One of the most annoying things about social media is the way people use it to project an unrealistic, idealized image of themselves. Others take it at face value, making them feel crappy about their
own less-than-perfect lives in comparison.
It’s just human nature, of course. It’s entirely understandable that people would want to present themselves in the best light
possible on social media. This is, in effect, what we do all the time anyway: combing your hair and putting pants on before you leave the house, driving a fancy car, sending unfailingly cheerful
family Christmas cards -- it’s all part of the same process of image-crafting.
But there’s something especially insidious about the idealized images people create on
social media. For one thing there is the sheer volume of it: you’re not just seeing one person’s apparently awesome life, but hundreds, nay thousands, of awesome lives.
there’s the intimacy of it: you can be skeptical about, say, a carefully posed family Christmas card, but it’s harder to dismiss dozens of photos of awesome family vacations -- even if
these are actually just as carefully composed.
Confronted with this uniform awesomeness, a reasonable person might guess that something fishy is going on: I mean, what are the chances
that everyone has a perfectly awesome life except you? But it’s easy to lose perspective, and real psychological harm can result.
Last year, researchers from Humboldt
University’s Institute of Information Systems and Darmstadt’s Technical University surveyed 600 Facebook users in Germany and found that one-third felt worse after visiting the site. The
most prominent negative outcome was a feeling of dissatisfaction with their own lives, which was most commonly triggered by other people’s vacation photos. Another study by the University of
Salford in Britain found negative outcomes from social media use including feelings of insecurity or lack of confidence when users compared their achievements to their friends.
That’s why the good people at Real Simple
have declared this “Get Real On the Internet Week,” encouraging everyone to share some of the less flattering aspects of our
day-to-day existence. Kristin van Ogtrop explains: “For every day until Friday, we’re encouraging people to be completely honest when they post on social media,” with Real
staffers leading the way. To take part, people can post the unvarnished truth about their lives with the hashtag #rsgetreal.
The Real Simple Web site is also hosting a
caption game “where you can tell us what’s really happening in those annoyingly perfect Facebook pictures,” as well as a photo album of “Kodak moments gone awry.”