JOY42

The Dark Side of Social Media

CommentaryHannah DrakeComment

Oy. Social Media. Where do I even begin?

Like most people these days, I absolutely have a love-hate relationship with the apps on my phone that seem to suck up so much of my time and energy. I have a hard time finding balance. I have a hard time unplugging. And sometimes I just want to delete them all.

I haven't because I truly believe social media allows for genuine connections with people who are coming to the table for the same reason. In the last two months alone, I've met two wonderful women in real life that I wouldn't know if it weren't for Instagram. I'm inspired and encouraged by people I follow on social media and I don't want to lose that.

But of course sometimes it's a bad place with a dark side and I think we've all experienced to some extent. At the very least, we have a false sense of community with people we know in real life. We feel that because we see what our friends are up to online, we're caught up in their lives and don't need actually keep in touch very well. I have absolutely fallen victim to this falsehood, and even more so now that I live far away from the vast majority of my Facebook friends.

At the very worst, social media can be incredibly damaging to our mental health, our perspective of our own life, our priorities and aspirations, and our sense of reality. A lot more people are open to talking about this dark side of the apps most of us use on a daily basis and that's really great, but the issues still remain the same and I think it manifests itself the worst on Instagram. 

When you scroll through Instagram, it's really easy to lose sight of reality. Instagram is a photo-focused app that prioritises pretty photos. Unless you're a celebrity, you can't get away with posting blurry, grainy, dark photos if you want all the followers and likes. So people are more inclined to post beautiful photos, which often results in creating a highlight real of life or sometimes just a staged version of real life. It's easy to forget that people are only sharing the beautiful things they have, the exciting things they do, the awesome places they visit, and the wonderful relationships they cultivate, but behind the scenes, they have struggles and pain and insecurities as well. There are people have gone into debt to "keep up with the Joneses" with what they see on social media, especially when it comes to the materialism of fashion bloggers and influencers. There are people who never put their phone down to enjoy the moment because they're too busy trying to capture the perfect shot or live streaming every experience. There are people who portray a picture-perfect relationship and hide mess and the troubles of their real relationship. It's all toxic and it's all hurting us.

In recent months, I've tried to be more real and honest about life and my struggles and insecurities here on my blog and on my social media platforms. Even though it may be accompanied by a pretty picture on Instagram, I'll talk about the mess in my house, the mess in my life, the mess in my heart. And I've seen a lot of people doing that too. I've seen a lot of people gently remind their followers that these are the highlights and their lives are far from perfect. Those are the people who I'm more inclined to follow because I don't need the temptation of someone who portrays a perfect life or who is always showing off new things that I could never afford.

A few years ago, I followed countless fashion bloggers on Instagram who were always posting brand new outfits and convincing me that I too needed new clothes in my closet. I had no idea that some of these people were tucking the tags into their clothes only to return them after they've been photographed or even racking up thousands of dollars in debt to always have new clothes. (Or worse yet, posting from the changing room at Nordstrom and never even taking the clothes they're sharing and linking to out of the store!) Now, when it comes to fashion, I follow far fewer accounts and try to follow people who focus on capsule wardrobes, recycling pieces, rewearing outfits, and live by the idea that less is more. I know myself and I know how easy it is for me to fall into the idea of keeping up with trends and suddenly I've convinced my shirt that I need another, slightly different white shirt or something.

I've tried to be more conscious of who I'm choosing to follow, even though it's taken a while. I've unfollowed a lot of people that I found only added negativity to my life, either directly or indirectly. If I feel jealous and envious of their social media personas, or it's clear they're not being real, I usually unfollow because I don't want to succumb to comparing my lows to someone else's highs. When I'm having a bad day, I don't need to see someone on social media showing off for the purposes of showing off. There are no rules on who you have to follow and even though we all have people who we "probably should" follow, most social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram, allow for you to mute someone to hide them from your feed. It's easier than ever to be empowered to create your own experience online and surround yourself only with people and accounts who inspire you, encourage you, and make you feel good about yourself and your life.

So even though I've cleaned out my feed and tried to create a space that inspires me and brings me positivity, I still struggle, especially with Instagram. It's so easy to compare. It's so easy to think that more followers means more opportunities, more exposure, more security, more happiness, whatever it is. To be completely honest, sometimes I look at people's accounts and think "my photos are better than hers, why does she have 10x the followers?" At the end of the day, the number of my Instagram followers isn't going to be in my obituary, this isn't that one episode of Black Mirror with Bryce Dallas Howard, so it shouldn't matter, but it does. And it's hard to even articulate why it does. One of the girls I follow recently hit 10k followers and she talked honestly about how she didn't wake up feeling any different when she hit 10k. She didn't suddenly have more money, she wasn't happier, it doesn't really change anything. She didn't want people to look at her account and think she was happy and perfect and successful based solely off a number next to your picture. It's just a number and it doesn't define who we are. The hard part is just remembering that.

The important thing to remember is that everyone has problems, even if they have 1 million followers on Instagram. Everyone struggles with things and everyone feels the pressure to put their best foot forward. Of course no one wants to read about all the bad things in your life all the time (we get that enough from our high school classmates on Facebook, amirite?), but it's okay to be honest with people about what your real life looks like. It's shocking how many people can relate when you are vulnerable about something you're going through on the internet. And it's really encouraging to read that you're not alone. The number of people who follow us on any social media platform doesn't determine if we're good or bad people. It doesn't count what's in your heart. It doesn't know what your dreams are. It doesn't consider the hard work you've put in to get to where you are. It's just a silly number and at the end of the day, it doesn't define you and it doesn't matter.

The internet can be a lot of things. It can be a scary place, a dangerous place. But it can also bring you a lot of amazing opportunities and introduce you to a lot of incredible people. The space you take up online is what you make of it. If you want it to be a positive place that makes you feel good about yourself, you can create that. And when you need a break, take one. Get realigned with what truly matters in life. Step away and take a breath. No one is going to die if you miss a day posting on Instagram or take a break from your blog. It'll all still be there when you come back to it, if you come back to it. And it'll all be okay.