Is Social Media morphing into a fake, make-believe world, where a new form narcissism thrives?
It is an open secret that on social media, all of us are tempted to put our best foot forward. Folks tend to hide their vulnerabilities and only show their strengths.
In the realm of the virtual world, users mostly count their blessings, while instinctively hiding their fears and failures.
Because of the anonymity that the internet offers and the selective nature in which people share information online, it is very easy to think that majority of folks on social media lead very colourful lives.
People post their best photos, which are – oftentimes – thoroughly edited and taken in the best places one has been to. The net effect is a depiction of a happy and fulfilling life, while the reality on the ground might be totally different.
Soon, people develop consistent online narratives, about their lives, which they might not want to lose. Consequently, most people end up with two personas or identities: an online one and a real-life one.
Unfortunately, the personas that most people identify themselves with, in the cyberspace, happen to be thoroughly edited and well-rehearsed. They are make-believe personas.
That is why you might be confused if you were to meet some of your online “friends” in real life. Very few people are absolutely the same, both online and in their real lives.
Have you ever physically met a person (whom you had only known online for a while) and you were left wondering whether this was the same person you had been interacting with virtually?
A great number of online users’ real-life appearances and mannerisms are likely to be totally different from what you have always imagined, if you were to meet them in person. You might be forgiven if you think they are trying to impersonate the person you have always known.
The social media realm can be brutally deceptive. Unlike in real-life interactions, the anonymity accorded by the internet allows people to choose which side of themselves they can share and which one they can hide from the public.
It is for this very reason that very few of the people you meet online are likely to end up becoming genuine long-term friends. Meeting true friends in the cyberspace is, therefore, an exception rather than the norm.
Genuine friendships can only sprout out of mutual trust. Suffice to say, trust can never develop between individuals until they are comfortable enough to share both their strengths and vulnerabilities, including their worst fears as human beings.
In the absence of mutual trust, genuine bonding and concern for each other become a mirage in most online relationships.
Social media has also made it quite easy to follow celebrities, such as famous musicians, sports icons, politicians and actors, whose daily posts are easily accessible on social media.
A few years back, such celebrities could only be accessed on TV and in fancy magazines. Thanks to the internet and smartphone technology, now such celebrities have been brought right into our pockets.
The lives of most celebrities, as depicted in their daily online posts, are largely fancy and admirable. However, social media has also created a new crop of celebrities who have nothing else to show, in terms of celebrity status, other than their large following on social media.
Sadly , not all people, who have large followings on social media today, have enough money to afford them a celebrity lifestyle. Such people are celebrity wannabes, who easily fall into the trap of the “Fake It Until You Make It” category.
This celebrity craze is curiously catching up with most social media users. You must have come across individuals who imagine that they are celebrities of sorts, after attracting a few hundreds of mentions, comments and likes on social media.
The worst part of it is that, many of such social media users are gradually becoming overdependent on the likes, mentions, comments, shares, and views that their online posts attract. They mistake such social media attention for positive affirmation.
The craving for quick online celebrity status is leading young people to do crazy things, with the sole aim of attracting a larger online following.
There is a wide belief that sex sells more than real and quality content. This can explain why young people are increasingly using nudity and performing sexually explicit stunts, as a magnet for the online following that they so much crave.
Such tendencies have made social media one huge narcissistic marketplace, where folks are embroiled in a silent competition to show who is eating life with the biggest spoon!
Many social media users are struggling a lot to get a chance to take those rare photos, in fancy clothes and coveted destinations, while displaying expensive drinks and foods at high-end parties.
This craze, aimed at getting great posts for social media, is the new form of online narcissism! People think they are showing self-love when they actually have none. Most of them feel insecure and really need a hug and a pat on the back, just to reassure them that all shall be well, especially during this hard Covid-19 pandemic era.
Attending parties and “looking great” is no longer about people having a good time and feeling comfortable in their own skin. There are people who dress up and organise events, just to get great social media posts.
It is all about getting the best shots to post and boast about online, just to show your virtual friends and followers or fans how great your life is. but the reality is, shockingly many people are feeling empty inside.
Since the grass always looks greener on the other side, the real danger is that some people, especially those in the young and impressionable generational bracket, eventually start feeling the pressure of not measuring up to some standards on social media.
Some begin thinking that they are the only ones who are not enjoying life fully, while everyone else seems to be doing so well. Such eventualities lead to depression and anxiety.
SOCIAL MEDIA-RELATED PSYCHOLOGICAL DISORDERS.
As a result of peer pressure, social media has created a crop of “celebrity wannabes” who cannot measure up to the false image that they have created about themselves, in the eyes of their legion of online fans and followers.
To maintain their false online status, they lead extravagant lifestyles and hardly save any little money that they make. Seeing many so-called celebrities come out to seek financial help from the public, claiming they don’t have any cash for basics such as rent and food, is trend that has been on the rise recently.
Unfortunately, leading double lives due to social media is not only limited to wannabe celebrities. Many people have fallen into this trap.
The difficulty in reconciling their online and real-life personas has contributed to the high cases of depression, anxiety and suicides experienced amongst young people in the world today.
Even much older people have not been spared by the sheer peer pressure that comes with the narcissistic nature of social media. Many of them have also been trapped in the silent online competition and “celebrity” craze.
A great number of people on social media today are either struggling with anxiety about their social status, as perceived by their online friends and by themselves, or they are struggling with body image insecurities.
The fact that there is a lot of cyberbullying happening on social media today doesn’t help things either. Social media is replete with angry and toxic people, who are out to vent their personal frustrations on other users at the slightest provocation.
The same way social media can create an overnight celebrity is the same way it can instantly bring that person tumbling down, depending on the prevailing situation.
It is no wonder then that social media has been fingered as one of the biggest accelerators of the high cases of stress, depression, anxiety and suicides witnessed in the world today.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF SOCIAL MEDIA?
Does social media usage have any positive outcomes? One may be tempted to ask. Yes it does.
If used well, there are so many good things that can come out of social media. We have seen people network and rally around many positive causes on social media.
Due to the instantaneous nature of communication on social media, it has become one of the most effective means through which close people, such as family and friends, catch up with one another.
We have also seen families, friends and communities easily rally together to raise funds during emergencies, regardless of the location of their members on the globe.
Social media users oftentimes come together to put pressure on relevant authorities to act on issues that affect the common good of society, socially, politically and economically, hence improving governance. Kenyans on Twitter (famously known as KOT) have proved to be very good at this.
At the end of the day, social media can either be beneficial or detrimental to you, depending on how you choose to use it.
I like to say that social media is a liberal marketplace, where everything is sold. It is you the user who can choose what to buy, whenever you go to the market.
Sometimes, two people can go to the same market and one buys alcohol and cigarettes, which end up wasting their money and health, while the other buys fruits, which end up improving their health. So, what you choose to buy from the social media marketplace matters.
Likewise, two people might go to the same marketplace and they end up buying the same thing, say a knife; but one may use their knife to cut vegetables and fruits, while the other one uses their knife to kill someone.
So, what you intend to do with whatever you get from the social media marketplace is also always important. it is upon you to choose wisely.