Social Media. An endless stream of happy smiling faces. Wealth and success. Picture perfect moments. Awe inspiring lives. Envy inducing lifestyles. That social media world looks pretty darn fabulous. And of course it would, because it’s not real life.

This is a reminder to myself, to you reading, and for anyone who needs it, that social media is not fact. It’s a few seconds, minutes or hours of someone’s world. Not the whole story. It is just the narrative people want to be seen online. Not everyone is living their best life.

Don’t Be Fooled by Social Media

Okay so it’s fact that those posted moments do happen. Some people we know do have enviable aspects of their lives. However, that’s a key word right there. ‘Aspects’. It’s so easy to forget that social media omits the difficulties, traumas, under confidence, mental health issues, relationship struggles. Social media leaves out anything that’s less than perfect.

Because social media is the cropped version of IRL. It’s a carefully orchestrated bank of information the poster wants us to see. It’s missing the full story. And the reason I’m writing this article, is because sometimes even I overlook that vital bit of information. Yes, there are factual aspects, but in its entirety, social media is fictional.

Life through an angled lens

Social media is a façade that’s so pretty and admirable that often, we believe it to be a true reflection of someone’s real world. It’s a constant feed of filtered photo’s and well thought out captions, so well put together that it’s hard to imagine that every person we know isn’t living their best lives 24/7. But they aren’t. Honestly. If everyone really had their shit together, self-help, mental health, and emotional wellbeing, all wouldn’t be some of the biggest issues out there right now.

Don’t let social media fool you into thinking that all these perfect people exist out there. Because they don’t. We are all as fucked up as one another, in one way or another. Everyone has issues, problems, things they don’t like about themselves or their lives. But social media isn’t a platform where people can easily be authentic and show that. It is life through an angled lens. One that’s not only filtered, but nowadays cropped of any hint of imperfection.

It’s a main source of communication

And the reason I’m having this little offload today, is because social media is used more and more as a main source of communication with our peers. And it’s getting ever more confusing to then separate real vs online world. On average, people spend over 2 hours a day scrolling through social media. Feeding on representations that limit authenticity and the ability to hold emotionally impactful conversations that people would have in the real world. Creating this mindset that perfection in all aspects of life is possible, and also to be strived for consistently. Assisting this illusion that actually, social media is quite possibly real.

Is this screwing up our identities? Affecting our mental health? Have we been fooled by social media into thinking that social media is real world? It’s all beaches, smiles, altogether families, sunsets, cocktails and ‘living the best life’? Is social media a main source of communication, when that conversation is limiting, inauthentic and positive posts only, omitting all the details of true life?

“We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.”

Sherry Turkle

Social Media wasn’t meant for deeper life portrayal though

The thing is, what can be chronicled on social media wasn’t really meant for any form of deeper or meaningful life portrayal. Social Media lacks any form of true storytelling or emotional depth. There is but a small set of emoji’s, limited word count, and variety of pictures to portray life in its entirety. So social media encourages life editing, leading to misinformation at its finest. Portraying the positives, leaving out the negatives to achieve a sense of perfection. I’m not saying that who people are isn’t there online somewhere. But it’s deeply hidden amongst a vast stream of manufactured projections that sometimes look far better than the life they are authentically living.

So in part none of us are to blame for what social media can be used for. But we are also accountable for what we post. If we looked at our social media feeds and viewed it as a person who hasn’t seen or spoken to us in years, what image would they be getting? A true reflection? That social media life probably wouldn’t really represent who we are or how we are feeling. And I know, because mine didn’t.

My fake social media profile

Years ago I travelled a lot for work. I was lucky enough to visit amazing destinations. Met incredible people. Ate wonderful food. My social media profiles looked pretty cool. All bare legs on the beach, sunset cocktails, 5* cuisine, non-stop flights, events and parties. It showed the aspects of my life that were pretty decent. Online, I was living my best life.

However, it didn’t show how overworking was leaving me exhausted and unhappy. Burnout had left me an emotional wreck, and was slowly destroying me. I was frustrated and overwhelmed at tackling a tough unamicable divorce that lasted years. Trying to piece my life back together and move forward, whilst struggling against my own and societal expectations of where I should be in my life. All in all, I was coming to terms with a very different life to the one I’d imagined I’d be in at that point. Throughout that whole time, I was struggling through a lot of chaos.

And online was a place I could cut the real life crap out, and pretend that the pretty cool aspects were the only things I had going on. My social media profile was portraying my best life, but in reality, I was tackling a whole heap of mess. So my online world was fake. An illusion. Not real. And I don’t know why I felt the need to portray the positives only. It certainly didn’t make my real life situation any different.

