Since social media began with the launch of MySpace (and even the blogosphere and forums before it), people’s real world minds and moods have been affected by what they see online. We now have a constant flow of information and opportunities for attention from others, and the need is often dominant in our thoughts, preventing us from fully paying attention to either the situation or ourselves.
Have you felt a meta-commentary running through your mind of “how will people perceive this on Facebook?” or “How can I make an amazing photo about this?” Does viewing other people’s profiles make you feel a sense of pride in those around you or envy about a series of selected accomplishments? Perhaps the simplest question is, does looking at social media make you feel better or worse about yourself?
Let’s take a brief look at some of the ways social media might be affecting your self-esteem.
You Are Being Impacted Through Social Comparison
Social comparison existed before social media, but it was only limited to the people you met in person and your neighbors, and you could make a much more detailed judgment about these individuals. One could see or hear flaws and struggles, as well as triumphs, making social comparison a more acceptable (albeit still unhealthy) practice.
Think about the pictures you see and your thoughts surrounding them. Everyone else seems to be doing something interesting, and most people don’t realize that for every person they see posting vacation photos, there are a hundred people who aren’t. This leads to unsafe comparisons.
Image Crafting Is an Unseen Art
When you look at a news feed or a social media page, people don’t realize they’re not seeing everything. Even the more negative matters are portrayed through a lens of sarcasm and usually fall into the category of life’s daily problems. Yet things such as self-doubt, emotional issues, and traumatic experiences are usually not talked about at anything more than a surface level. People will talk more extensively about a new relationship or an amazing vacation as opposed to a break-up or a period of personal uncertainty.
People, in their efforts to garner attention and a positive representation, will put their best online foot forward. They want to look impressive. They will spend time (or waste time, depending on how one looks at it) to receive a boost to their self-esteem. Much like how photos of models are airbrushed, profiles are similarly sculpted.
Constant Tracking Can Have Adverse Effects
Some of us might feel like we are never separated from our technology or our need to update others of our lives. Our actions are constantly being watched and tracked by our devices and friends, and that can impose an otherwise unwanted burden on us, making our failures all the more difficult and raising suspicions in others. Corporations might also use social media to market to us, trying to take advantage of weaknesses we might see in ourselves.
While you can prevent some of the more technical aspects of tracking your location by using a VPN or a proxy, you will also want to be careful about what you share online. People can’t judge you (nor should they) about what you do or don’t put up, and it’s your right to share as much or as little of your life as you wish.
Cyberbullying and Negative Commentary
While it often happens in younger circles and on some platforms more than others, the effects of cyberbullying are well-known and can have long-term, adverse effects on an individual’s self-esteem. The constant negative commentary that occurs on these sites can also affect one’s mind, even when the commentary isn’t directed at the reader. Given the current setup on the internet, most cyberbullying happens on social media platforms, and people need to be prepared for this.
If you know you are being cyberbullied or have someone under your care is, take immediate action to block them, and, if the severity of the situation calls for it, contact the authorities. People’s self-esteem is not worth second chances in these cases; the situation can be avoided.
An Emphasis on Connection Can Be Helpful
One of the things that can help our sense of self-esteem is the feeling we have a legitimate and emotional connection to the people in our lives that we care about. Social media, and the internet in general, has allowed us to maintain these connections more easily. While cyberbullying and a constant stream of abusive messages create problems, being able to contact a support network and understand that there are people to confide in is likely to be helpful. Exposure to empathetic individuals and other people who are otherwise hard to reach will also be useful.
It would be best if instead of focus on comparing yourself to people you barely know to try and make these more “real” connections even stronger. You can control who you follow on social media. While you shouldn’t place yourself in a bubble, you don’t need to consistently subject yourself to material that makes you feel poorly about yourself.
How do you use social media? Do you think there is a solid middle ground that lets people utilize social media without adverse effects? Do you see other people changing based on other people’s actions on social media? Please leave a comment below and tell us your thoughts.