In today’s interconnected world, social media is a major channel of communication and an important part of daily life. There are so many positive aspects – not only does social media allow us to easily connect with loved ones and catch up with friends, it also provides entertainment, breaking news and hottest trends from virtually anywhere around the globe. At the same time, there is something a bit unsettling about the way social media networks are constantly trying to rate their users. How many peopled “liked” your post today?
Pressure to be socially accepted and celebrated can be too much to handle, and can adversely affect the self-esteem of many social media users. A situation about a real person bears this out: Essena O’Neill, a young Australian social media maven, has recently announced that she was quitting social media because it had caused her to “constantly compare herself to others” and “measure her self-worth by the number of likes” her posts would get.
Essena admitted that she had always wanted to be popular on social media. She closely monitored other social media celebrities and tried to emulate them in order to build her own following. By posting glamorous shots of herself and her seemingly perfect life, she managed to reach her “goals”. Yet, despite having hundreds of thousands of followers on YouTube and Instagram, the teenage star confessed in one of her YouTube videos that instead of bringing her happiness, social media actually “consumed” her. And so, unable to cope with the pressure of having to continuously display her perfect life and perfect self, she shut down some of her media channels, while restructuring others to reflect her true self.
One thing that this young Australian is a hundred percent right about – “social media is not real life”. Essena’s story brings into focus something that you may tend to forget: What you see isn’t always what you get.
Essena’s situation is just a snapshot of what happens to many people. For many, social media life is inseparable from real life: You may seek social connectivity, acceptance and approval, and can do so more often than when face to face. When out to dinner talking to a friend, you probably don’t tell a story and then ask them to “like it” or “rate it”!
People with high self-confidence are less negatively affected by social media than are those whose self-confidence is lacking. By constantly comparing themselves to apparently perfect images online, social media users whose self-confidence is lacking can become more anxious or depressed over what others seem to have and they don’t. That nagging feeling of not being able to measure up will only lead to less self-confidence and an erosion of self-worth. Each log-in can chip away just a bit more of any good feeling a person might have had.
If you find you are impacted negatively by social media – “Why isn’t MY life like that?” – it might be time to reevaluate what it means to you and how you want to utilize it. It’s not necessary to opt out entirely, but take control of managing it. If you aren’t bothered by others’ perfect pictures, good for you! Just remember, like magazine pictures, it’s only a snapshot of someone’s life.