Social media is an amazing forum to keep up to date with current affairs, stay in touch with friends, and organise events. But it can also be overwhelming sea of misinformation. Take Instagram for example, I often find myself scrolling through my feed and being bombarded with juice cleanses, perfectly sculpted bodies, variations of avocado on toast, and the most beautiful outfit combinations. But how much of this is reality?
Over the last few years social media has shifted from a communication forum for friends to a clever advertising platform for businesses and individuals. This means that we need to be more diligent than ever when looking through our phones as social media can have a negative impact on both physical and mental well being.
I want to discuss some of the most problematic aspects of being online and shine a light on those beautifully composed photographs or cleverly worded posts.
Advertising unrealistic and unobtainable aesthetics
‘Social media is making more than half of users feel inadequate’ according to a survey of 1,500 people by disability charity Scope, and ‘half of 18- to 34-year-olds say it makes them feel unattractive’. This low sense of self-esteem is caused by users comparing themselves to photos of others. In reality these photographs we see of our favourite ‘influencers’ have been cleverly curated by professional photographers and are heavily edited. They are certainly not a one-off picture captured in the moment by an iPhone. The exposure to such highly idealised representations of peers’ lives only causes feelings of social isolation and elicits feelings of envy.
A study was conducted by a photographer in the US whereby he asked the models to edit the photograph he took of them to be social ‘media ready’. The results were that they all conformed to the ‘face of social media’ that is ever prevalent on our feeds. The almond shaped eyes, thin slender nose, plum heart shaped lips, high cheekbones, and contoured face. Is it any wonder that plastic surgery is on the rise and individuals are struggling with self-image?
Promotes unhealthy lifestyle choices
Capitalising on personal insecurities is a very clever marketing ploy to make you buy into the latest fad diet or cleanse. Celebrities that promote juice cleanses and overly restricted diets should be ashamed of themselves. It is only encouraging a disordered relationship around food. A recent investigation into social media influencers and the endorsement of products uncovered that many will recommend products online without even trying it first. So next time you see an influencer claiming a one-week juice cleanse is the key to their weight loss success, chances are they’ve never even tried the product they’re promoting.
Invading individuals’ privacy
Using the search engine, clicking an affiliate link, or following a particular profile is all social media needs to curate a feed of content they know you will engage with. Before you know it, you are bombarded with a sea of advertisements from your favourite brands that will win in a battle between them and your self-control.
Used to manipulate individuals’ views and opinions
The internet has created channels of communication that play a key role in the circulation of news and social media has the power to change not just the message but the dynamics of an individual’s opinion on just about anything.
Take politics for example, online polls have been proven to have a big influence on elections even if they are flawed. If people think that one candidate is so far ahead in the race, then they might think that voting for the underdog would be a wasted vote. Clever!
Negatively impacting real relationships
Even the mere presence of a phone can have crippling effects with real day-to-day interactions. Instead of engaging in real life interactions we are overly consumed with what is on our screens and being transmitted through our earphones. Dating apps and sites have replaced the traditional face-to-face first meetings and social interactions have been shunned for the ease of direct messaging.
It could be argued that social media is slowly become a real mental health problem. Excessive usage has been linked to relationship problems, worse academic achievements, and less participation in offline communities. It has also been established that those with dependencies on drugs and alcohol, those who have an existing mental health problem, and those are highly extroverted are at more risk for a social media addiction.
Spreading fake news
It is almost impossible to distinguish fact from fiction especially when there is a constant stream of memes, links, and rumours that are often an amalgamation of truth, lies, satire, and speculation. They work on the idea that readers will not do their own research and take the stories for face value, which is often the case.
Adding to confirmation bias
This is extremely powerful when controversial topics are concerned. Most people will follow and befriend accounts and individuals with a similar outlook on life. This is problematic because individuals are then only exposed to tweets, Facebook posts, pins, or other content that express a point of view in line with your own thoughts. This creates the illusion that everyone thinks the same and makes people less tolerant of others. Take my Facebook feed for example, if I were to solely look at that for information during the latest general election then the result would have come as a huge shock. In reality my social media contains a very concentrated type of person and is not representative of the wider community.
This by no means is an exhaustive list of the pitfalls of social media, perhaps just the most pressing to me. It also does not answer the common question of whether social media is inherently good or bad. What it does do is put the online world into perspective so that you can use social media for good.
Next time you are scrolling through social media make sure you follow my top ten tips to maintain a healthy relationship with the online world.
#1 Remember that it isn’t reality and if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
#2 Don’t buy into fads and engage in unhealthy lifestyle choices, they seldom work and are a waste of your time and money.
#3 Don’t compare yourself to others, often individuals only show what they want you to see and it isn’t a true depiction of their life.
#4 Try to schedule in time away from the online world and enjoy real life experiences, don’t become addicted to a fictional world.
#5 Do your own research before believing everything that you read on your news feed.
#6 Follow a variety of accounts to keep your online feed representative of the wider population.
#7 Keep your account real, don’t add to the already corrupted view of the ‘perfect life’.
#8 Keep your online presence friendly and non-judgemental, if you wouldn’t say it in person then you shouldn’t post it online.
#9 Be aware of how being online is affecting your mental health and ask for help if needed.
#10 Most importantly, if an account doesn’t make you feel good then UNFOLLOW!
As always thanks for reading and keep Studenting!