So I read this story about a student who fooled her family and all of her Facebook friends into thinking that she was travelling in Asia for 5 weeks, while actually spending the time hiding out in her apartment in Amsterdam.
What Zilla Van Den Born did was really pretty simple – she photo-shopped travel photos and posted them to social media, Skyped with her parents in front of a backdrop that made her apartment look like a hotel, and sent texts in the middle of the night to make out that she was in a different time zone.
The interesting part though (I thought), is why she did it.
The point she was making was about “how common and easy it is to distort reality” over the internet. She has commented that “everybody knows that pictures of models are manipulated. But we often overlook the fact that we manipulate reality also in our own lives” (Zilla Van Den Born quoted in an article on the Huffington Post online).
It could of course be argued that this same deception could have been achieved with more traditional postcards and telephone calls, and that social media wasn’t what allowed this experiment to work. BUT I do think it highlights the way that people use social media day-to-day.
There are a lot of great uses for things like Facebook and Twitter – they allow people to stay in touch easily and regularly across long distances; allow consumers to quickly and effectively share feedback which, especially if it’s negative (and if the company concerned has any sense) will be responded to; more generally allows large groups of like-minded people to communicate far more easily.
BUT the main day-to-day use particularly for Facebook is (usually) to showcase the great things that you have achieved, cool things that you’ve done, particularly attractive selfies that you’ve taken. And I’m not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing, just that it in most cases it’s very highly controlled to show ourselves in the best (most attractive, most interesting, most fun) light.
Of course people do post about negative things too (in fact some people don’t seem to post about much else) but for the most part, our newsfeeds are full of all sorts of great things for us to compare our days to. Friendships and relationships are made to look idyllic; our faces are filtered to the point where they sometimes bare little resemblance to how we actually look; sometimes people seem to care more about how their night out/holiday/trip is portrayed in the obligatory Facebook album, rather than actually enjoying it at the time!
So are we finding ourselves in a situation where we’re seeing only the best parts of others’ lives all over social media, and comparing them to our own lives, which are never that perfect? I know I’ve felt like this before. Of course this depends on self-esteem and insecurity but I believe we all have insecurities to some extent, and when I’m not having a particularly good day or am feeling a bit rubbish about myself, I definitely don’t often find that scrolling down my newsfeed cheers me up!