What if we look in the mirror- and don’t recognize the person we see on social media?

In a world filled with ‘selfies’ and happy appearances- where do we find reality?  Where do we find the ‘high crime rates’ and violence/oppression of women?  How do we determine the increased demands which are placed on those posting all of the happy, perfect pictures?

Madison Holleran was a successful young athlete and student, who posted many happy pictures in her online profiles; Madison Holleran was also a student who moved away from home and was trying to balance all of the pressures of college life and athleticism, and who ultimately committed suicide.

The Newyork Times says that Holleran is not alone.  With stark statistics to back up their claims, and among the increased expectations and pressures young people face, perfect profiles are cited as one of the causes.  People are ‘peering’ into other peoples lives (at least the lives they choose to show) and feeling inferior, not as successful, not as happy, and nothing to explain how or why the other people are ‘happier’.

Charles Cooley’s “looking glass self” theory helps us to understand that people understand who they are and the ‘type’ of successful they are, based on what others think of them.

The way ‘others’ see ‘us’ has greatly changed now that we have social media.  We have the ability to put on a facade.  We can take the pictures that are ‘just right’ for the world to see.  As Amy Scuka shared in her blog last week, it’s really discouraging to think that while as critically thinking adults, we see people’s SM pictures as ‘part’ of the whole picture and not necessarily reality- it can certainly appear as reality to those who may not critically consider it.  Additionally, as @jstewiestewie discusses in her blog last week, we can create a ‘bubble’ of communities and the people that we follow online may work to justify our thoughts and ideals.  However, I have to wonder- what happens when we surround ourselves with these ideals – and begin comparing ourselves to the ‘perfect picture’ that is socially laid out for us?

License: CC0 Public Domain
License: CC0 Public Domain

Perhaps even more disturbing (for me), is Jason Millar’s uncovering  of Facebook’s manipulation of news feeds.  I believed that I was seeing all of the posts my friends were making- not that an algorithm dictates what I see!  To have it taken one step further, and to understand that Facebook manipulated feeds to include more positive/negative posts to determine the emotional response.  What kind of effect might that have on the those who may not question the information as it is presented to them? Additionally- how do we stop perpetuating the negative stories we are privy to online?

We can bring this all back to the public/private spheres, when we consider – where is the distinction between the two spaces when we are ‘living’ our lives online more and more.  What is our role in teaching this distinction?  We need to make clear when we are discussing being ‘good digital citizens’ and only posting the ‘good’ pictures,  that we also take time to discuss the implications of people’s appearances on SM if they are posting those ‘good’ pictures which can be very staged.

How do we help our children to read between the digital lines?

2 thoughts on “What if we look in the mirror- and don’t recognize the person we see on social media?

  1. Great post, Amy! I also thought I was generally seeing most of the stuff my friends posted. Wasn’t that the point of friending them in the first place? But I’ve seen the signs of it. Even the friends I’ve signed up for notifications from, not everything seems to show up in my news feed. And now Twitter is planning to do this too. I agree, having that algorithm hidden in the background is not cool. At least with Google I know that my search results are based on past searches, past sites I’ve visited. The whole point used to be to get access to the internet unfiltered, as Lanier wrote, but now we are using access points that filter things without us even thinking about it.

    As for who we are, yeah, that bugs me too. Not just the filter bubbles but the idea that even of the things I share, not all of them are shared. But at the same time, I am already filtering before I even post. My Facebook friends probably aren’t interested in the fact that I figured out how to fix an issue in the gradebook in Moodle (UR Courses). They might, however, be interested in the post about how women are drawn in comics. And I don’t really have a good reason to share that with my colleagues, even though it interests me (and I would share it with a couple of them). I’m already filtered for the people I interact with. But as for the perfection syndrome… I think it’s always been there. I wrote about it on my blog too. We always wanted to have everyone else think our lives are perfect and we’ve always mistaken external appearance for internal perfection. I think social media might actually be letting some people voice their inner imperfections. I’m thinking of the awareness stuff that has been happening with mental illness, depression, anxiety. I know way more people who admit to that now that social media exists, many who I would never have guessed it of. So maybe we are getting the chance to push back against that need to pretend to be perfect.

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