I could feel like my life was a little enviable

And then it struck me one day. Whilst in real life I was struggling, on social media, I could feel like my life was a little enviable on the surface. Because a little dopamine stimulation from a like or a view, boosted the good vibes and distracted me from the real world sucky vibes. But really, it wasn’t me at all. I’d created somebody who didn’t exist. And I was actually beginning to envy this online creation which wasn’t even real. I wasn’t just unintentionally fooling other people that this world I’d created was my whole life, I’d begun to kid myself that this image was somehow real.

And I’m not shaking all the blame here, but social media feeds validation seeking doesn’t it?. Likes dictate how much people approve. We are ‘liked’. Our lifestyle is ‘good.’ A quick chemical reaction feel-good burst similar to what people also experience with food, exercise, love, sex, gambling, drugs … and now, social media. Social media is an addictive, dopamine inducing, quick win. And it encourages us all to post best life aspects to continue the cycle of good vibes. But for me, being really honest with myself about how I had been using social media, lead to wanting to change. I wanted to halt that cycle of relied upon online good vibes, and make sure my real life was as great as I was portraying.

“No one man can, for any considerable time, wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which is the true one.”

— Nathaniel Hawthorne

Holding Myself Accountable

I’m not begrudging anyone of their lovely moments or sharing them with friends and family. Nor chastising anyone for what they post – honestly, I’m really not. The reason I made the decision to post less of all those good time situations, was because I felt like it was affecting me mentally. I spent too much time online. I looked at likes far too often. My online world, was becoming something I felt too heavily invested in. That’s my choice, and I’m not necessarily saying everyone should do the same. But there is a correlation with increasing mental health illnesses and social media usage. It is definitely something we should all be aware of.

Because people do sometimes end up creating a social media version of themselves that doesn’t even exist. What people see; our friends, family, followers, they are affected by what we post in many ways. And I know that social media itself is partly to blame for all of this. But so are we. We are accountable for what we post, and who we create online. And also the affect that those actions might have on others, and ourselves. And I really think the whole social media situation makes us unhappier if it’s not balanced with a fairer perspective on it’s lack of real world portrayal.

Social Media and Mental Health

Social media is a way to pretend none of those real world problems exist or are real. Hiding true reflections in favour of a perfect image that’s more socially acceptable. And I get that. I really do get it. I’ve done it myself. And it’s what social media encourages people to do too. But this does also affect peoples mental health.

Because it just looks like everyone is out there living their best life, because that is mostly what people show. However it’s not true that people have it all figured out, all of the time. It’s false to think that a perfect person exists out there. We all have problems. Everyone is imperfect. And there just shouldn’t be this pressure to make that online world perfect. And 100% not everyone is living their best life.

So maybe in part we need to hold ourselves accountable for our online worlds. If not just for us, but for the next generation. Whilst the global average is over 2 hours a day on social media, one report suggests teens between 13 to 18 years old, spend on average 8 hours a day on social media platforms. If adults struggle not to be fooled by social media, how is the next generation coping?

Social Media Change

`Here’s my two pennies worth:

  • Improve the mental and emotional relationship with social media by not comparing real life worlds with other people’s online ones. View all social media as not the whole deal, and constantly remember that it’s only half the story and the more glamorous half at that. The shitty times everyone goes through are rarely displayed there. And comparing real world with someone else’s social media world, isn’t a fair comparison.
  • Become more responsible for what is posted and the social media image being created. Hold ourselves accountable for what is put online and our contribution. That doesn’t mean never showcasing those best life moments, but maybe it’s done with a fairer portrayal.
  • Make ourselves more aware of the good and bad of social media. Social media posts give people short bursts of addictive mood modifying dopamine positives but can leave people with a long lasting load of issues including low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, mental health issues, and a whole load of other rubbish long term side effects.
  • And regardless of our social media habits, the focus should always be put more on real life relationships and less on the virtual ones. Increase the time made for real world, and decrease priority on social media life. Because real life is the only place people can really communicate, support, and be themselves effectively and authentically.

Social Media: Fact Or Fiction?

Don’t get me wrong, social media is an incredible way of being able to keep in contact with people who have been a part of our lives, whether past or present. It is a valuable way to communicate with people on a larger scale. But it really is unhealthy for social media to be viewed as anything other than mostly biased, fairly limiting, lacking true social connection, worryingly addictive, potentially very bad for health, and predominantly fictional. Social Media may look like everyone is living their best life 24/7, but don’t be fooled, they are not. We might spend a lot of time in that world, but don’t spend so long there that you lose yourself in the process.

By Amy Roullier
By Amy Roullier

Amy is the Founder and Editor of The Authentic Optimist. She talks all things life. From the highs to the lows, to all those messy bits in-between. She is a writer, rambler, lover of carbs (her true soulmate) and she is especially passionate about dispelling myths about women in their 30s. Amy lives in Lincolnshire with her two greyhounds.

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