We Hide Behind Social Media & This Defeats the Purpose of It

Like most people, when I first began using social media, I didn’t sign up for every platform or network at once. I chose to start off slow, first creating an account with Facebook, then Twitter. It wasn’t until I was nineteen years old that I created an Instagram account and began ‘gramming about my time spent living overseas, on my own, as a young almost-20-something.

I first became aware that I was using social media incorrectly when I Instagramed a photo of myself in Harrods, England’s famous (ridiculously expensive) department store located in London. I had been ‘gramming my adventures gallivanting around the large metropolis when one day, I received an influx of texts and messages from my friends and old highschool peers professing their jealously over my adventures, waxing poetic about how much they wish they could be doing what I was. Mainly, moving overseas alone at a young age to travel and see some of the world.

That’s when I realized I was using social media all wrong.

Despite the amazing adventures I did have whilst living overseas (many of which translated into popular photos on Istagram and Facebook), my social media accounts didn’t document my struggles when moving from one new country to the next on my own; they didn’t show how scary it could be landing at an airport and waiting for your luggage, knowing there were no family members or familiar faces to greet you. They certainly didn’t showcase the difficult times I experienced after going through a breakup with a person I had moved to Sweden for, which had me flying to Prague like a glorified Icarus.

In other words, I was documenting all of the good and none of the bad. I was allowing people a glimpse into my world, but it wasn’t a totally truthful one.

Recently, several social media stars have quit social media, citing life-altering changes in their attitudes towards the platforms as the ultimate inspiration to take themselves – and their lives – off of social media. As many of you likely know, several people around the globe become famous from their online presence and not only earn fame and notoriety, but also a living from it. One such famous star – Essena O’Neill – hasn’t even turned 20 yet, and is already quitting Instagram after realizing she was so caught up in the illusion of the platform and what it did for her self-esteem, that she hadn’t even realized she basically relied on it to get through everyday. Once online stars like O’Neill realize they show the world a basically “fake” side of their life, they often take time away to get back to their roots.

I suppose you can say I did the same thing after deleting my entire Instagram and starting from scratch, just last year.

I believe, however, that the real wakeup call for me came when I realized just how unhappy a friend was.

I had been friends with this woman for over 5 years, and we were very close. I knew she had some familial issues, but I never knew to what extent the entirety of her issues reached until I began spending more time around her family. I slowly but surely realized that many of the problems she claimed to have with her family were really blown out of proportion; she had self-esteem, confidence and insecurity issues which results in her using our friendship to her own gain, her boyfriend moving out and breaking ties with her, and her university grades dropping. She became eratic, saying that no one cared about her, no one took care of her and she had no one to rely on. Hearing this as a close friend of over 5+ years slapped me awake and had me recognizing that I didn’t know this person.

But if you were a stranger looking in from the outside, you’d never know just how unstable this young woman was.

Her social media accounts were littered with happy-go-lucky posts about shopping, traveling, drinks with friends, and more. Many of the happy, popular photos on her Instagram account would receive hundreds of likes, but no one knew that I had been there for many of those photos – had even taken several of them – and knew that just 5 minutes prior to that photo being posted, this woman was crying hysterically or arguing with her ex, sometimes even yelling at her father on the phone for no reason. I started to really look at these photos and thought, “Am I perpetuating a cycle?”

In the end, we became distant as I began moving away from the friendship, unsure how to handle the girl I knew with the online presence I didn’t. It caused me to reflect on my own online presence and I realized that, though I wasn’t eratic or bipolar in my posting, I wasn’t showing the whole truth either.

I always believed the purpose of social media was to utilize certain platforms and networks to share what is going on in our lives and, if we are a brand, to showcase what we’re selling and spread the word about it. I thought it was about putting ourselves out there and saying “This is my life and this is what happens, I’m simply documenting it for you.” I never thought I’d be one of the users who post only what I think people want to see, rather than simply posting my true life.

