Facebook is 13 years old this year, Instagram is seven, and Snapchat launched six years ago. Now that you feel sufficiently old, consider what your life would be like without social media.
Pretty different, huh?
It’s revolutionised the way we consume content; it acts as a source of news, inspiration, and, in some cases, income.
Social media is also a way for us to share parts of our lives with friends and family. We’ve become accustomed to using our chosen platforms as highlight reels, working to curate the “perfect” version of ourselves that in most cases doesn’t align with the real-life version.
This behaviour comes as no surprise, with a Harvard study finding that the action of sharing something about oneself has the same effect on the brain as having sex or eating chocolate would.
Social media addiction is a very real thing in 2017, but there is another negative side to this notion of a highlight reel, particularly for young people. A recent study found that teens who actively engage with social media are at risk of experiencing “increased risk-taking behaviours, cyber bullying, depression, exclusion of minority groups and reduced self-image and self-esteem”.
Teens dealing with low self-esteem and body image issues are perhaps the group most affected, especially when their highlight reel doesn’t seem to stack up against their peers’ in terms of likes, shares and comments. Viewing interaction on social media as a rigid measure of self-worth can even lead to depression.
Brisbane creative Jasmine Dowling has a cool 186,000 followers on Instagram. She knows a thing or two about the negative and positive aspects of social media, as it has played a major part in her success and is Jasmine’s main form of communication with her audience.
While Jasmine’s feed has been carefully curated with beautiful imagery and content, she uses Instagram Stories as a platform to show the human behind the feed. In her Stories, she swears, talks about her sleep patterns, discusses the pain of tax and BAS, and is a generally down-to-earth person with a story very similar to yours or mine.
“I really like using the different media to show the full picture,” Jasmine says. “I feel pretty strongly about the negative effects of social media on those consuming it and I personally feel it would be unfair to only show the curated feed.”
Jasmine adds that the Instagram Stories give her a bit of a reality hit. “It’s very easy to get lost in a perception of yourself,” she says. “Being a lot more open and less critical of what I am posting on Stories allows me to not take the whole thing (and myself) as seriously.”
Of course, Jasmine has learnt a few lessons along the way; being so open about the creative process has led to some people replicating her work.
“It’s very disheartening,” Jasmine freely admits, “but you take the good with the bad. I may open my life up to be judged or replicated but I always keep in mind that what someone does with that is none of my business.”
Other celebrities are also taking to social media to give their fans a kind of behind-the-scenes access to their lives, decreasing the gap between “us” and “them”. Chrissy Teigen is known for her humorous and relatable tweets; she has previously shared an Instagram photo of her stretch marks and tales of her far-from-perfect parenting moments.
Some celebrities prefer to avoid social media altogether. Emma Stone once denounced social media accounts that are “too perfect”. “Not everything comes together in the best way ever, every day. It just doesn’t … That’s not the reality of life.”
Harry Potter and Beauty and the Beast star Emma Watson uses her Instagram primarily as a way to promote gender equality, social activism, and her feminist book club, Our Shared Shelf. But glimpses of her personal life are nowhere to be found, and she has even stopped agreeing to selfies with fans.
In a recent Vanity Fair interview, Emma Watson said, “For me, it’s the difference between being able to have a life and not. If someone takes a photograph of me and posts it, within two seconds they’ve created a marker of exactly where I am within 10 metres. They can see what I’m wearing and who I’m with. I just can’t give that tracking data.”
So what does all this mean for us? Users must be able to identify for themselves when their social media use is positively or negatively affecting their lives, and learn where to draw the line. Is it time to take a detox? Maybe you’re due to cull some of the negative people from your feed. Or maybe you’ve been thinking about taking your account off public to maintain a semblance of privacy.
Regardless of the actions you take, the most important thing is to not take social media too seriously – Instagram could crash tomorrow.
Liked this? You’ll love these!
1. Do You Have a Social Media Addiction?
2. 5 Easy Mindful Morning Rituals to Have a Better Day
3. How to Fake an Instagram-Worthy Life