Tag Archive for Facebook

Social Media: Toxicity at Our Fingertips—Part 2: The Solution

Part 2 of a 2-part series on the harmful effects social media can have on our self-esteem and body image.

By Elly Byronsmartphone-1254108_960_720   It seems to me that at the heart of this issue is the origin of adolescent identity and self-worth. As women, we are prone to believing that our worth is dependent on something external to our-selves. Image, success, attention, money, power, beauty: each is a tyrant if it’s allowed, a parasite unknowingly fed by insecurities until its roots reach even to our understanding of who we are. Any time our definition of ourselves becomes tied to something that can come and go, our self-esteem, value and worth can go along with it. It is my belief that nothing fleeting should have that power, and yet every day we post pictures as if the number of “likes” they receive is some-how evidence of our worth.

So, how do we change the heart of an entire culture? How do we stop the sweeping influence of a cyber-world of validation that is so embedded in our society? Though there is certainly no easy answer, I believe the damaging effects of the excessive use of social media can be curbed by first increasing familial awareness of the issue. While some parents may talk to their children about the dangers of social media, warning them not to ‘friend’ anyone they have never met before, I would guess few remind their children that these sites are often misleading in their portrayals of the lives their peers are living. This is a conversation that is not being had, and yet caregivers could have an enormous influence on the way their children view and use social media. Especially because these sites instill a reliance on the opinions of others for validation, parents need to help their girls see their worth as something intrinsic and independent of their peers’ opinions (Manago, 2015). To encourage families to have conversations such as these, I would submit articles about the issue for publication in parenting magazines and on popular websites. I would have schools talk about social media in the same way they do bullying, sexual harassment, drugs/alcohol, etc.

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   Though I believe a push for family awareness of the issue is crucial, I think it would be most effective if followed by an attempt to change the standard of social acceptability on the networking sites. So much of what adolescents post is driven by what is ‘cool’ at the time, and there are certainly trends that are religiously followed by that age group. For instance, for a time, having every photo encompassed by a white frame was the thing to do, but that trend is now ‘out’. As silly as it may seem, popular accounts of singers and celebrities set real trends such as these: the ways they post, the filters they use, the captions they include all have an influence on young adults and the way they use social media. Thus, I would ask professional athletes, singers, actors, fashion bloggers, and fitness gurus to consider aligning themselves with a social networking campaign (i.e., ‘#AsWeAre,’ or ‘#TrueYou’) that seeks to end the pressure to live up to a certain standard. In the campaign, people would post the pictures of themselves they normally would not: the ones without the perfect makeup, outfit, and lighting, pictures where they don’t look like they have it all together. They would share their struggles and their insecurities, and hopefully, others would do the same.

Social networking sites are changing and being updated constantly, responding to what their users want in order to keep the site relevant competitive. If we were to succeed in raising awareness with families, schools, and users of the sites themselves, I believe the networks would be forced to change, if under enough pressure and negative scrutiny. For instance, perhaps the sites might do away with the feature of being able to “like” pictures, a feature I believe supports much of the comparison that happens on the sites.

However, there are many challenges a plan like this would likely face. For instance, there is a difference in the way social networking sites are used by different age groups. This means that those with the power and resources available to start the necessary campaigns and media attention to shed light on this issue are also those least likely to understand the struggles and insecurities of a teenager on Instagram. Additionally, much of what makes social media dysfunctional and damaging is also what makes it addictive and popular. Indeed, these sites have benefited greatly from the very issues I have mentioned. If we succeed in relinquishing the hold of social media on teens’ self-worth, we also succeed in making the sites themselves less popular. Despite these challenges, I believe this issue is crucial to the health of our society as a whole and thus deserves the effort. As someone who has been without a Facebook for three years, I have both witnessed and been freed from the social comparison it supports. The effects can be truly toxic. I am happier, healthier, and more confident without the pressure to prove my online worth, and it is my hope that in the future more young women can say the same.