What we forget when it comes to social media usage is that these platforms and tools for connection and awareness are not curtains, closets or facades we should be nor can hide behind. They are meant to connect us to people, brands and more; they exist to help raise awareness, literally about anything. But we use them as platforms for showing the world that our lives are sometimes far better and “cooler” than others’ are. We abuse social media in an attempt to tell the world, “This is how great my life is” when, in reality, no one will ever know the struggles we face, the hard times we go through or the challenges we sometimes experience. For example, do any of your friends know that maybe one photo you’ve posted of yourself with #goodhairday #browsonfleek #lashesfordays was actually taken on a day where it took at least an hour to finally get your hair the way you want it just for one perfect selfie? The answer is likely no.

What I hope any reader of this post can take away from this whole “rant” (if you will) is that social media is not meant to be hidden behind. So much of it has become a game of hide-and-seek, where we post one thing and others delve deeper to find out just exactly how awesome our lives are. People admire online sensations like O’Neill for her killer bod, her fashion, her adventures and more; but as she has openly admitted, no one really ever knew the truth. And because she made money from her online presence, even delving deeper into the life of someone like O’Neill likely wouldn’t result in people feeling vindicated that a 17 year old’s life is actually miserable, and not the mirage we all thought.

If you use social media to showcase the “truth” according to what you think the world wants to see, ask yourself whether it’s worth the hassle of faking it to make it in the world of online presence, or whether you should simply be yourself. After all, the authentic, real you is what people see in real life. It’s not your perfect selfie.



10 thoughts on “We Hide Behind Social Media & This Defeats the Purpose of It

  1. I enjoyed your post. Your reference to O’Neill brings to mind the hit song from the ’70s “Seventeen.” (I can’t seem to help harking back to my childhood and adolescence these days.) Your post is very honest and chronicles such an important lesson and realization. It also proves that media is what you make of it. It is as superficial , fake or one-sided as we choose to make it. As you point out, it is an ethical issue, a responsibility and an issue of personal and psychological health and integrity to use media wisely, to not believe everything you hear/read/post (even about yourself!) and reminds us all that true happiness and truth, honest relationships must come from within. And our relationship with ourselves is the essential starting point which we must be careful not to confuse with outward façades and accoutrements.

    • I totally agree; whilst I understand how beneficial social media can be, I too believe it is a matter of psychological well-being and health, and remembering that it is JUST social media, not the be-all-end-all of our lives. It has the power, however, to make people rely on superficial securities.

      • I totally agree with what you have pointed out Jacalyn, I did some reading and the psychology behind social media and while people post all the amazing things they have like an amazing family, amazing house, amazing job; there are a lot of the time underlying problems issues. There is no such thing as having a “perfect” life, everyone has problems and issues, they just don’t talk about it online.

  2. Just finished reading about the O’Neill stint and was thinking about writing a blog about it myself. I so agree with all of your points about social media. My first blog post was about Instagram and how often the posts are not a real representation of a person’s life. This is becoming more and more common these days. I even know of individuals who will actually delete photos if they “didn’t get enough likes” or comments on the photo. It is actually pathetic and sad that this is what social media has done to people… The problem is that social media actually makes it worse. If you already have anxiety, depression, self esteem troubles, signing up for social media unfortunately will not help you at all – in fact, it will make things worse. I actually applaud O’Neill for deleting her account because she is right – the public sees the selfie – they don’t see the hours spent getting ready, the tears, the unhappiness, or anything behind the scenes – and ultimately appearances are just that: appearances. Your last point about being yourself is a good one. I personally am trying more to be myself; real and authentic me, on social media. All in all, really well written post and it’s good to know that others feel the same way about social media as I do.

    • You mentioned that social media can often make things worse for people; I agree. If someone using social media has an unstable relationship with self-esteem, insecurity issues, etc. the judgement and narcissism on social media platforms (especially Instagram) can be all-consuming and may be more damaging that “good.” The issue with these platforms is that they allow you to be whomever or whatever you’d like; there really is no requirement, pressure or even encouragement to be yourself, the real AUTHENTIC you. And I think that really sucks, because though I do not post on social media about all of my problems and make what I refer to as “pity posts,” I also don’t post the amazing stuff anymore. In fact, my Instagram is used periodically when I document a trip, or a hike; and my Facebook is used to stay in touch with people. I learned a very important lesson from my experience (as noted above) and I’m glad for it.

