Commentary

People Believe Their Own Lies On Social Media

It’s no secret that many people distort reality when they post content to social media in order to present the best possible image of themselves -- but they may be fooling themselves as well, via a process of false memory formation leading to “digital amnesia,” according to a new study conducted by Pencourage, an anonymous online journal.

Sixty-eight percent of social media users surveyed admit that they “embellish, exaggerate or outright lie when documenting events on social media” in order to make their lives seem more interesting and generally better than they really are, the study found. And half of respondents said they feel sadness, shame, and even paranoia when they are unable to live up to the online image they have created. 

Here’s the really bizarre (and scary) part: the lies people tell on social media may make it impossible for them to access their real memories, as they come to believe the version of events they presented online. Indeed, one in ten respondents admitted they were no longer sure what actually happened in events they described on social media, rising to 16% of respondents ages 18-24.

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Since memories are a central element of identity, this phenomenon threatens to undermine their sense of self, according to Dr. Richard Sherry, the psychoanalyst who performed the study. Sherry noted: “Social media is a powerful and public experience -- if shame or inaccuracy is driving the process, it has the ability to undermine the coherence between our real, lived lives and the memories we form over time.”

He added: “Being competitive is normal. However, the dark side of this social conformity is when we negate what authentically feels to be 'us' to the degree that we no longer recognize the experience, our voice, the memory or the view of ourselves. When this starts to happen, feelings of guilt and distaste towards ourselves can create a cognitive trap of alienation and possibly even a sense of disconnection and paranoia.”

There seems to be a growing sense that a lot of what people post on social media is, well, B.S. Previously, a survey of U.S. teens and young adults conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Naver, a Korean Internet company, found that 69% of respondents felt their friends weren’t being true to themselves most of the time on social media, and 57% wished their friends would be themselves more. At the same time 40% of respondents said they feel like they can’t be themselves online either.

 
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