to the person you are in love with? This mentality is not something I can understand yet people really do develop genuine feelings for someone they have not met. The impersonators always have the same reasoning behind their actions – ‘I wanted to be someone else because I’m not happy with myself.’
It’s also worth mentioning the fact that even if someone is using their own photos there are so many different filters and ways of editing that you can make yourself look completely different with a few clicks on an app. I ask myself why again – if you’re trying to find yourself a partner then surely the fake photos will all go to waste when they meet you in person (or they see you first thing in the morning without all the fakery) and they realise that you’re not the person they thought you were. This is enough to make me continue portraying myself as who I am as I can’t be bothered with the hassle of pretence. But for other people their social media personality has become more important than real life. It is a sad existence when you care more about how many likes you have on your photos and how many followers you have on your account than who will actually answer their phone when you need help. This generation could be the loneliest ever as real relationships are not developed as they used to be.
I should mention the positives of social media. Facebook has been a great tool for me to keep in touch with people and I can contact almost anyone instantly. There are also some incredibly funny things posted daily. The funniest are when people I don’t even know are arguing over things that I don’t know about but it really is top tier entertainment. Important news and issues can be shared much more quickly than before. (This could also fall quite easily into the negative pile because there is so much of it coming through all the time that you have to sift it to work out what is true and what isn’t.) It also tells you when it’s someone’s birthday so you can pretend you remembered all along.
If social media can be used for the right reasons and in moderation, it can be a great tool and can benefit all of us in many ways. The problem is that it’s almost impossible to use it in moderation. It is addictive and it causes you to care about things that you shouldn’t care about. What really matters is real life, not the life you want everyone else to think you have. Having lots of followers doesn’t make you any less lonely or any more happy – so why is it all we want?