Sunday, 8 November 2015

Thoughts: Social Media - The Great Illusion

Following on from my blogpost about women's rights being restricted in Ireland (if you want to check that out please do so HERE), I have decided to do a blogpost every so often about my opinion on an issue in the news. (I'll try not to rant, and be as objective as possible).

So this blogpost was inspired by a news article I came across during the week, in which an Australian model named Essena O'Neill made the decision to shut down all her social media sites, like YouTube, Instagram, Facebook etc. As it was ironically flooding pretty much every form of social media I use, I decided to check out the article and the reasons behind it. Basically, she explained she shut down her social media sites because she felt it was "fake" and "an illusion". She said that people saw her as this "blond, confident model" but behind the scenes she was a "lonely and depressed teenager".

Of course, the critics waded in, claiming she just did it for attention and maybe she has done, as it did propel her from a virtual unknown only really known in the land down under to all over the globe, but whatever her reasons for doing what she did, it did get me thinking about social media. Initially, Facebook was created as a means of communication between people, Twitter was created for a similar (albeit, shorter!) reason, and Instagram was created as a visual way of communication. In many ways, it has greatly improved the way we live. Just before I moved over, my Dad spoke about when he was in my situation when he was in his twenties, having moved from Ireland to England. The only form of communication he had with family members was a letter every few months. Telephones were not as common as they are now and mobile phones didn't come into existence until decades later. Needless to say, there was no such thing as Skype or even a computer, so he didn't see them at all until he actually travelled home occasionally to see them in the flesh. Compare it with my experience today; having moved over to England, I have Facebook to keep in contact with family members friends in Ireland as well as well as my new classmates, Skype to see my family and friends back home and Instagram allows me to communicate my visual experiences of my new life here as well as seeing a visual representation of my friends and families life back home, every one of these accessible through my mobile phone.

As a blogger, I find social media invaluable for reaching my target audience. I'm not so keen on Facebook, as it only allows a few to see your posts at any one time unless if you have plenty of money to fork out (which needless to say as a student, I don't have), but I'm very active on Twitter and Instagram and as well as promoting my blog on these forms of social media, it's great to interact with other bloggers, who are for the most part very supportive and encouraging.

There is however the flip side of the coin, which is in a nutshell is what led O'Neill to her social media exit. I'm not going to discuss cyber bullying here; I feel like that's an issue so big that a whole blog dedicated to it couldn't even do it justice. And I'm also not going to go into how it's a huge method of distraction and procrastination tool. I, for one, have not been under any illusions since I've started using social media, especially Facebook, that it's just that: an illusion. It's human nature to highlight your best bits and leave out the not-so-good bits, which is why you're more likely to see a university graduation snap rather than someone making the emotional decision to drop out of university (for whatever reason). You're more likely to post a snap of a "lovely" family photo rather than the photo where the young kids have been arguing. You're more likely to take a selfie with full make up and a pretty dress on rather than one with no makeup and your pyjamas on. You use an Instagram or a Snapchat filter because your skin isn't so good. We've all been there, myself included, I'll hold my hands up and admit to that. But we need to take a step back an odd time and realise that this is not necessarily "real" life at all. 

Some people have an addiction to social media, and feel they can't "function" without it. The addiction to likes, the addiction to having a huge number of Facebook "friends". Lonliness and isolation and the struggle with identity of self and where you fit in (especially as a teenager) means that social media is something that people cling to that they feel will provide them with some stability and a means of belonging. Everything from a new relationship to a new job is posted online. Growing up, it was something that tended to frustrate me. Why did people I did not percieve as being nice have more Facebook friends than me? Why did this girl get more likes than me on Instagram? These are insignificant matters now, and the days where I used to get frustrated if my selfie didn't get more likes on Facebook or Instagram are now thankfully gone and buried with the rest of my teenage years. Today I only add people as Facebook friends if I genuinely like them (I have to really like them if they tend to post a lot!) and ignore the other requests, and I won't take it personally if my selfie doesn't reach 200 likes on Facebook.

I have made no secret of the fact I find the way mental illness is addressed on social media is insufficient to say the very least. I remember some years ago watching a YouTube clip by the comedian Kevin Breel, in which he spoke in a similar way to O'Neill, in which he said that he thought that mental health was not being addressed on social media, because it's "not fun, it's not light" and as a result people just don't see the severity of it. People would rather speak about cancer it seems, and before you jump down my throat, I'm not pitting both against one another; they are both horrible diseases to be faced with, and I speak as someone whose family member has gone through cancer - but why are we more likely to talk about one than the other on social media? This in my eyes only creates a world where people who are suffering with a mental illness feel like they cannot admit their problems, which only threatens to make the problem ten times worse. I, for one have been trying to be more vocal with my own issues with mental illness on social media - however emotionally difficult it is - because I feel it might encourage someone else to feel that they are not alone, but I feel sometimes like I'm the only one that does it and I often feel discouraged when I get more views for other blogposts about fashion or makeup than writing about my experiences with an invisible illness of the mind. I believe that social media plays a prominent part in mental illness; not so much causing it but definitely not helping it. I mean, how many times have you innocently scrolled through your Facebook feed in a bad mood, only to see something that makes you feel more down, be it a photo of the guy you like with his new girlfriend, or a picture of someone younger than you graduating when you haven't really decided what you're doing with your life. I'd go as far as to say that it literally changes your mood in an instant. We start to compare our real life situations with other people's highlight reel. The issue of jealousy stemming from one's use with social media is something that has undergone several studies, but you don't need any expert to tell you this. Social media jealousy ends up fragmenting relationships and friendships, which is pretty much the opposite aim of why it was created in the first place!

Ironically, as people spend more and more time online and we tend to live in a fast paced, commerical world, it's easier to communicate with others through an online group or message than actually making the time to meet up with the person in "real" life, leading to feelings of loneiness and isolation.

 To read more about Essena's story see:

To check out the Kevin Breel YouTube clip I mentioned, see:

Hope you enjoyed this post!

As always do not hesitate to check out my social media links (the irony, I know!!)

Snapchat: shellfoody92

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