Users of social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram now number in the hundreds of millions:
- Facebook has 1.49 billion active users per month;
- Twitter has 316 million active accounts;
- Tumblr 230 million;
- Pinterest has 47.66 million unique visitors from the US alone and is the fastest-growing independent site in history.
Social media users typically post pictures of themselves which present a glossy image of their lives. There are 80 million photos posted in Instagram in just a day. But those images are inducing feelings of depression, loneliness, and low self-worth in people who compare themselves to the seemingly-glamorous lives of their friends.
As an example, I know a woman who “married rich” and uses her Facebook account to post only photos of herself standing in front of this or that landmark while vacationing around the world — in Grand Canyon in the U.S., Greece, Japan, Australia, Russia…. Her college friends who did not marry rich would click “like” on her photos, but there is no engagement — she never inquires how they are. In other words, this woman uses her Facebook account not to keep in touch with her friends, but to show off.
Maureen Callahan reports for the New York Post, October 11, 2015, that in 2013, scientists at two German universities monitored 584 Facebook users and found that one out of three felt worse after checking what their friends were up to — especially if those friends had just posted vacation photos. The scientists wrote:
“Overall, shared content does not have to be ‘explicitly boastful’ for feelings of envy to emerge. In fact, a lonely user might envy numerous birthday wishes his more sociable peer receives on his Facebook wall. Equally, a friend’s change in the relationship status from ‘single’ to ‘in a relationship’ might cause emotional havoc for someone undergoing a breakup.”
Chelsea Fagan, 26, has a website, The Financial Diet, that covers the impact of social media on young women. She writes: “There’s this weird arms race now where everything has to be a moment, no matter how private. We always get a lot of responses with weddings and engagements — women spend a lot of money to look ‘Pinterest perfect.’ ”
But it’s not just weddings or special events. Social-media users spend exorbitant amounts to look like their daily, everyday lives are spent eating the finest food, wearing the most on-trend designs, and living a stylish, well-appointed life devoid of problems.
Among the Millennials (those born between the 1980s and early 2000s), a 2014 survey conducted by the Manhattan-based marketing agency Current found that 61% of millennial moms were rattled by the pressures of social media. Current executive Amy Colton told Adweek, “There is an anti-social media movement on the horizon. Moms, especially young moms, are feeling pressured to present a perfect life . . . and starting to feel overwhelmed and annoyed.”
Studies show that young people, no matter how accomplished, are the most vulnerable.
University of Houston post-doc Mai-Ly Nguyen Steers, who led a study of how Facebook usage is linked to depression which was published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology last year, said the idea for the study was prompted “when my little sister, who was 16, wasn’t invited to a school dance. She told me about logging on to Facebook the very next day and seeing all these pictures of her friends at the dance, and that actually made her feel worse than not being invited.”
The envy and depression induced by social media are the latest manifestation of what social psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954 called “social comparison theory,” the idea that we measure ourselves in relation to others’ failures and successes.
The irony is that people’s online lives can be very different from their real lives. Below are three examples:
1. Artist Zilla van den Born: Last year, she uploaded a monthlong series of photos taken on her travels in Southeast Asia — scuba-diving, praying in a Buddhist temple, sampling local cuisine — then revealed those images were all the work of Photoshop. She had hid in her apartment the entire time, duping even friends and family. Van den Born told The Washington Post: “My goal was to prove how easy it is to believe in a distorted reality. I wanted to make people more aware that the images we see are manipulated, and it’s not only the models in the magazines but also our friends on social media who contribute to this fake reality. We should be more careful about what we believe, and ask ourselves why a photo is made — how and by whom and with which intention.”
2. “Jasmine”: In a recent article for Fagan’s Financial Diet website, titled “My ‘Perfect’ Life on Social Media is Putting Me in Debt,” Jasmine confesses that “my ‘real’ life” is actually pretty boring,” but her 5,000 followers would never know it. “I have a side of my apartment that I photograph, and it’s perfect. The other side is always a mess. I buy a lot of things to maintain my image . . . I even consider it important to always have a fridge full of La Croix and coconut water for my pictures. Writing this makes me realize just how insane it all is.” Jasmine is $3,400 in credit-card debt.
3. Madison Holleran: Holleran, a beautiful Ivy League student, star athlete and all-around popular girl, is a tragic example of living double lives (online vs. real). Her Instagram account only underscored her perfect image: parties, friends, track meets, her dad cheering her on. On Jan. 14, 2014, Madison posted a photo of trees strung with lights, bulbs glowing against the twilight. An hour later, she leapt to her death from the 9th floor of a parking garage.
Maidson was 19 years old.
Her family has kept her Instagram account up as a reminder, especially for teens, that a life online may bear no resemblance to one actually lived. One of Madison’s favorite quotes, posted to her feed a year before her suicide was:
“Even people you think are perfect are going through something difficult.”
Increasing numbers of Millennials are not content with digital retouching of their photos, but are resorting to plastic surgery in order to look good in their selfies.
WCBS New York reports, Oct. 12, 2015, that plastic surgeons say selfies are actually boosting their business. Dr. Nicholas Nikolov said, “I see a lot more people coming to my office and the answer to the question, ‘What bothers you, and why did you decide to come and see me?’ surprising enough is, ‘I saw a selfie of myself and I hated it, I have to fix it.’”
Nikolov is currently consulting with 23-year-old model Candice Wurster, who said she hates the shadows under her eyes in her selfies.
- Evidence of Americans becoming increasingly narcissistic — in one graph
- Narcissism, the first and greatest sin