In Defense of Social Media

in defense of social media

My Instagram is a lie. While some of my followers may think I am in Paris, the reality is I’m somewhere better: the my hometown for the holidays. Here, I’m living the lazy lifestyle of working a minimum wage job and, in my free time, writing summer internship applications. So am I a horrible person for doing something truly original: lying on the internet?

On social media, I’m living that #instaperfect life of my dreams. Photos of beaches, friends and most importantly, food, dominate my feed, making me look like I’m living a life to rival the cousin of a lesser-known celebrity. But my reality is quite the opposite.

The question I’m faced with after I design my third post of the week: why do I feel so compelled to post about a trip to Paris while I’m clearly not living a luxurious French lifestyle of my dreams? I seem to have fallen victim to the social media machine that I hear so many of my parents’ friends blame for the outbreak of narcissism that is afflicting my generation. But is it true? Am I just a slave to the number of likes that roll into my notifications?

The impact of social media and technology on users has become a huge area of study as people spend more and more time on their devices. In fact, social media addiction has even been considered a possible diagnosis, as other new addictions like video game addiction are being recognized by national groups such as the World Health Organization.

But as with any evolving body of research, there are hundreds of different studies evaluating different platforms, from myspace to Instagram on users. Some found that social media use is linked with depressive symptoms, others found that social media, when used for interacting with another person, can actually have positive effects. One study found that the motivations for social media use are linked with different outcomes, like narcissism.

But the study of the effect of social media use is an evolving field. The site I use the most, Instagram, has only been around since 2010, leaving a measly nine years for psychological studies. Though addictive use of social media has been linked to narcissism and low-self esteem, should this be a sign for the average user of social media go cold turkey?

Social media, like any tool, isn’t inherently evil. But it does have the potential to bring out the worst in each of us. However, there are a lot of advantages of social media that don’t often come out in the “millennial’s are a bunch of like-hungry narcissists” narrative that I hear from some people.

Facebook is a great place to organize people. Facebook events present a unique opportunity to reach out to a large group of people who might not normally get involved with protests, fundraisers, and volunteer-work, to name a few examples. One Facebook user even designed an algorithm to let him attend random Facebook events in his area, visiting events ranging from a community pancake breakfast to acroyoga (acrobatic yoga).

Instagram is a great way to check up on your friends (in a non-creepy way of course). And I find that you can avoid the overwhelming and sometimes jealously-inducing perfection of Instagram by making and following “finsta,” or fake Instagram, accounts. On these Instagram accounts, counterintuitively, people post about their actual lives and are usually far more polished. This can be a great way to communicate with your closest friends and let them know how you’re really doing, all the while maintaining the lie of your glorified lifestyle on a “rinsta,” or more public and usually more perfect, account.

It’s in the name right? It’s social media, not “look at how awesome my life is” media. One of the greatest advantages of social media is communication, the ability to interact with people’s posts and talk to far away friends about their lives. It all depends on whether you’re there just to observe, to like a few photos, or to comment, message, and engage.

So yes, social media comes with risks. It can be time-wasting, self-esteem lowering, and narcissism-inducing. But if you’re mindful of your use and aware of the risks, it can be an incredible tool for change and communication. So don’t log out just yet.

Also published on Medium.