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Manago, A. M. (2015). Identity development in the digital age: The 
case of social networking sites. The oxford handbook of identity 
development. (pp. 508-524) Oxford University Press, New York, NY.

Social Media: Toxicity at Our Fingertips—Part 1: The Problem

Part 1 of a 2-part series on the harmful effects social media can have on our self-esteem and body image.

By Elly Byron

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The concept behind Social Networking Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is inherently harmless: they allow one to stay in touch with old friends, to share photographs, and to update others on important life events. However, to adolescent girls in particular, these sites have taken on a more infiltrating role in the lives of those who use them. Younger generations seem to post with a sense of urgency, out of fear that they will not keep up, will miss out, or—heaven for-bid!—be seen as having anything less than a vibrant social life. And so, any well-plated meal is captured, any fashionable outfit documented, and every social gathering put on hold until a flattering shot has been taken. Though this, too, may seem harmless, I am of the firm belief that a lifestyle that prioritizes the maintenance of a certain image on social media is damaging to the self-esteem of young women in America.

A central issue with the excessive use of social networking sites is that they are, by nature, vehicles for making visible unrealistic standards of living, beauty, and popularity. Too often does the life lived on the Instagram feed not match up with its counterpart in the real world, as individuals feel the compulsory and competitive pressure to maintain the best possible image on social media. While few will post a picture where they are alone on a Friday night, none of us hesitate to showcase the moments that make our lives seem more glamorous than they are. By so doing, we sell an image of ourselves and of our lives that is neither real nor attainable: no life consists solely of perfect hair, laughs with friends, beautiful views, and latte art. Not only do others buy into that image, but we ourselves, when faced with the disparity between what we think our lives should be and what they actually are, believe the lie that we are not enough. Com-paring our own ordinary lives to the filtered and seemingly perfect lives of our peers, we fail to realize that, in every case, behind every photograph is a girl with the same insecurities, struggles, and sweatpants as our own. It is an online culture of competition driven by feelings of inadequacy, a vicious cycle that provides the fuel for its own fire.

social-1206612_960_720Many studies have investigated the relationship between social networking site usage and qualities associated with poor mental health, depression, and low self-esteem. For instance, one psychological construct that encompasses much of what I’ve just described is called ‘upward social comparisons:’ that is, comparing oneself with others that might be considered superior to oneself, usually resulting in a decrement in self-esteem. In my opinion, this is partly why the most highly followed accounts on these sites are upper-class, highly attractive individuals who lead lives many of us envy. Recent research (Vogel, Roberts, & Eckles, 2014) has confirmed that exposure to upward social comparisons via these sites is indeed linked to lower self-esteem: put simply, when participants viewed target profiles where individuals displayed traits like an active social life and healthy habits, they had lower self-evaluations than when they viewed target pro-files with the opposite characteristics. The problem is, I would argue most individuals on social media spend more time looking at the profiles of ‘superior’ individuals, than inferior ones. This activity is correlated with depressive symptoms, particularly when the individuals are female adolescents low in social popularity (Nesi & Prinstein, 2015). Not only are these the young women who are typically the most vulnerable to low self-esteem, but they also tend to be victims of cyber bullying, which is another issue entirely.

 

Manago, A. M. (2015). Identity development in the digital age: The 
case of social networking sites. The oxford handbook of identity 
development. (pp. 508-524) Oxford University Press, New York, NY. 

Nesi, J., & Prinstein, M. J. (2015). Using social media for social 
comparison and feedback-seeking: Gender and popularity moderate 
associations with depressive symptoms. Journal of Abnormal Child 
Psychology, 43(8), 1427-1438.

Vogel, E. A., Rose, J. P., Roberts, L. R., & Eckles, K. (2014). 
Social comparison, social media, and self-esteem. Psychology of 
Popular Media Culture, 3(4), 206-222.