    • I agree with your comment about no one really knows the behind the scenes of that picture but personally I think we all can! I know how long it took me to et the perfect hair for my selfie so sometimes when I see it, I just laugh it off with I bet that took you forever…. Social media I don’t think is hiding who we really are, no one wants to air their dirty laundry. I travel a lot and I use my social media to connect to my family, I would do a daily picture with what I did. When I don’t post a picture my parents worry, and often reach out to make sure everything is okay. People I think have fun living through my pictures sometimes, and I know they all know, there must be a good story behind this picture (could be good or a struggle) however all in all in my rant is I think you have to take everything as a grain of salt and not read to much into anything you see on social media. The O’neill girl actually a few days later went on YouTube and asked everyone for money now that she didn’t have all the endorsements, I often wonder if it was all a plan to increase her followers 🙂

  3. I enjoyed reading this blog and think you offered a very interesting perspective. A friend I recently reconnected with commented on my seemingly amazing life as portrayed by Facebook. I found his comment puzzling as I think I lead a pretty average life (definitely wouldn’t call it amazing). I don’t spend time trying to craft ‘perfect posts’ however I do use Social Media to convey good news or events that I find exciting and I intentionally try to avoid posting bad news or thoughts that could be perceived as negative. My reasoning stems from past experience where I have regretted posts or had them misinterpreted. You both have me considering the impressions left by our social media and the importance of understanding why we (personally) are using it. And while I doubt I’ll change the nature of my use of social media (positive vs. negative) I will be more cognisant of the impression it could be leaving others who view it.

    • Jules, you brought up a very good point here about regrettable posts. Social media, much like the rest of the internet, is not a face-to-face exchange of words/views/opinions, etc. It is so easy for people to misread or misinterpret something they see/read on the interest and assume the worst (or the best). As someone active in wildlife advocacy, much of our campaigning and awareness efforts take place on social media, and people have a FIELD DAY misinterpreting posts; they misread them like it’s their job! And the thing is, you can only be so explanatory and clear on an internet post before you just have to accept that some will take the time to really think about your words, whilst others will jump to conclusions and be done with it. It’s frustrating, but what can you do??

  4. I enjoyed your post. I am very new to Social media, and this post made me realize that I too am not using it to its fullest. If you look at my Facebook posts, you will see pictures of my kids doing fun things and funny videos that I shared. I have used it to share some positives in my life, but not one single negative post. i guess I like to keep the complaining part of myself to my close friends and family and not to all my “friends” on Facebook.

  5. Although I often make use of information I find through social media platforms, I was a latecomer to the social media scene and can only really claim to be an active user of Facebook. Nonetheless, just through use of Facebook alone, I have generally been left with the same perception as you, Jacalyn. I have often wondered if social media messaging is often disingenuous because we feel the pressure of the “spotlight”, so to speak: a need to read our online audiences and cater to our listeners rather than give these networks an “uncut” version of ourselves. On the other hand, does this really differ from daily life? We might dress a certain way to leave those around us with a particular (and perhaps misleading) impression about who we are; we likely edit tales about our personal lives around colleagues to maintain a certain level of privacy; and we might put on a happy face at family events during trying times. In this way, maybe our expectations of social media are too high, and it truly is mirroring real life – just with newer and more sophisticated tools involved, and on a scale that makes it easier for us to spot inauthentic communication.

    The flip side to the example provided in this post are those friends on Facebook who actually do share very personal or sensitive information about their lives and are subsequently chastised by “friends” for “airing their dirty laundry” or providing “TMI” (i.e., too much information). I had one friend on Facebook – a colleague – undergo treatment for a medical issue through a series of invasive procedures. Viewing Facebook as a supportive, chosen network of her friends, she provided a series of detailed status updates during a difficult period when she presumably needed comfort, reassurance and support from those she knew. In the end, one of her “friends” apparently expressed disapproval of her “graphic” status updates on Facebook, suggesting that they were inappropriate. My friend’s response was to swiftly “unfriend” the disapproving individual; but this last example suggests why people might prefer to present a sanitized, positive version of their lives to the world rather than the nitty gritty truth.

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